I count my lucky stars for the amazing and supportive friends I’ve made throughout my life. It’s something I try never to take for granted. Friendship, as you know, is essential to well-being. And in my son’s case, it might be critical to it.
Some of his oldest and best supporters were featured alongside him in the Discovery Channel documentary over the weekend. They are constantly making sure their parents have safe snacks for my son during play dates; they are patient and kind when we collectively can’t eat dessert from a particularly enticing menu during family dinners; and they ensure that he feels included when, for example, team snacks aren’t allergy-friendly.
Over the summer, the father of one of his best buddies told me something that almost made me cry with gratitude. The friend’s parents had spoken to their son about food allergies. And, as they educated him about food allergies in general and my son’s allergies in particular, they also practiced what he should do in a food allergic emergency.
They taught him the signs of an allergic reaction:
- Hives or itching;
- Coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing;
- Complaints of an itchy or swollen throat/tongue;
- Upset stomach;
- And/or if my son just doesn’t look right after eating something.
They also gave him a plan of action:
- Tell an adult (preferably my husband or me, but his parents or any other supervising adult would do); and
- Call 911.
My heart swelled. I hadn’t asked them to do this. I hadn’t asked them to have their son safeguard mine. But that’s what friends do, don’t they: they look out for one another. This responsible little guy is now another educated eye on my son when I’m not immediately there — which may be more and more as he grows up. And that gives me some peace of mind.
Following this conversation, my son and his friend were at dinner with us. After the bread was delivered to the table, his friend quietly got up from his seat next to my son, walked to the other side of the table and spoke with his father. As it turned out, he was trying to decide whether he should move seats or forego the bread which was sprinkled with sesame seeds in order to protect my child. I had (and still have even as I type this) goosebumps at the understanding and thoughtfulness of this fabulous 8 year old.
If you watched “Emerging Epidemic” you may have noticed how friends and relatives play a crucial role to food allergic children. The most explicit example came about 20 minutes into the program when Andrew’s story unfolds. Among the many things we learn about Andrew is that he is surrounded by friends who understand his food allergies. They are knowledgable about what to do in case of a reaction and are there to help him.
I’ve said it many times, but educating young people about food allergies in general increases social consciousness about this widespread issue. It not only instills empathy for their food allergic peers whose experiences are different from their own, but it helps them rehearse what to do in case of an emergency when precious seconds count. With two kids in every classroom with food allergies, this kind of education could save lives.