Grab a cup of coffee, because this post is going to be heavy and detailed.
It’s been two months since my last post. We decided to put our house on the market to move 15 miles outside of the city, and life has been bananatown for a while. We finally made it into the new house a week ago and I am just now opening my laptop for the first time in weeks.
Let’s back up to life being hectic. It may have sounded like it was all from the move, but it wasn’t.
About a month ago, Emily had a suspected UTI so I took her to the pediatrician for a urine test. While we were there, I decided to get her flu shot out of the way. I was filling out the form and asked the nurse for clarification on the question about having an allergy to any component of the flu vaccine.
“She’s allergic to egg, so should I answer ‘yes?'” I asked.
The nurse swiveled around with a concerned expression. “Has she had the flu shot before?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“And has she ever reacted to it?”
“Oh, okay…go ahead and mark ‘yes’ on the form, and will you please include an explanation as well?”
For anyone reading who doesn’t know the significance here: most flu vaccines are incubated inside of chicken embryos, which means the vaccine can contain small amounts of egg protein. Most of the time, this is not a problem–even for the most sensitive of egg allergic patients–but on rare occasion, it does cause a reaction. Prior to 2018, healthcare providers were required to ask all patients about potential egg allergies prior to vaccination, and in many cases egg allergic patients were expected to be monitored for 20-30 minutes after administration. This is the first year the CDC claimed the risk was so low for a serious reaction that these measures no longer need to be taken.
So back to our visit. Emily got the shot, took it like a champ, got a cute bandage and a Paw Patrol sticker at check-out, and off we went back to preschool.
We arrived at school 25 minutes later. The kids were outside playing, so there was one teacher inside of a quiet building when we arrived. I let the teacher, “L,” know about the flu shot and that most likely Emily would be fine, but I did ask her to keep an eye on her just in case. At worst, I was expecting Emily might get a rash.
But as we were standing there, Emily suddenly got heavy in my arms and leaned her head on my shoulder. I lifted her up to see she was drooling profusely all over her hand and my arm. I asked her why she was drooling and she stuck out her tongue, unwilling (or unable, is my guess now) to put it back in her mouth. I asked if she was okay and she put her finger in her mouth and pointed at the back of her throat, crying as she tried to describe to me what she was feeling but unable to put words to the sensation. She was growing more frantic by the second, and then she began to cough while begging for her rescue inhaler. At this point, L and I were both panicking. We laid her on the floor and the school director came in. Emily’s tongue was swelling. The director listened to her chest, heard wheezing, and urged me to get Emily to the hospital, so off we went. (Please see the end of this post for information about my failure to use an Epipen.)
The hospital is a quick drive from the school. I literally ran with Emily in my arms to the ER entrance, where I explained to the man at the front desk what was going on. A nearby nurse rushed over, began asking questions, and before I could blink, we were being escorted to a room by a team of nurses. In the blink of an eye, Emily was hooked up to monitors with a team of nurses huddled around her, checking her vitals. In the meantime, I was on the phone with B, who was in Florida at the time for work (which was also the day Hurricane Michael hit land not too far from where he was staying). My mom was rushing to meet us at the hospital.
Emily was miserable, confused, and scared. Shortly after we arrived, the ER doc rushed in and again took her vitals. Her oxygen was a bit lower than ideal but it wasn’t at a dangerous level. She was, despite everything, breathing okay. The doc decided to administer a heavy dose of Benadryl and an oral steroid to combat her reaction. Within half an hour after the medications were given, Emily had perked up and was acting more and more like herself by the minute. After three hours of monitoring, we were cleared to go home. My mom stopped to get food on our way back, and while she dished up Emily’s dinner, I excused myself to the bathroom and bawled like a baby. I have never, ever been more afraid in a single moment in my life than when Emily’s reaction first began. That whole afternoon, I had kept my composure and stayed strong for her, and the first second I had to be alone after I knew she was going to be okay, I broke down in a way I’ve never felt before.
We kept Emily home from school the next day and I spent the day speaking with nurses and doctors at her pediatrician’s and allergist’s offices. Over several phone calls, I was asked several times if she has a known egg allergy. I found this slightly alarming; if the vaccine is supposedly so safe for egg allergic patients, how is it that more healthcare professionals than I can count on one hand immediately made the connection between the egg allergy and the reaction Emily experienced? Her pediatrician is a firm believer that the reaction was caused by her egg allergy, while her allergist is uncertain whether it was the egg allergy or if she reacted to some other component of the vaccine. Because Emily is asthmatic, B and I want to protect her from the flu as much as possible, so the allergist recommended the 10% / 90% method for next year. In the allergist’s office, she will be given 10% of the vaccine and monitored closely for any signs of a reaction. If she tolerates it, she will be given the remaining 90% and monitored an additional 30 minutes; if she reacts in any way to the 10%, she will not get the full vaccine.
After life calmed down, which took some time for my anxiety to fade, I got back to work throwing a community teal pumpkin painting party to raise local awareness for the Teal Pumpkin Project. I interviewed with the local newspaper and had a fairly good turnout at the party and a huge amount of support online. Last year there were approximately 10 houses on the Teal Pumpkin Project map for our metropolitan area (of about 600,000 people). My goal this year was to raise enough awareness to get 50 houses on the map, and by Halloween night there were over 60!
On Halloween, I drove Emily to a neighborhood with two houses on the Teal Pumpkin Project map that were close in proximity. In our old neighborhood, trick-or-treating was practically nonexistent. Only after we parked in the subdivision we’d driven to did I notice there were flyers up all around the neighborhood encouraging residents to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project! We literally, by chance, stumbled into a gold mine of teal pumpkin houses. Emily came home that night with a bucket FULL of toys, and she beamed over the whole experience for days afterward. As a mother, it was one of those moments that makes you want to happy, messy cry.
Final update for this post: still no definitive answer on the whole baked milk issue. I think we’ll be having a long, inquisitive conversation with the allergist in January.
WHEW. Is that enough for one post?!
Epipen note: When Emily reacted to the flu vaccine, I did not administer her Epipen. I had them in my hand, and while I knew I should have done it, what stopped me is that her breathing wasn’t labored and she was still talking. I felt like it wasn’t “justified,” even though it was a reaction bad enough to send us to the hospital. It is hard to explain what goes through your head, the “should-I-shouldn’t-I” when it comes to administering an Epipen to your child. Part of the reason I cried so incredibly hard when I got home that night is because I was, and I still am, beating myself up over the fact that I did not do it. Looking back on it now, I cannot believe my own hesitation. I’ve seen this before from other allergy parents. As miraculous as an Epipen can be, it is not as easy to pull that trigger in every instance as it seems like it should be.
Having said that, I should have done it, and the next time we have a reaction where I find myself playing the “should-I-shouldn’t-I” game, I’m doing it. No hesitation, no regret.