The anxiety of food allergies at school
“I find it kind of ironic that on the news they are discussing if teachers should be armed with guns at school to potentially save lives, yet we can’t get them armed with EpiPens to save lives.”
This comment appeared in one of my food allergy (FA) support groups last night. It took me back to the days immediately after the Sandy Hook School shooting, when, along with everyone else, my FA mamas and I were horrified and devastated. Beyond that initial shock and horror, though, was something I’d never thought of before: What additional precautions would I need to take for my son with a life-threatening peanut allergy? What if there was an emergency at my son’s school and he was evacuated without his EpiPen? What if they were sheltered in a fire station where a well-meaning volunteer comforted the terrified children with milk and peanut butter cookies? What if he experienced anaphylaxis and no medical personnel were available to help him? What if . . .
I try to stop myself from playing the “What If” game. I don’t always succeed, but I try. Those who know me know that I am a huge advocate of free-range parenting. I’ve written before about wanting my kids to be kids and not wanting to smother or overprotect them. I always remind myself (and others) to consider likelihood. What is the likelihood of [insert horrible, devastating thing here] actually happening? There is about a zero percent chance of my child being killed in a school shooting incident. I cannot possibly fathom the anguish that those Sandy Hook families experienced and I certainly don’t want to tempt fate, but I have a limited amount of energy for worry, so I choose not to expend it on the minuscule chance that my child will be shot at school.
What is MUCH more likely, though, and is as life-threatening as if someone pointed a gun at my child’s head, is the chance that my son will eat something with peanuts in it while he’s away from me at school. That’s the fear that keeps me up at night. That’s the stress that eats away at my nerves and at the lining of my stomach.
My son is still eighteen months away from starting school. For now, all I can do is read. And worry. And read. And worry. I’m a do-er. I’m black and white. I want to take action. Fix it. Call the school. Ask questions. Demand answers. But we’re still eighteen months away. So I read.
I read about an egg-allergic child who had to participate in an activity where other students dropped eggs off the roof to explode on the pavement below. This child was then surrounded by other students throwing yolks and broken eggshells at each other. I read about a child forming his peanut butter sandwich into the shape of a gun and chasing a peanut-allergic child, saying he was going to kill him. I read about FA and non-FA parents arguing about food-free classrooms and the “right” to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I read about PTA parents using phrases such as “survival of the fittest” and, “It’s not my responsibility if your child is defective.” I read many more stories like this and worse.
How would our school respond and keep my son safe in situations like that? How long would they wait to call me if he had a reaction? Would they even recognize the symptoms of a reaction? Will they always, ALWAYS take his EpiPen along or will I have to insist he be allowed to self-carry at the age of five? Will the bus drivers be trained to administer his EpiPen or will I always have to drive him?
It may sound like I’m starting down the “What If” path again and maybe I am. It’s only a matter of time, though, before these kinds of questions need to be asked and answered. We’re not talking about statistical improbabilities here; we’re talking about likelihoods. It is very likely that my son will experience these kinds of challenges on a regular basis and each one has a potentially deadly outcome. Over the course of the next eighteen months, I’ll continue to arm myself in the best way I know how — with information and with a Section 504 plan. I’ll also continue to worry, but I guess that’s part of being a mama, even a free-range one. Did I mention that school is still eighteen months away?? Look out, local public school system, here we come.