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Don't Go Nuts Over Your School's Allergy Policy

05/02/2016 5:10 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Black lunchbox with skull and crossbones on lid and peanuts overflowing out of container

Whilst I may appear to be a fairly decent, albeit super cool and really, really good looking, woman in her late 20s (actually almost 40 if you ask for I.D.), if you scratch the surface you will find I have some horrible habits.

I use the filthiest language in normal conversation, and have done so ever since I was a child -- my 10th birthday party was actually cancelled due to my potty mouth. I boast about never getting parking fines despite selfishly always exceeding time limits. I talk about how funny I think I am to the point that my friends no longer know how to respond; it's hard for them to cope with my unprecedented comedic talent.

I smoke cigars (one of my nicknames is Namminsky, after Monica Lewinksy). My favourite drink is Bundy and Coke, although I am an outspoken snob about the fiction I read. I use my own chopsticks in shared dishes. I wear ridiculously inappropriate short dresses in Summer (another of my nicknames is Nama No Pants). And this is just a list of things I can admit to, knowing my mother will read this/without getting arrested.

I'd like to say that while I have horrible habits, I am not an intentionally mean person. But actually, I have almost killed a friend. Twice.

This friend is severely anaphylactic (the kind of allergy where you can die) to latex. That's right -- you can be allergic to latex in things such as balloons, rubber gloves, condoms and gimp outfits (or so I'm told). Once at a wine festival, and once in my own home, I brought this friend into very close proximity with a balloon, and did not realize my gross error until I stopped talking about myself long enough to notice the terrified look on her face.

On the latter occasion, I was hosting book club at my place, and I seated my friend at my dining table, right next to my son's newly acquired Iron Man balloon (long red and gold balloons twisted together to resemble Iron Man, given to him that day at the shops). Admittedly, I was pretty enamoured with this balloon, because Robert Downey Jnr (drool) plays Iron Man in the movies... and I had actually taken a series of photos of myself posing with my new rubber boyfriend, ahem, I mean my son's balloon, before my guests had arrived. (I am cognisant of the fact that I'm looking fairly unattractive in this article.)

Apart from the latex allergy, my friend has food allergies too, and I had taken great care to ensure those had been addressed. But, with eight other guests, I was just too distracted being the hostess with the mostess to remember the threat the balloon posed to her.

Luckily, I managed to not kill my friend that night. I was mortified when I realised what I had done, removed Iron Man immediately and apologised profusely. I really wish my friend had spoken up about it, but obviously she was too polite to make my new boyfriend feel unwelcome.

I know I am human and I make mistakes. But this mistake really surprised me, because I have witnessed my own son almost die from an anaphylactic reaction to nuts a few times. So you'd think I should know better, and should have been more vigilant. I am fully aware that allergies are real and can have life-threatening consequences. I know that not wanting to have an anaphylactic reaction goes way beyond "fussiness" or "attention-seeking" behaviour.

I wanted to share this cautionary tale because I've found that not everyone accepts that anaphylaxis is a life-or-death situation. In my experience, not everyone understands the dangers and urgency of anaphylactic reactions. And mistakes can happen all too easily.

I'm very lucky that my son's school has a brilliant allergy awareness program and a 'No Nuts' policy. I say lucky, as I know some schools have struggled to implement such policies, because there are those who argue that nuts are common in society and people with allergies need to learn to adapt -- which is absolutely true, and why we regularly eat out, to maintain exposure and live as "normal" a life as possible.

Then there are others who strongly believe that a nut-free policy is unfair to the children who are not allergic. Obviously, that is an argument used by people who have never witnessed their child vomit their guts out, then become covered head to toe in massive welts from hives, and begin to suffocate because their little throat is constricting. And they, most likely, have never had to sit in the back of an ambulance with tears in their eyes (you're too much in shock to sob -- that comes later, from relief) as they watch their child being worked on while the sirens blare on the way to the hospital.

The problem with kids with allergies at school is that their parents are not present, watching what their child is being exposed to and able to leap into action if needed. An allergic reaction can progress into anaphylaxis within a minute, and, especially if a child is very young, the child may not be able to communicate their discomfort quickly enough - resulting in a very dangerous situation that can lead to death.

I hope this helps parents to better understand when they receive the inevitable letter this week from most schools about allergies. I know it's tempting to groan because your child loves almonds or hard-boiled eggs or raw-tuna sushi. But please spare a thought for the kids who could die from being exposed to those things. And please consider what it is like for the parents who have to blindly trust that you care enough about their kids to deny your own kids those foods for 90 minutes a day on week days.

Please also talk to your kids about the dangers of allergies so that they, too, can be respectful. Many schools have excellent allergy awareness programs, but that hasn't stopped my son being chased in the playground by a bully with a contraband peanut sandwich.

I know being allergy aware is difficult to do if it doesn't affect your world directly -- obviously, despite my knowledge of anaphylaxis and allergies, I still had a lapse in vigilance regarding my friend. But I hope I've helped you to be more conscientious in your workplace, or when packing your kids school lunches, or whenever you have been told there is an allergy there that you should consider. An excellent source for further information is https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/.

As for that Iron Man boyfriend balloon; well, I broke up with him. He turned out to be full of hot air, got deflated pretty easily, and the silence drove me insane...

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