Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Strawberry Fields Forever
I got some incredible news tonight: my son Adam is no longer allergic to strawberries.
On March 7, 1996, he was at my apartment. His mother and I, who had been living together since his birth, had separated a few months before. At that point, we were cordial, hoping to work things out. In the meantime, Adam would spend days at my place, and she would pick him up so that I could work nights. I remember the exact date, because it was his second birthday.
I made lunch for him-- he loved peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches. He ate his lunch, and within ten minutes, a red blotch showed up on his arm. I was afraid he'd bumped up against the radiator. I asked him if it hurt, and he shook his head no. Over the next couple of hours, the red blotches started spreading all over his skin. We figured it was an allergic reaction, maybe to laundry detergent.
I took him over to his mother's house and we celebrated his birthday together-- with strawberry cheesecake, his favorite.
By the next day, the blotches were getting even worse, and he was starting to have trouble breathing. We called our pediatrician, and he told us to get him to the emergency room so that they could give him an epinephrine shot. It was now becoming life-threatening.
At the hospital, after he'd been given the shot, the doctor told us it was probably a food allergy. He'd eaten two prime suspects, peanuts and strawberries, within the past 24 hours. Given the symptoms, he told us that it was most likely the strawberries .
We eliminated strawberries from his diet, and he never had another episode.
The picture at the top of this post was taken at his second birthday party a couple of days after that day. He was miserable, itching and covered in calamine lotion.
Over the years, we've had to check every label of everything. A lot of fruit juices and snacks use strawberries, even if they're not strawberry flavored. Once he learned to read, he got very good about checking ingredients.
Two years after his initial episode, we took him to an allergist, who gave him the "scratch" test (which he was very unhappy about-- it hurts). The test confirmed that he did indeed have a severe allergy to strawberries, as well as eggs-- and less severe allergies to pork, tuna, green beans and a few other things.
In November, he and his mother are going to China with her family to visit the village that her parents are from. Ironically, she, who is of 100% Chinese ancestry, has never been there, but I have-- in fact, the picture I use for this blog was taken of me in Shanghai, China. In any event, we decided that it would be a prudent move to have him tested again for allergies-- a rural Chinese village might not have the facilities to treat a severe allergic reaction. His mother took him in today to an allergist who reported that all of the allergies, including the strawberry allergy, are gone. We were told that this might happen.
Ironically, in the intervening years, I discovered I had my own severe food allergy: celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by the gluten of wheat and other grains. Like Adam's strawberry allergy, my entire life revolves around avoiding a food.
Last year, I asked Adam if he remembered what strawberries tasted like. He did not. I felt a little sad about this. Strawberries are one of my very favorite foods and were one of his as well. The last time Adam had a strawberry, he was two years old; he was just beginning to talk. Since then, he's started school, learned to read and write, learned to ride a bike, to play baseball, work a computer. He's a year away from high school.
This weekend, just to test it out, I'm going to give him a strawberry. I'm curious what his reaction to them will be, in every sense.