Monday, January 12, 2009

Accidents Happen

Last night, my son’s best friend accidentally ate some hidden cheese, and he ended up at the doctor’s office at 10:00 pm with a strong food allergic reaction. It was scary, but all things considered, he was fortunate – it was not as bad as it might have been. His face and neck puffed up and he turned crimson from his head to his toes (looking for all the world like he’d gotten a bad sunburn), but his breathing stayed normal, his lungs stayed clear, and his oxygen level remained great.

He didn’t need to be injected with an EpiPen, but the doctor did prescribe an oral steroid for the next few days, and his mom is keeping him on Benadryl for 24 hours.

He woke up this morning back to his normal color, and with only a faint shadow of puffiness beneath his eyes. We’re all breathing easier this morning.

Now, in the clear light of day, after a good night’s sleep, his parents are going through this episode with an eye towards learning from it.

One of the main lessons is simply this: accidents happen. No matter how vigilant, informed, careful, or prepared you are, it’s still possible to let a mistake slip though. Whether it’s grabbing the wrong food because the package labels are similar, or administering the wrong bottle of medicine because it’s in the same location and you’re panicking, or forgetting to check on the ingredients before your kid reaches for a treat, accidents happen.

It’s easy in a situation like this to let guilt and blame flare up. You’re scared, you’re upset, you’re angry. You lash out. In reality, however, guilt and blame always just make things worse, right when the kid needs to hear supportive, positive, loving words instead. So you have to give yourself permission to be human, and give yourself enough room to get past the guilt and move directly to productive actions that will solve the problem at hand.

Fortunately, this family didn’t go down the blame/guilt route. They recognized that there were enough crazy coincidences all happening at once that no one was to blame – it was truly a series of accidents that no one could have predicted. So they’re able to support each other at a time when that’s what they all need. No one is angry; no one is harboring ill feelings towards each other. Everyone is able to feel relief and love instead, which is the way it should be.

This is the first serious reaction this child has had in nearly ten years. That’s because his parents are the most careful people around. They do everything right. They do everything with an eye towards safety. So they’re both agonizing over this experience. But really, it’s remarkable that they’ve only had one mishap of this size in ten years – that says a lot in their favor, since avoiding milk, egg, and nuts in today’s food-oriented society is a constant battle.

The good news is, they were able to deal with the situation quickly, identify exactly what went wrong, and get him to the doctor for treatment. They couldn’t have done that if they weren’t prepared, so they should feel really good about their abilities to rally in a crisis.

And the boy has now had a bad reaction that he can actually remember (most of his other reactions were when he was very small, so it might be harder for him to remember), so when the next time comes, he’ll know a little more about what to look for.

So rather than beating themselves up about this, the family is looking at the lessons they’ve been able to learn, and they’re going to be even more vigilant, careful, and prepared next time. Of course, we all hope there will never BE a “next time.” But accidents happen. It’s how you handle them that matters, and being prepared is the biggest part of success.

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