Last weekend my oldest child and I were traveling together. At age four, my son is no stranger to airplanes since all our extended family live in different states. But, our flight prep includes a few extra steps given that my son has potentially life-threatening food allergies.
As our flight began I listened for the flight attendant to break the news to passengers…“Due to a serious allergy, peanuts will not be served on this flight.” Because I’m a little too nosy about what people think, I always try to listen for any responses around me. Most speak nothing of it, which I assume means they realize that not getting peanuts on a flight is hardly bad news. (Fortunately, I have yet to face the guy who cites the “jerks” with nut allergies as the #8 problem with flying today.)
This weekend I heard the women behind me respond with, “really, they won’t serve them to anyone?” She was not upset, but honestly surprised. Surprised enough that I heard her ask the flight attendant about it again when they were doing their beverage service. Her comment reminded me that I live daily in this world of food allergies, but most do not. I know and pay attention to the stories and statistics but, just like any other statistic, if you’re not personally affected by it you rarely think twice about it—if you hear it at all.
That means the woman behind me was likely unaware that one in 13 children have a food allergy*, and had no clue that the “one” is sitting in front of her.
She’s unaware that every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the Emergency Room*, and that one of those kids who spent hours in the ER at age two is also on his way to Minneapolis on the very same flight.
She doesn’t know there is an Epi-Pen easily accessible a few feet away.
She probably never received a phone call at work from a paramedic who was treating her child.
She didn’t realize that serving those peanuts too close to my son could deter her own travel plans in the event that my son had an anaphylactic reaction.
Yes, I live in the food allergy world daily, and because I have more information on the topic than most, I find myself surprised every Halloween when he can’t eat half of the candy he receives. (For the record, I don’t mind this – he still has plenty of candy to eat.) I catch myself thinking, “Don’t people know about all the nut allergies nowadays?” And then I remember…they don’t. Unless you are close to one of the statistics, you don’t think twice about it in the candy aisle.
What’s more, in this age of special diets resulting from everything from personal beliefs, digestive issues, and food safety concerns, one can feel tremendous pressure to try to accommodate everyone. I also find that these various scenarios can also mislead people into thinking that allergies aren’t a serious medical condition. I have talked with people who assumed an allergic reaction to food was essentially a tummy ache—unaware of the symptoms, severity, and prevalence of life-threatening anaphylaxis.
So if the statistics don’t have a name for you, you’ve probably not spent a lot of time thinking about food allergies. Maybe you’ve heard the stats in passing and felt relieved over not being one of them—not having to pour over the ingredient labels of every product at the store, carry an Epi-Pen with at all times, or worry about your child going to a birthday party or riding the school bus.
Honestly, the stories I hear being part of the food allergy community are frightening. But I don’t want to (and won’t) raise him in a bubble either. Now that my son is four, we no longer aim to keep him completely sheltered from nuts. We use being around them as opportunities to help him learn to be careful, to ask questions before grabbing a treat, etc. But I’m still a mom who deeply wants her children to be safe and healthy. So I write these words during Food Allergy Awareness Week and Food Allergy Action Month in small part to raise awareness (if indeed the other 12 out of 13 kids and their families will take notice), but mostly to say thank you to all those who have made life safer and happier for my snack and treat-loving (and nut-free) boy.
Thanks to the bride this weekend who, amidst all her wedding details, took the time to have a pack of Skittles (his favorite) at her wedding for my son because her wedding dessert wasn’t 100% safe.
Thanks to the airlines who takes steps to ensure the safety of all their young passengers.
Thanks to my son’s preschool teachers and staff, who communicate proactively with me about school parties to ensure his safety. (Their nut-free policy is also a huge bonus.)
Thanks to the parents who talk to their kids about food allergies, even if their child is not one of the statistics.
Because of you, my son doesn’t feel left out, feels safe, and gets to enjoy being a normal kid even with his Epi-Pen alongside him.
*Statistics from FARE.