health

"I'm allowing my son to be in charge of his own life-saving medication."

You’d be mistaken for thinking it is a superhero name.

My son Philip is now an “auto injector wearer”. For the first time ever he will be responsible for managing his own food allergies and as part of that he’ll be strapping his medication to his body using an auto injector pack.

It’s the first time he’s been given the responsibility of carrying his life-saving medication with him and he’ll eventually be solely responsible for using it.

Philip, 11, was born with severe food allergies.

He is allergic to egg and the following nuts — cashews, pistachios, walnuts and pecan nuts. I know, all the good nuts. When he was little it was much easier to take care of him.

He was usually with me and I kept a close eye on him. When he wasn’t with me he was in the care of preschools with food bans that protected him. Now that he is in primary school, there is still a level of protection. However, there’s only so much they can do.

Take, for example, the day one of Philip’s “friends” chased him around the playground with a boiled egg.

Everyone though it was hilarious, except for Philip who was left terrified. I would rather see him chased around with a knife. At least that way people would recognise the danger and step in to help him.

Instead his friends started laughing and the teacher’s watched with those bored, dazed expressions they get on their faces during playground duty. Thus is the nature of food allergies, a so-called invisible illness that doesn’t seem to be life-threatening until it actually is.

Philip side shot
Philip, 11, was born with severe food allergies. He is allergic to egg and the following nuts — cashews, pistachios, walnuts and pecan nuts.
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This year Philip is in Year Six, his final year of primary school and then he goes to high school where there are no food bans.

They still have food allergy programs in place; it’s just expected that the children are old enough to participate in their own care, which they totally are.

Not all children Philip’s age wear their medication but we made the decision together that it was a good idea to start now so he can get used to being an auto-injector wearer and because it’s just safer for him in the future to have his medication on him.

Food allergies affect the immune system and if you are having a reaction and panic or move around, you accelerate the reaction. When you feel an attack coming on you have to sit still, stay calm, use your EpiPen and then ask a friend to go and get help and ask for an ambulance to be called just in case the EpiPen doesn’t do the trick or in case of a secondary reaction.

Another reason I want Philip carrying his medication is because way too many times educators and school staff are reluctant to administer a child’s EpiPen to them.

They’ll call me and um and ah over it and I’ll just say, “Why haven’t you given him his EpiPen,” to which they will um and ah some more. In their defence they are not medically trained — although they are first-aid trained — and that’s why I think all schools should have nurses on staff.

Philip explains his food allergies and talks about preparing to take charge of his own food allergies. Article continues after this video.

Then there’s the issue that doesn’t occur to many — when Philip gets a girlfriend.

If his girlfriend eats egg or nuts and then they snog behind the drinks machine at lunchtime, Philip will most likely experience a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

It starts with dizziness, a feeling of dread and then the itchiness will begin in his throat and on his skin before the bridge of his nose starts swelling, as do all of his airways.

He has a small window of opportunity to administer his EpiPen or it will be too late.

I’ve ordered two auto-injector packs — one that straps around his arm or leg and one that straps around his stomach. Each morning Philip will choose which pack to wear depending on the outfit he chooses.

I’ll never forget the case of the young man in the US who died after suffering a severe allergic reaction because he didn’t have his medication with him.

Apparently, he decided not to wear his auto-injector pack because he was wearing slim-fit pants and couldn’t fit it underneath them. If he’d had the option of a stomach pack, maybe he’d still be with us.

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Auto injector pack
Each morning Philip will choose which pack to wear depending on the outfit he chooses.

Philip had a small reaction yesterday after I fed him a macadamia nut I bought from a nut shop.

His doctor advised me to ensure he eats all the nuts he is not allergic to so he doesn’t become allergic to them, which can happen. The macadamia nut he ate must have been kept too close to the cashews because he started to get an itchy throat.

I told him to give himself his EpiPen (which would have been his first time doing it himself) but the feeling went away and we decided he didn’t need to.

My son asked me why I was so calm during the entire episode and I told him I was calm because his food allergies are just part of our “normal” life, so what’s the point of panicking?

Panic only makes his reactions worse. I told him that he has to manage his food allergies and medication just like he manages to cross the road safely. It’s just something he does to keep himself safe, like the many other things he does each day to keep himself safe.

I know he can do this. I know that by teaching him to be in charge of his allergies, he will be okay.

Sure he’s scared of the pain of the EpiPen and worried he won’t be able to inject himself but I’m hoping that when the time comes and that feeling of being constricted in his airways hits he’ll make the right choice and save his own life.

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