Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Ashes to Ashes and Nuts to Nuts




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It isn’t always easy having a kid with an allergy that can kill them.  I don’t mean dealing with the allergy itself, although adds a lot of challenges to life.  Sometimes other parents just don’t get it.  I know it’s easier than when I was a kid – I only grew up with one friend who had an allergy like that.  But there are still people who can’t get it through their heads and don’t see why what they do matters.  I eventually started falling back on the analogy that if you send your kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich and I send mine with a gun, the difference is that the peanut butter can only kill my child.  A little blunt, no?  Frustrating sometimes, but most people are pretty understanding and once the issue is on the table, they may even start to think about how it relates to birthday parties and school trips and even play dates.  It’s not always easy, but sometimes it gets easier.

We discovered my son’s allergy when he was about six months old.  My wife, having peanut butter on her toast one morning, brushed something from his cheek only to watch his eye swell up like he’d been in a fight, just without the bruising.

When he was almost three, because we’d failed to communicate things effectively in advance, he managed to have a small handful of peanuts while playing follow-the-leader with one of his cousins at a large family gathering.  To the hospital we went where he received several drugs and a steroid injection to make sure his lungs continued to work while his system flushed itself.  The four of us, including his four month-old sister, spent the night in the hospital after the excitement ended, the whole of which was an experience I’m glad we’ve never repeated, but we learned a lot of things that day, some of which we should already have known.  We learned to become experts at the fine art of label reading.  We learned to ask questions constantly whenever we went to a restaurant or someone else’s house for a meal.  We learned to tell everyone, whether they’d listen or not, that this was a major, life-threatening issue and people who couldn’t take it seriously found that our son couldn’t play with their child outside of school.  We did without a lot of things that people without food allergies take for granted and while he noticed as he got older, I don’t think he really suffered for it.  There were always alternatives.

Today, after having passed a skin test and a blood test, my son passed a challenge test.  This is an allergy test where, in increasing doses and under a doctor’s supervision, the person with the allergy is fed the thing they’re allergic to.  In Paleoboy’s case, we watched him eat ¼ of a peanut, then ½ a peanut, then a whole one.  Two, then four, and finally eight.  There’s a waiting period after each stage, and a longer one at the end.  This was difficult for him, discovering that he can’t stand the taste of them, and for us.  As far as I’m concerned, the smell of peanuts or a peanut-based product means danger.  Instincts aren’t always easy to suppress and I spent the morning in a very alert state.

A challenge test doesn’t happen if there isn’t a very strong chance of success and we had that success today.  (Technically on the second attempt.  The first time around, he was sick and not feeling well.  Couldn’t rule out whether the sudden eye irritation might have been caused by the peanuts, so we readily agreed to a second round.)  Only about 20% of people with a food allergy grow out of it over time.  He’s lucky.  We all are.  Dairy Queen to celebrate.  The first time he’s ever been there.

Are we going to stop reading labels?  Probably not right away.  Maybe not at all.  I know several people with other issues and most of them don’t involve nuts.  We understand some of the problems involved.

The world is bigger and brighter for my son tonight.  He has to keep wearing the epibelt for a year and eat something peanut-based once each month at minimum (once per week preferred by the doctor) to make sure his body holds onto the ability to process it.  We’ll need to find something he can stand the taste of.


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