It was 2016 and our little family was living in Adelaide. I wasn’t yet pregnant with Florence, so it was just my husband, Bobby & myself. My hubby played footy in the SANFL over there which required him to train three nights a week, so dinner times, living interstate with no family and very minimal friends, was more often than not, just Bobby and I.
That day I hadn’t really gotten around to organising anything for dinner, but I was stoked to find a pre-made pasta sauce in our fridge ready to go! I whipped up some ravioli and popped on the pumpkin and walnut sauce. As I was doing so, I thought to myself, ‘Mmmm walnuts? Has Bobby had walnuts before?’ But I quickly brushed it off because at nearly two years of age, Bobby had just about tried every food and had no allergies. I thought to myself, ‘Well, he’s had heaps of banana bread and he loves muffins, so surely he’s come across walnuts before in his life?’ Off the top of my head I knew that he had eaten peanuts, almonds and pine nuts, and I thought SURELY he had come across at least a trace of walnuts in something before. Off I went and served up our dinner.
The next part happened really quickly. We sat down together and Bobby dove straight in. The first spoonful he attempted he missed his mouth completely and it plonked straight on his forearm. I grabbed a cloth and said, “You silly billy!” before noticing how red his arm was. ‘YIKES! How hot did I make that sauce?’ I thought absolutely positive I had tested it and it was ok. Thinking I was the worst Mum ever for allowing my son to burn himself, I quickly cleaned him up and just as I did, he simultaneously popped a spoonful of sauce in his mouth. No pasta, just sauce.
The next bit I can only explain as a zombie plague and it only took seconds. His mouth started to bubble and mini-hives appeared before I even had time to say CRAP. In a time of panic you don’t always think logically. So what did I do living in Adelaide? I called my mum in Melbourne with Bobby in my arms. Before she’d even answered, I could see the hives getting bigger and spreading all over his cheeks, his ears, up the back of his neck and starting to go down his chest. He started to scratch like a dog and cough. I texted the one person at Jaryd’s footy club (the footy manager) who I knew would have his phone on him while the boys were training and said, “JARYD HOME NOW. BOBBY ALLERGIC REACTION!” Luckily the football club was in the next street, so it was all of three minutes before Jaryd sprinted in the front door to a hysterical me standing in the kitchen with a relatively content but extremely, hivey, red and rashy, Bobby.
We’d been to emergency with Bobby before but we’d never called an ambulance before. This was totally foreign for us. The panic in these situations is so high that we just went, “JUMP IN THE CAR!” because together we thought we could get there quicker. In hindsight, this was a TERRIBLE move. And I’ll touch on this again later.
In those 10 seconds of grabbing my bag, with Bobby under my arm, the most horrific thoughts started going through my head. I’m going to kill my son.
We jumped in the car and we were off. However, there was traffic and I started to cry hysterical tears and squeal because I was regretting not calling the damn ambulance. That regret was very overwhelming and drowning my thoughts. Bobby started to cough and vomit everywhere in the back seat and his wheezing was getting bad. I knew my son was struggling to breathe and all I keeping thinking was how much his reaction had escalated in 10 minutes. I screamed at Jaryd to take him out of his car seat and hold him so he would stop choking on his vomit. Yes, I am well aware this is so unsafe but desperate times call for desperate measures. As the mum who had allowed him to eat this food, I couldn’t turn around. I was cowardly.
I noticed a police car opposite me at the lights and I just wanted him to see me SO badly. I sped next to him hoping he would pull me over for speeding or for not having Bobby in his car seat. I was hoping he could take us to the hospital quicker. No luck.
The lump in my throat as I write this is making me feel queasy. I was a maniac. I was screaming at the top of my lungs for cars to move or for the lights to change, even contemplating getting out and running to the hospital (again, my logic in this situation was not great). Jaryd told me to calm down but as my baby was in the back seat choking from a food allergy that I knew was all my fault. Calming down wasn’t really an option.
My greatest fear started to kick in when the choking, vomiting and crying turned to utter silence. Bobby had gone limp. Jaryd said, “C’mon buddy. Wake up.” This is when I vomited on myself driving and let out a scream that I didn’t even know was inside of me. I was a desperate mum who had made a bad decision. ‘This is it,’ I thought.
‘I’ve killed my boy.’
It was probably only another minute or so before I pulled up to emergency but the silence was enough to scar me for life. Jaryd jumped out and ran a limp, lethargic Bobby inside. God knows where I parked but I sprinted in quickly after.
I ran into Jaryd banging on the window for someone to help him, only to be told to go to the back of the line. I vaguely remember a young boy in triage who looked to have hurt his shoulder and the triage nurse asking him, ‘Does it hurt when you do this? Does it hurt when you do that?’ to which the boy was saying, ‘Nope. Nope.’ I then looked at my son, eyes open but limp and folded over his Dad’s arms. You never want to be that mum, but I certainly had to be this night. I ran to the window again and begged in tears to go first. I explained he was having a nut allergy and he couldn’t breathe properly. I was again told to wait at the back of the line. The next ‘PLEASE HELP HIM!’ I cried out was enough to make a male nurse come from behind the doors, grab Bobby out of Jaryd’s arm and rush him through. By the time we ran in behind him, there were six nurses surrounding him, giving him what he needed to be to breathe properly.
It’s a really bizarre feeling when your kids are in hospital. I’ve spoken before about being on ‘auto pilot’ where you just keep going despite the lack of sleep or out of pure worry for your kids. But to stand there with vomit all over you, both yours and your sons, tears streaming down your face and watching a team of staff assist your baby boy and knowing that it’s all YOUR fault? It’s something I would not wish upon my worst enemy.
It’s normal for me to get emotional when reflecting and writing about previous experiences that we’ve gone through, but I never recall my hands shaking as I type like they are today.
We were back in hospital a week later as Bobby had suffered an asthma attack, still suffering from the effects of the reaction the week prior.
Upon appointments with a paediatrician and allergy specialist in Melbourne, Bobby was diagnosed anaphylactic to both walnuts and pecans. We now have to carry an epipen wherever we go and also provide one to his day-care as they must legally have one for him even though they are a 100% nut free centre.
We have learned that with anaphylaxis to nuts the reactions can get worse. That whole scenario I’ve just recounted would have all happened in no more than 15-20 minutes. If he is to come across walnuts again the reaction will be greater. Perhaps quicker. Perhaps fatal.
I suppose we can be thankful that both walnuts and pecans aren’t a very common item. However, we do need to watch cafes and their cakes, birthday parties (grazing tables are now my greatest nightmare) and my beloved pa’s walnut jar he keeps on his coffee table that I move every time I walk into his house because he forgets.
Whenever we leave the house, Bobby must take with him at all times:
- His asthma preventer puffer
- His asthma Ventolin puffer
- His spacer
- His Zyrtec drops (for minor allergies)
- His Phenergan (for more severe reactions)
- And most importantly, his epipen.
Luckily for us, we walked out of the hospital that time with a healthy boy and two educated parents. My baby boy. You are my first love. You’ll always hold such a special place in my heart. Mumma is so sorry for doing that to you. I love you so much xxx
Written by Sophie Cachia
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