That's what I felt that day, in the cab, wondering if my child was going to pass out right then and there, before we could make it to the doctor's office.
You see, about an hour earlier, she had arrived at my office and ran into my arms crying, saying "Mommy, I don't feel so good". She had had an allergic reaction a couple days back and a cold on top of that, plus she can be somewhat of a drama queen (we mean this in the most loving way) so it wasn't surprising. But something felt...wrong. A person wouldn't look at her and say there's something serious going on, but we heard a little wheeze and she seemed miserable and something just felt...wrong.
So a few minutes after calling the doctor and making an appointment for later that afternoon, I found myself hurrying to a cab and telling her father to come because something felt...awfully wrong. Five minutes into the longest cab ride of my life she went from miserable kid with cold to child in obvious respiratory distress and I found myself doing the mental math of which would get us help faster, staying in traffic in the cab, or stopping and calling 911. "Should I use the epipen?" I kept wondering. Except it wasn't an obvious allergic reaction. But something was clearly wrong.
So there I was, terrified, terrified I wasn't doing something I should, terrified I didn't go fast enough, terrified because I couldn't figure out anything to do other than sit there next to her in the cab and wait for it to get to its destination. I knew I had to be calm for her, to allay her fears, but at that moment I just couldn't. Apparently, I'm not the maternal rock I'm supposed to be in a crisis. Check #317 in the slacker mom box.
On the plus side, I did learn the secret to not waiting at the pediatrician's office. Seconds after walking in and yelling "my child's not breathing!" she was surrounded by several nurses and doctors that appeared out of nowhere. Before you could say "drugs" we were in a room, she had a nebulizer mask on her face and they were pumping her full of steroids, and we were told we may be there for hours. I looked at her sad wet eyes. I felt a bit better knowing the immediate danger had passed, but now she was clearly terrified. How I wished I could have taken that sad face away.
Fortunately, a few hours later, though still struggling to breathe, she was smiling again. We were sent home, so long as I promised to continue the steroids, give an inhaler round the clock every few hours, and bring her back in the next day.
It took a few days for the news to really sink in. Asthma? My mind immediately went to all the stats I'd read about food-allergic kids at higher risk for anaphylaxis if they have asthma. What did we tell the school? If she suddenly started wheezing, did she need an epipen or an inhaler? How would you know? The thought was overwhelming. And a cat allergy? What else would send her off? What about camp - could I not send her to camp? Could she not visit her school friend with a cat anymore? Did I need to worry? And if I didn't know any of this, how could I trust babysitters, teachers, counselors to know these things? Could I safely leave her with anyone anymore?
All this is just fear talking, of course, and let's hope a calmer mind will allow us to get educated and somewhat rational again. In the meantime, I struggled with the weight of all this information. It took a good week to even feel like I could breathe again. It took two weeks before I could write about it, because I was just too shaken to put it into black and white.
I keep going over "what-ifs" in my head? What could I have done differently? How did it get so bad? How did I not realize it? The attack was set off by an allergic reaction to a cat a few days' prior. I knew she had had a reaction, but didn't know to what. Sure, there was a chance it could be the cat, but she'd been around the cat for over 24 hours, and the reaction was sudden. Maybe she touched a trace of food? You never know with food allergies. But after a few long minutes, while I had a huge debate in my head on whether or not to give her the epipen, the antihistamine kicked in and she got better. Sure, she wheezed a few hours later, but I called a doctor and followed their instructions to give her an inhaler and Benadryl to help her sleep and prevent another reaction. Anyone who's ever tried to give my kid Benadryl knows it's easier said than done. After an hour of fighting, she finally took it. When she woke up, she had a cold, and the reaction was simply a moment that had passed. How could I have misattributed the symptoms to a cold? How could I not have realized she needed an inhaler earlier? And who knew cat allergies could cause anaphylaxis? I certainly didn't.
I hadn't counted on the emotional responsibility of single parenthood. I
took for granted the presence of another adult who was equally
responsible for the outcome of the decision at hand, not to mention one
who could actually help me get her to actually take her medicine without
losing my marbles in the process. My friends haven't really spoken to me since, and I can't say I blame them. They didn't sign up for that drama when they invited us.
The experience was humbling, to say the least. We all think we'll know what to do in the moment of crisis, but the truth is we have no idea how we'll react and often all our education goes out the window. We may know intellectually we're supposed to remain calm and not panic, but that's a heck of a lot easier said than done.
Parenting is one giant exercise in humility. It's so easy to know what to do in hindsight, but not when it's new. If it's not allergies, it's behavioral issues, if it's not behavioral issues, it's poop issues, if it's not poop issues, it's school issues, etc. All of our kids have their own unique challenges that make it impossible to know how to parent by reading a book, or an article, or a checklist, or even a whole library. They don't tell you that when you sign up, do you?
We'd love to hear from other food allergy parents as to how they handle reactions, and how they handle the asthma vs. food allergy situation. We'd love to hear from other single parents as to how they handle crises on their own. Heck, while we're at it, let's invite any struggling parent to share. Because for one day it would be nice for everyone to able to take off their "I'm perfect" "I'm a great parent" facade and admit that yes it's worth it, and yes there are wonderful moments, but sometimes....sometimes, no matter what your situation, parenting is just plain damned hard. Oh, and to all you parents who still want to fight for your child's "right" to peanut butter in schools: you suck.
One final note: with the rise of childhood allergies, we predict a rapid increase in demand for paper bags over the next few years. You might want to invest now. Just sayin'.
*Or, I'm just a wussy. Distinct possibility.