author of Feeding Eden

To Epi or Not To Epi? It shouldn’t be a question….

Last October to nearly the day I made a grave mistake. I didn't give Eden his Epipen during a very severe reaction. Instead, I gave him doses of antihistamine, that did not exceed his advised quantities but came very close. And Eden was/is fine. So why was my decision a mistake?

I'll start from the beginning. My husband was traveling and on the West Coast. When I walked the children home from school that day, I was tired from parenting solo. I didn't feel like cooking. But I always cook for my children. So I stopped in a familiar mom and pop prepared food store, intending to buy something ready-made for myself. That's when my daughter saw some twice-baked potatoes in the display and asked me to buy one to eat with dinner. Before I could answer, Eden chimed in, "Oh mom! Can you ask them if it's safe for me? It looks so good!"
I almost never buy Eden prepared or restaurant foods. Almost never. But I gave in and asked, assuming the potato was whipped up with butter and milk and we wouldn't be buying it anyway. "Neither!" Answered the proprietors. "Never! We use only olive oil. A little water Much healthier!" Of course I repeated Eden's list of allergens (including nuts) and asked them again. And again they repeated, "Olive oil and water." So I bought one for the children to split.
Fast forward a few hours and two bites to our dinner table where Eden says, "Mommy, there's something in that potato!" His throat began to itch, his body began to hive. I ran the ten feet of floor to get his emergency kit and gave Eden Benadryl. Then his asthma inhalers because he asked for them. And while Eden reported some relief, hives covered his chest and back. It was time for the Epipen and I knew it.
I also knew something that most non-allergic people don't. My two children and I were leaving for the emergency room after I pulled out the Epi. It would be an all-night vigil. So I gave Eden more Benadryl for his hives. He said he felt less itchy but they were still there - red and angry. Based on Eden's initial throat and breathing symptoms alone, even without those awful hives, his emergency treatment form indicates use of the Epipen. I held off. The hives began to recede. They receded more. And after a long evening, eventually the Benadryl knocked Eden out into a deep sleep.
Not me. I walked into the children's darkened room every hour throughout that night to check his breathing for wheezes, his skin for swelling. By the morning Eden looked as if nothing had happened. But when I called my allergist after drop-off, she told me plainly that something had happened: I had been lucky. My son was on the verge of anaphylaxis (impossible to know how close his body was teetering) and I had pulled him back with the wrong medication. "That's the kind of situation where you should use the Epipen," my allergist answered after hearing the details. "I know it's hard to know. But it would have been safer with those symptoms."
Looking back (as I have so often since that night) I think I will never hesitate again. Sometime we know the moment we do something that it is a mistake. In this case it took me too long to realize that in not doing something I had erred on the side of danger. And for the wrong reason - I didn't want to disrupt my children's lives that night. I didn't want to take my children to the emergency room and give them that memory. Now, as the air is beginning to chill again, I still shiver at the thought of a different outcome, haunted by a memory of my own making.