Before I participated in a food allergy study and ultimately began oral immunotherapy, flying with a peanut allergy felt like a calculated risk with possibly fatal consequences. This trip was no exception.
The plane teemed with people. There was a steady buzzing of passengers who heaved their bags into the baggage hold, buckled seat belts, and chatted with the people surrounding them. My family boarded a little early, like usual, so that my parents could wipe down our area, making sure to sweep away any potential peanut remnants that lingered on the stowaway tray or even the armrest. Any tiny particles like that were like chunks of poison to me. Even with the Benadryl and four Epi-pens that we traveled with, having a reaction at 25,000 feet above the earth would be a really bad idea. That’s why we took precautions where we could and appreciated that the airline was so accommodating about letting us get to our seats before the crowds of travelers.
As the plane filled to capacity, I saw another family pass us. The mom muttered something about “germaphobes” as she tucked herself in the row behind us. Her two kids passed us. They were two boys, both a few years younger than me. They plunked down next to their mother, as I slid my own mom a look. My mom waved off the comment and shrugged. “You’re all set,” my mom declared, and I took my seat next to the window. I loved to watch the other planes taxiing around us.
Right before take-off, a young flight attendant came over to talk to us and the passengers in the rows around us. “We have a passenger with a peanut allergy in this vicinity. If you could refrain from eating peanuts while we’re in flight, we’d be greatly appreciative.”
We smiled and nodded at the flight attendant as she walked away. About a minute later, we heard an exasperated groan from behind us. The same woman who had made the germaphobe comment declared, “Here are the overpriced granola parfaits that you just had to have.”
I looked at my dad. He closed his eyes and shook his head but said nothing. I was a bit nervous at that point since I knew there could be any number of allergens in those parfaits. I tried to focus on the movie playing on the screen in front of me. Our flight took off, and for a while, there was only the noise of the engines and the flight attendants wheeling around a cart. About twenty minutes later, the parfait-eating mom exclaimed, “Justin, why is your face getting blotchy?”
We couldn’t help it. My entire family swiveled in our seats to see Justin’s face. It was indeed blotchy, and it looked like little hives were forming on his cheeks as we watched.
My mom turned to the woman. “Ma’am, it looks like your son is having some sort of allergic reaction.”
The woman glared and shot back, “My kids don’t have allergies.”
My mother completely ignored her and looked at the parfait. “It’s probably something in your granola mix there.”
Justin moaned and started sniffing. The mom pulled out a tissue and handed it to her son, a bit of concern creeping into her voice. “Maybe there’s some sort of nut in there. I remember he did get a little sniffly one other time he had them.”
A flight attendant noticed our discussion and hurried over. My mother flew into action. She opened her bag and pulled out the chewable Benadryl. “I’m not a doctor, but I think your son should take two of these. If he starts having trouble breathing, we can give him a shot with the Epi-pen.”
I could tell the other mom wanted to protest, but Justin’s face was really red, and his eyes watered. She opened the chewable medicine and told her son to take them.
Eyes wide and scared, he grabbed them and chewed them immediately. We all stared at him silently. I looked down and realized that I was gripping my seat so tightly, my hands hurt. I saw my dad quietly reach for the Epi-pens in our bag. It felt like time stood still. I strained to hear him breathing, to make sure he wasn’t coughing or breathing strangely.
“It’s not getting worse,” the flight attendant noted after a while. More minutes passed.
“I think it looks better,” my mom said.
We all seemed to breathe deeply for the first time in a half hour. The flight attendant walked away, and my family settled back into our seats. I peeked back every few minutes, and it looked like Justin had fallen asleep, probably wiped out from the Benadryl.
When we landed safely, we all stood up and stretched. My mom smiled hesitatingly at the mom behind us. “I can give you a few extra Benadryl tablets in case you need them in a few hours. Sometimes you can have a reaction several hours later.”
Justin’s mom scowled and shook her head. “No, he’s fine. It was nothing.”
I couldn’t help myself. “But what if he gets exposed to nuts some other time?”
Justin’s mom smirked and barely looked at me. “He’ll be just fine.”
My mother turned me around, and we waited to deplane. When we were walking toward the exit, I turned to my parents. “Thanks.”
“For what,” my dad asked.
“For being the kind of parents to carry around four Epi-pens and wipe down seats on a plane.”
“You’re welcome,” my mom said, brushing my cheek, “but everyone should have that kind of parent.”
We walked out of the airport.