Laura de Medici-Bentley: Food allergy scare highlights need to act on instinct

Laura de Medici-Bentley

This column was supposed to be about something completely different – and then I had the scariest experience of my parenting career.

The day started off as a normal day. It was a beautiful day, so we spent a lot of time outside. We played. We listened to music. That afternoon, we were at a friend’s house. It was snack time, and Livia tried some Doritos. I was enjoying one of those Nutella snack packs with the breadsticks, and Livia tried some of my snack as well. Suddenly, Livia was acting like something was bothering her. I thought that the thick consistency of the Nutella was bothering her, so I encouraged her to wash it down with some lemonade. That wasn’t working. Suddenly, she started drooling and coughing repeatedly, and before I knew it, she got sick.  A red flag went up. Something very similar had happened that previous Sunday – we were at a grocery store, she tried a few different food samples, and suddenly, after a coughing fit, she got sick. I didn’t think much of it on Sunday, because immediately after, although slightly congested, she was back to her typical, happy self.

This time, however, was different. After getting sick, she said “I’m OK!,” and seemed happy, but as I took her to the car, I noticed that same congestion that she had Sunday. Coincidence? Likely, but it was too similar.

Something told me to listen to her breathing. It seemed OK, but her nose was very congested. On the car ride home, she fell asleep. Upon arriving home, things quickly took a turn for the worst. She was having another coughing episode, she was crying hysterically, and nothing was helping. When she started wheezing, my initial fear was confirmed – she was having a serious allergic reaction to something she had eaten.

I called Lamar in a panic. He urged me to go to the emergency room. Thankfully, we live within minutes from the hospital. The car ride there was terrifying. The wheezing was getting worse, and my thoughts were plagued with terrible “what ifs” as I tried to keep a level head and drive safely. At this point, she was practically screaming. Strangely, I was relieved – because I knew that as long as she was screaming, she was breathing.

I couldn’t believe this was happening – after almost a year of eating a wide variety of foods and having no difficulties, I thought Livia was “in the clear” when it came to food allergies. If she had been this allergic to something, wouldn’t we have known by now?

By the time we arrived in the emergency room lobby, Livia’s eyes were bloodshot, and her face was breaking out in hives. I was terrified, but I knew I had to remain calm for Livia. I didn’t know what to tell her to expect, so I told her the only truths I knew – I told her that I was there, Daddy was on his way, she was safe and loved, and that she would feel better “soon.”

I had never taken anyone to an emergency room, and I had a few irrational fears about it. For some reason, I had this fear that Livia and I would be waiting for a long time before receiving any treatment. What if they didn’t think her condition was life-threatening enough for immediate attention? What if her breathing stopped before she got any medicine?

The kind nurses at the front desk made me realize everything would be OK. Shortly after I answered their questions, we were taken to a waiting room and Livia was given medicine. When Lamar got there, Livia reached up for him and seemed to be crying out of relief. It wasn’t long before she fell asleep in his arms.

Our nurse was wonderful. Even though she was busy, she made it her top priority to get us a room with a bed. She told us we would be waiting a while – they wanted to make sure she didn’t have another reaction. When the doctor came in, she told us she would refer us to an allergist so that we could pinpoint exactly what caused this reaction.

She explained that Livia could have developed a food allergy to something she had previously tolerated, and that each reaction after this could be worse. To be on the safe side, she prescribed us the EpiPen to use “just in case” she had a serious reaction before seeing the allergist. This precaution really made Lamar and me feel at ease.

After listening to Livia’s breathing, two prescriptions later, we were good to go. It never felt so good to be home.

Even though we were shaken by this experience, we realized how lucky we were; her reaction could have been much worse. It also made us realize that when you have a small child, “never say never.” Livia has always been able to eat anything – I never pictured her being allergic to food. I also learned not to doubt myself in a serious situation concerning Livia. My gut told me ”something is seriously wrong!,” and it turns out, I was right.

Laura de Medici-Bentley, of Winchester Virginia, is a former early childhood educator who currently enjoys staying home with her 2-year-old daughter. She is an author of a personal blog, She can be reached at