“Mrs. Hooks, I ate a Snickers.”
I felt hot and cold at the same time.
“Did you eat all of it?”
I found myself desperately trying to remember what steps were outlined in the emergency plan I was given at the beginning of the year. All I knew was that I needed to get my student to the nurse IMMEDIATELY…
I have to admit that I was an eye-roller before this incident. Allergies to gluten, nuts, and dairy always triggered a sarcastic response from me because I viewed it as just another piece of information that I had to remember. As a teacher, I have approximately 60 kids each year with IEP’s, 504 plans, allergies, intervention schedules, and so much more that I am expected to remember daily. It seemed so overwhelming. But I didn’t realize until one of my students was in danger that this information is not just something else to check off on a list.
I know it can be frustrating as a parent to get that letter. You know the one that says your child is in a nut free classroom this year. Now you can’t just slap a PB&J together for lunch each day. There will be no Reese’s Peanut Butter cups on Valentine’s Day or store bought cupcakes for your child’s birthday. It seems like a major inconvenience. I get it. I was you once.
However, I now know that food allergies in the classroom present a real danger.
If I had taken the time to discuss with my students what could happen to our friends if they eat something that they have an allergy to, maybe my student wouldn’t have given that piece of candy to her friend. If I had done more to educate the parents, maybe the offending treat would have never made its way to school. I’ll never know if this situation could have been avoided. What I do know is that I will now inconvenience myself and every adult around my students in an effort to keep them safe.
I totally understand why the parent of a child without allergies doesn’t “get it.” Your child can plop down at a restaurant on the field trip and eat any ol’ thing. Some children can’t though, and it is up to the adults to advocate for them and their well being.
The Danger Of Food Allergies
My student made it out of this scary incident totally unharmed, but others aren’t so lucky. I say “unharmed” but that only means she was OK afterward. But when the incident occurred she was given an epinephrine injection by our school nurse and rushed to the emergency room by ambulance. All of this happened while her mother was speeding to the ER to meet the ambulance with thoughts in her head that are unfathomable to me as the parent of an allergy-free child.
The other students I referred to who haven’t been so “lucky” could face wheezing, tightness in the throat, swelling, anaphylaxis, itching, and digestive issues, and even die. And, unfortunately, Epi-Pens aren’t a guarantee. Yes, it is designed to help stop anaphylaxis, but a secondary reaction can occur and may be followed by death.
Something else to consider is this: some kiddos don’t even have to ingest or touch the offending items for a reaction to occur. These reactions can occur just by being in the same room or touching an object that someone else touched with nut residue on their hands.
So maybe when you get that letter next time, don’t roll your eyes like I used to do. Have a chat with your little ones about allergies, the life and death danger that some of their friends face, and be thankful for your own health.