I’ll never be able to do that. I can’t do that now. It’d be too dangerous.
Potina’s thoughts were eerily reinforced by the next line in her daily devotional. The author, on mission in Africa, went on to describe her simple evening meal -- with crushed peanuts -- in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, and certainly no ambulance service to a nearby hospital.
Potina’s life changed forever when her daughter Nita was diagnosed with food allergies. There are always new challenges -- like finding peanut shells littered across the beach. Potina carries four Epi-pens everywhere, two for Nita -- and two for herself. They wear Medic Alert bracelets, too.
Potina figured she was allergic to more than peanut, but was surprised when she tested positive for eleven foods. She stared at the wheals on her arms, mesmerized by her body’s reaction to the drops of allergens. What would happen if she ate those foods? Only God knows.
Potina has avoided most of the foods she’s allergic to for years -- because Nita isn’t supposed to have highly allergenic foods while she’s young. One time a spoonful of ice cream from McDonald’s gave Potina chest pains, presumably from sesame contamination. But that was before Potina knew much about food allergy and she forgot about it. She avoided it like the plague for Nita, not herself.
Potina hasn’t traveled since before Nita was born. She doesn’t take risks with Nita. She’s not supposed to be more than ten minutes away from emergency medical services, just in case... Potina clings to the hope that Nita will outgrow her allergies and not develop any new ones. She’s still young. It won’t be soon, but it’s still possible. (Luckily, Nita is so far not allergic to nuts or fish -- which are less likely to be outgrown.)
But Potina’s all grown up. She thinks, Maybe this is the start of the falling apart forties? Potina and the kids rarely go to restaurants (which is good for the budget!) When they do, Potina brings their food and drinks. Her younger child’s diet is restricted too, due to family history and age. It’s difficult for Potina to avoid all the foods Nita can’t have, but it makes life in the kitchen a bit easier. -- And there’s less risk of her making a terrible mistake.
Finding new, safe foods is thrilling, but trying them is still nerve wracking. Potina tried an allergen-free chicken nugget and almost wept with joy at the taste. She was in a major food rut! So she had another. She tried it when her husband was home, just in case she reacted to it. And she did, but not dangerously so. She’s not yet sure why. She can’t have Nita’s energy bars either. -- They’re free of ten allergens, but not one of Potina’s.
Potina can’t leave Nita without worrying that Nita will have a reaction. Nita gets a contact rash just from touching one of her allergens. Caretakers must be trained on Nita’s allergies. Potina and her husband hardly ever go out. – Their last ‘dates’ were to wakes and burials.
This year Nita will eat lunch at school. Potina hopes she made the right choice. She hopes the better student to teacher ratio will also translate into a safer environment. When she must drop off Nita, she has to let go and let God.
Potina reminds herself that God wouldn’t make her deal with food allergy unless He knew she could handle it. Potina’s a perfectionist. She’s very careful, maybe too careful. Not everyone is so paranoid. Other food allergy families do everything they used to do, albeit a bit differently. Some even fly. Potina prays for more trust and less worry – for more faith and less fear.
Everyone has a cross to bear, food allergies seem to be Potina’s. But Potina knows her family is lucky. The restrictions on her family’s diet actually make them eat more healthfully. Food allergy doesn’t mean certain death. They just have to strictly avoid their allergens. It’s not easy, but other people have it much worse, with food allergies and countless other things Potina can’t even begin to imagine.
Potina’s obsessive avoidance of the foods her daughter can’t eat may have saved her own life. Of course God knows all about Potina’s allergies, too. He prepared her well for this latest challenge. Potina prays, Please let me always be there for my kids…
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