My son and I have a rule: I have to see the whites of his teacher’s eyes every day so I can relax. My eldest has one of those nightmare-inducing peanut allergies. When he went to kindergarten (his first time away from me, ever) it was all I could do not to cover him in bubble wrap and flashing lights to make sure everyone knew of his allergy. I needed the world to know I was relying on them to keep my then-4-year-old safe. Now that he’s in grade 3, can read ingredients on food labels, and is able to somewhat comprehend the severity of his allergy, I’ve relaxed. A bit. But when there is a substitute (or teacher on call) in his classroom I kick into over-drive and launch head-first into my EpiPen speech.

I always feel badly as I come charging into the classroom saying “here’s my kid and he’s the one with the peanut allergy. Have you been trained on how to use an EpiPen?” 99% of the time the teacher is young and has never had any cause to interact with an EpiPen. I know I (unintentionally) scare the daylights out of them.

This morning there was a sub in the classroom and I launched into my well-rehearsed speech that includes: these are his symptoms, this is the EpiPen and here’s how you use it”. When I got to the moment of “blue to the sky; orange to the thigh”, I actually pulled out the blue plug. And that’s when my demonstration went sideways. What was I thinking?! You don’t pull out the blue plug when demonstrating, or if you do you quickly pop that sucker back in. But I pulled it out, and then said “you push the orange end hard to the meaty part of the thigh and count to 10”. And guess what? I heard the click. I didn’t feel the needle, but I sure heard that click. The click that tells you you just wasted ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS injecting yourself with an EpiPen you don’t need.

Talk about a stellar moment. All I can hope is that the substitute remembers my spiel before the embarrassing moment, and not the chaos that ensued afterwards. What chaos? Oh the chaos of my son panicking when he realized I used his EpiPen (I had a replacement at home, in addition to the spare one kept in his classroom). The twittering amongst his classmates who have spent their entire schooling-life kindly leaving all peanut-filled food items at home and are therefore well versed in his allergy & treatment. And the horror on the substitute’s face. But I’ve decided to embrace the decidedly me-moment and share a few things I learned (the observations below are based on my experience):

  1. The needle of the EpiPen DOES NOT hurt. I can’t count the number of times I’ve acted out the injection process. The banging of the blunt EpiPen against my thigh hurts WAY MORE than the needle. Our son has a practice EpiPen and those practice shots are infinitely more painful.
  2. The medicine in the EpiPen is powerful. While you are supposed to hold the needle against the thigh for 10 seconds, I speak from experience that the medicine comes out quickly. This provides me great comfort. My kid is petrified of needles and I always assumed the only way someone would successfully get the medicine into him would be to have an adult sit on him. But seeing as that needle was in me for 1 second at most, I’ve got hope that my kid will get enough of the medicine should he ever need it.
  3. The shakes are real. Despite the quick exposure I had to the epinephrin I’m still shaking like a leaf 30 minutes later. It’s crazy.
  4. There may be blood. A surprising amount (if you happen to hit a blood vessel). I thought the wetness on my jeans was the epinephrin leaking out. Nope that was blood. I shouldn’t have been surprised…jamming a needle into your body would, of course, cause some blood to leak out. I had a good toonie-sized stain on my jeans and a jolly-big smear on my leg.

So while I don’t recommend intentionally injecting yourself with an EpiPen I’m almost (emphasis on ALMOST) glad I had this experience. For years I’ve never been able to fully explain to my son what the whole process feels like. He knows what the reaction feels like but we didn’t have an EpiPen the last time he had a reaction so he doesn’t know how the solution feels. Now we’ve got my first-hand experience to talk through. It was an incredibly stupid – and expensive – mistake to make, but I’m going to embrace the information I garnered.

Helpful Resources

If you are new to the world of severe allergies it can be scary. Fortunately we live in a world accustomed to allergies and there are a ton of resources to help parents. Here are a few we rely on:

Food Allergy Canada – sign up for alerts when specific allergens have been detected in food products. You can customize the alerts to your allergies.

Allergy Mom – great resource for allergy-friendly recipes, resources, allergy-related news & more. And she’s Canadian!

Mabel’s Labels – you can get allergy labels to slap on your child’s lunch bag & lunch containers. Great for the young kids who may not remember to remind adults of their allergy.

MedicAlert – while you can go with the old-school silver bracelet there are also a ton of new designs. The allergy is stated on the back along with a file number. A quick call to MedicAlert gets any medical responder all of the info they need on my son.

EpiKids – they make great carry-cases for the EpiPens. My son only takes his off in the house. After more than a year – of heavy & constant play – the case is barely showing any wear.