A few weeks ago my mackerdoodle had an allergic reaction to something. I still don’t know what she ate before lunch, but I do know that after she had already had a reaction, we unwittingly fed her a dessert pizza with butter in it at supper. She was sick for a day, throwing up with streaming nose and general lethargy until the Benadryl finally cleared up the visible symptoms. But the thing about living with allergies is that sometimes the symptoms can be dealt with, but the allergen stays around and mucks things up behind the scenes as it were.
On Friday at lunch the mackerdoodle somehow obtained an indeterminate number of cheese flavored crackers. By Saturday morning she had an angry diaper rash and a cough. The diaper rash was cleared up with another dose of Benadryl, but by Tuesday the cough had settled into her chest, and she had developed a fever and deep purple bags under her eyes.
I’d made her an appointment with the pediatrician for Thursday afternoon, but when I put her into the van after lunch on Wednesday I heard a very unsettling rattle in her chest. Despite my fear of being That Mother, who takes her kid to the doctor every time she sneezes, I drove immediately to the pediatrician and asked, very politely, if they thought maybe she should be seen a day early. An assistant nurse came over with a stethoscope and casually listened to the mackerdoodle’s chest. Much less casually she stepped over to the check-in clerk and said “She needs to be seen today. Put her in the first available slot.”
In the end, the official diagnosis was double ear infection, but the ultimate conclusion was this: the cough/wheeze, the ear fluid, the post nasal drip was all the result of allergies. The Benadryl had cleared up the acute symptoms, but the mucus had hung around and been inflamed by the second milk assault, causing a wheeze/cough, a sinus drip and an ear infection.
I have been in the habit of thinking of all allergies like a seasonal allergy – just take the medicine and stop sneezing. I am being forced to remember that milk is not a minor inconvenience to my mackerdoodle’s body, it’s almost like a drop of poison, and too many drops of cyanide over too short of a period can really make a person sick. I can’t think in terms of the moment. I have to think about the cumulative assault on her immune system.
It’s a hard burden to bear as a mother, and it’s difficult not to become that person who wraps her child in bubble wrap, and demands that anyone with food keep themselves at least fifteen feet away from her, and their hands where I can see them at all times. It’s hard not to become a hermit and say “we can’t eat anywhere but at home, and then only food I have personally prepared.” And it’s hard not to become either an allergy specialist who sees allergies in everyone else, or the food police who tells everyone else that what they’re eating and enjoying would make my daughter very sick. It’s a difficult thing to be responsible for something so important for a child to whom you can communicate none of it and who can’t communicate symptoms back to you.
It’s difficult to live with an allergy. Some days I handle it. Some days we have double ear infections.