By JENNIFER STEUER
For many moms, there are certainly times that will be burned into your memory for the rest of your life. Many of these moments will be happy, the others … not so much.
November is a tough month for many families, and this year isn’t any easier. Many of us just can’t face Thanksgiving and all of its trappings this year. This year, Harlan, Rebecca, Benjamin, Olivia, my mom and I will hopefully gather around the table with bowls of mashed potatoes and turnips sending up ribbons of steam, beckoning us to come sit and be happy. Our plates will overflow with salad, turkey and rolls. The love we feel will make us smile. We will keep laughing over the inside jokes about key lime pie and corn bread as we do the dishes. Long after the meal is done, we will still be talking and remembering family that isn’t with us.
In September, one of my biggest fears came true: Olivia had a reaction to something she ate. Within two minutes of eating a cookie – she has had all the ingredients with no issues before – Olivia’s mouth began to swell and hives danced across her tongue, inside her mouth and spilled out onto her beautiful face. Seeing my child in such a state made my body go cold. My brave girl came to me, and there was no question that she needed the Epi-Pen. I looked into her eyes and felt time stop. I saw that visceral fear and tears running down her swollen cheeks. We both knew what was at stake: her life. I grabbed the box of Epi-Pens and through rote memory from many, many practice shots and tutorials from Certified Allergy and Asthma, I pressed the applicator to her thigh. Olivia was so brave! After the Epi-Pen and two Benadryl, there was no improvement so a second shot was necessary. From the time Olivia ate the cookie to the second Epi-Pen, five minutes had passed. Those five minutes were the most terrifying minutes of my life.
The entire family knew this was serious, and everyone jumped into action. I don’t know how an emergency could have gone more smoothly. Harlan had been in the garage; Rebecca ran and let him know what happened. Benjamin called 911 and gave them all the information necessary. My mom went outside to wave down the police, firetrucks and ambulance. We got Olivia outside and sat her in a lawn chair so there would be room for the emergency workers to help her. Her heart was beating so fast from epinephrine and fear. This terrified every single one of us. I couldn’t worry about anything in those moments because I was focused on whether Olivia could breathe. I watched the EMTs check her over, give her oxygen and strap her on the stretcher. Olivia was pale and looked so small. I rode with her to the emergency room with prayers flying through my mind to my lips. I prayed for my daughter to be protected. This was life and death.
At the pediatric emergency room, every single person treated Olivia with kindness and compassion. The nurses kept both of us informed about the plans for treatment and what the best and worst case scenarios could entail. I sat next to Olivia’s bed and held her hand. We watched a movie, which was a great distraction for us. As emergency rooms and emergency situations go, we got lucky. We were blessed with a good outcome.
Olivia was diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies right before Thanksgiving in 2009. She wasn’t even two years old. (Fun fact: Peanuts are actually a legume and not a nut.) Since that day, we have done all we can to keep her safe. I had so much to be thankful that year. This year, I am so grateful for a family that pulled together to make sure that Olivia survived. Food allergies are not to be taken lightly. The struggle with food allergies is life and death. The allergens aren’t just in food. Take a look at cosmetics, shampoo, facial cleansers – many of them have almond oil, ground walnuts, shea butter, and there is always the chance of cross contamination.
I sit back thinking of how my family is doing and honestly can say we are doing OK. Benjamin, Rebecca and Olivia may argue and get on each other’s nerves but at the end of the day there is love. We stand by our family and we raise each other up. No matter how much fighting happens when Olivia needed Benjamin and Rebecca’s help no one hesitated to help. That is what I am most thankful this year and every year: my family.
Jennifer Steuer is an Albany mom whose busy household includes her husband, Harlan, and 12-year-old triplets Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Follow her on Instagram: jennifersteuer.