Thursday, March 22, 2012

Adrenaline Rush

Why have Nick's teachers picked the most lethal thing in his life to teach him the lesson of independence and self-reliance? 

I just learned that I was not one of the parents who were selected to go to fifth grade camp this year.  I wasn't exactly looking forward to being a parent volunteer.  It's a lot of hard work and I know I wouldn't get much sleep.  I wouldn't get much time to myself either. 

So, what's the problem, you ask?

Nick can't go if either Mike or I don't go because of his tree-nut allergy.  This allergy is life-threatening.  His teacher bungled the overnight in November and Nick left his EpiPen lying in the classroom.  The extra EpiPen from the classroom was in a box on the bus, rendered useless by the cold.  Mike and I were not happy campers.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Nick's teacher handed out Almond Joy candies to each of the kids in class.  You have got to be kidding!
Nick's allergy to tree nuts began when he was a toddler.  We went to the emergency room with him with breathing issues so often, they knew our faces and called us frequent fliers.  It was funny once he was able to breathe.  Before the doctors managed to guess, Mike figured out that Nick had trouble breathing whenever he ate walnuts.  From there, it was easy to figure out that he couldn't tolerate pecans, hazelnuts, or even almond extract. 

The last time Nick went to the emergency room because of a nut, he was four.  He had eaten a piece of walnut the size of an uncooked lentil.  It was enough.  They took him back immediately when we arrived at the triage desk at the ER.  Breathing issues always cut in line in front of cuts, breaks, flu, and everything but heart attacks.  The first thing they did was administer a shot of epinephrine.  It's the same chemical as adrenaline, so most of you can imagine that time when you almost died and understand its effects. You feel a surge of energy.  Mike and I had to physically hold Nick onto the table along with a couple of other nurses while he tried to scream.  It's hard to scream, even for a four year old, when your esophagus is closing.  Depending on your nature, you either want to run or to fight.  Nick's nature is to fight.  Your heart races.  My most visceral memory of that night is that the nurse grabbed the doctor by the elbow and asked if it was safe to administer that next dose of epinephrine.  She said his heart rate was already dangerously high.  'Would the next dose kill him?' were her unsaid words as her eyes flicked over to Mike and I.  My natural adrenaline levels were as high as they'd ever been, either climbing, caving, or whitewater rafting.  I didn't need a shot to get that way.

The doctor's response was, "having a heart rate will be irrelevant if we can't get some air into his lungs."  I wonder if the next step was to perform an emergency tracheotomy, a hole just below the larynx that might allow air to pass.  I never asked them.  The injection was given and Nick's airways began to open up.  Eventually, his heart rate slowed.  It was a long and terrifying night.

After that, we were very careful about nuts.  It turns out that some people just don't realize, even when you call the problem life-threatening, how serious this is for Nick.  Other people seemed to get it, yet have handed him bread studded with walnuts or ice cream with almonds.  Oh, it's been a dance.  We have even overlooked problems in ingredients ourselves on occasion. 

The good news is that Nick has not been back to the emergency room because of his allergies.  Despite struggles to make the bus, the lunch room, and the classrooms safe, we have only had scares, and no real emergencies in his school.  He was even kept out of the learning garden because of the acorns on the ground.  The school nurse has become a true friend.  I'm so glad because she's a riot!  She's also a great advocate for Nick.

Cub Scout camp was a dream.  The cooks worked with us every day.  Even the boys at the trading post kept an eye out for Nick.  We've learned which restaurants we can trust, which candies to buy, and how to get through the gauntlet of Halloween, Valentine's Day, and Easter.  Nick's managing pretty well!  We have no nuts in our house.  We are careful if we do eat nuts.  Nick's babysitters had to be taught how to use an EpiPen.  In fact, every time Nick has a playdate, that lesson is repeated. Even though Nick is eleven and supposedly responsible, we need an adult who knows where his EpiPen is and how to use it.  Nick just might not be able to talk if he eats a nut by accident. 

Nick's doctor won't even give him a skin test for tree nuts any more.  It is just that dangerous for him.  Instead, he has to have blood drawn, and then the blood can be tested.  This prevents his body from escalating the allergy to a higher level.

So does that make us seem like clingy parents when it comes to overnight trips, parties, and snacks? It sure does.  At the beginning of every year, I discuss these issues with Nick's new teacher and work to ensure a nut-free classroom.  Despite some reluctance, it has happened.  Still, some of the teachers initially eyed me with suspicion.  Most of them got over it after a while.  Most.  I really can't worry that the rest of them are annoyed by my attention to this, now can I?

Still, I find it ironic that they would tell me that I needed to use this as a tool to teach independence and self-reliance to Nick.  This, from a second grade teacher and now, his fifth.  So, I want to ask them, would you let your own eight-year-old ride in the car without his seat belt so he could learn to make his own choices?  Would you leave your hungry grade-schooler alone in a laboratory full of poisons to read a list of ingredients to determine which solution would be his next meal so he could become more self-reliant?  Would you allow your child grab hold of a snake in the Everglades and not hold them back from their folly in an attempt to teach them to become more independent?  I would like to think that any true teacher would pick a less lethal method for introducing these concepts. 

After all, how much can he learn if he's dead?

I'm done with my rant now. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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