Friday, May 17, 2013

Don't Trust Me, I'm a Doctor

Yesterday I got coverage to go to my kid's school to bring birthday treats - they are celebrating Summer birthdays before the end of the year, and Jack turns 8 on June 3.

I stopped at the hospital gift shop on the way out and bought a beautiful balloon, a "double bubble," it had clear plastic surrounding a pretty pink flower with a purple and blue butterfly on top.  The effect, I thought, was breathtaking and I couldn't wait to share it with Jack's class.  I considered sending the treats with him and skipping the class party in the interest of my large workload, but that morning at breakfast Jack asked eagerly but guarded if I thought I could make it so I determined that even if it meant staying late at work, I would.  He was thrilled.

It was raining cats and dogs when I pulled into the school parking lot at 9:35 - designated time was 9:45, so I covered the treats with my yoga mat and darted in the double doors briskly.  I stopped to check in with the secretary.

"I'm just going to bring these treats for Jack's birthday celebration."

"What are they, do they have nuts?"

"Um, I don't think so - we've been eating them for years.  My kids hate nuts, and it's a fave, but I've never asked the bakery.  I got them from Sweet Love - they are called Ninja Turtles.  They are condensed cookie dough around homemade caramel with chocolate drizzled on top, they are amazing."

"Oh, never mind, I think the kid with bad nut allergies is in the other class.  But I'm going to have to ask you to take the balloon to your car.  It's a choking hazard.  I had to turn away a Mom bringing 18 balloons to the class the other day."

I looked at her perplexed.  "I'm so sorry, I had no idea."  She softened.  "Well, if you just bring it for the party, then take it back to your car, I guess it's ok, just the one."

"Oh thank you, I promise I'll do that."

I walked into the classroom with the box of treats.  The teacher introduced me, Jack gave me a hug.  She then said, "Do those have nuts?"

"I don't think so, but I've never asked.  My kids hate nuts."  The teacher pointed to a kid with nut allergies, the first kid that my son was excitedly indulging with treats.  I watched him take a big bite.  Jack finished passing out all the Ninja Turtles, and gave one to his teacher.  The children were munching happily; Jack was on Cloud Nine.

The teacher walked over to me.  "Can I see another one of those?"  I mistook her mood - thinking she loved them so much she wanted another.  She started dissecting the Ninja Turtle.  "I think these have nuts in them.  I got that nut caught in the tooth sensation."  I told her, "I'll call the bakery and find out for sure."  The baker confirmed a small amount of crushed pecans, and I relayed silently to the teacher in alarm.  She walked over to the boy with the allergy.

"I'll need to take you to the nurse."  He protested, saying that nothing was happening, while I reeled in horror but assured her that I would watch the classroom while she left.  I was in scrubs, pager on my hip, wishing I was back in my office at my scope, but worried about the kid.

I was at the helm, and I did well.  Another boy stood up, announcing his nut allergy.  Luckily he had already done this earlier and I watched the teacher artfully blow him off, so I didn't have a heart attack on the spot.  I asked him, "What happens to you when you eat nuts?"

"The tips of my ears turn bright red."

"Well, that is not happening right now, but I'll be sure to be on the lookout for it."  He smiled and sat down.  Most kids were simply alarmed that they had enjoyed a treat that contained hidden nuts.  Jack said, "I've never had any idea that these had nuts!"

I entertained the kids by showing them a picture, one by one at their tables of a wax couple - Queen and King of Hearts, that made Jack laugh so hard the other weekend I thought he was going to explode.  Got similar laughters from the children.  It was fun and calming.

The teacher returned, apologetically.  "I'm sorry it was my fault, I should have checked into it more.  He is in a nut challenge study and is building up his resistance, so this is probably a good test for him.  His nut allergy is not that bad.  It will be OK."  Whew.  I melted with relief inside and resolved to text the mom, who I knew, who was equally relaxed in return texts.  Note to self - No more Ninja Turtles at the school.

The teacher also said, "I can't believe you even came, you're a doctor!"  I embarrassingly replied, "Yes, so you trusted me, about the nuts.  Because I'm a doctor!  That makes it even worse."  She laughed.

As I drove back to work I realized I had left the balloon in the classroom in my tizzy and called the school to tell them.  The secretary said, "Thank you so much for calling.  I'll run get it out of there right away."  I imagined my beautiful balloon as a menacing creature in disguise, exploding into tiny suffocating bits that were about to fly directly into each child's larynx, creating mass chaos and asphyxiation.  I hoped she would get there in time.

It was hard for me to get back to work - the experience was so traumatizing.  I texted my friend about it, "I think they might call me in on the child abuse hotline.  Next birthday I guess I'll just bring a carton of cigarettes and a case of beer.  I've set an awful precedent.  I'm THAT mom."  He and my partners empathized and laughed.  "You're experience is so 2013.  So different from when we were growing up."

I recall back when my kids were 3 and 5, at Montessori School, I had a rare fit of baking resulting in peanut butter balls.  I used the wrong chocolate that melted at room temp.  I proudly brought them to school, freshly refrigerated, only to be turned away with consolation and mild reproach.  "This is a peanut-free school, remember?"  Fail.  It was winter, temps in the 20's and 30's, so I kept the peanut butter balls with chocolate that needed to be refrigerated in my car passenger seat, and ate them all over a week.  You'd have thought I learned my lesson.

I hope to in no way belittle the seriousness of peanut allergies by this post.  It served to remind me of the importance of checking in on ingredients.  We are baking a tres leche cake this weekend for a Spanish project for my daughter Cecelia, and I checked and double checked the ingredients as there is a serious nut allergy kid in her class. But I am a nut hound, and I forget.  If you look in my office food drawer right now you would find almonds, pistachios, and pecans.  I apologize for any perceived but not intended insensitivity and understand the seriousness of the topic, but found the incident today quite amusing, with a luckily happy ending.  Here's to the King and Queen of Hearts.  Who look as alarmed and upset as I did, when I found out about the hidden nuts.

17 comments:

  1. It's troublesome, but absolutely true! Whenever I make anything now, I make sure to omit anything nut related. e.g. vanilla essence instead of almond essence. Sprinkles instead of crushed nuts. Even for potlucks you have to watch out. If it has nuts, better put a huge label on it. And there are gluten-sensitive individuals, vegans, lactose-intolerant individuals, etc etc. It makes bringing food and treats a lot more complicated!! I do love my nuts though, just like you!

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    1. I was at a conference recently in Charleston where every waiter asked at the beginning before we ordered if we had any food allergies or special dietary needs. It was comical, but I decided I might have to start prefacing this question at every birthday party or sleepover I host, to keep me out of trouble!

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    3. Artificial Almond Extract or Cherry Extract (natural or artificial) is a good substitute for Almond extract -- it contains benzaldehyde, which is the flavor of artificial almonds, a cherry jolly rancher, artificial cherry flavor, and marachino cherries. If you close your eyes, you'd be surprised, you can't (or hardly can't) tell a difference between the nut and the fruit... (although of course double check the ingredient label for any natural flavor extracts).

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    4. Thanks whiz science foodie bro - will keep in mind. I love everything almond/cherry in food, bath products, otherwise. Can't wait to see you next week.

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  2. All the more reason never to bake. Thank you for this.

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    1. I didn't bake, but it still got me in trouble!

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  3. My son's school is nut free. They have 12 children in the school of 500 who have serious nut allergies. There are signs posted on every entrance and every classroom door, so they take it quite seriously. I'm perfectly happy to abide by that so I am careful about what I pack for my son's lunch.

    But one day, they returned home a sandwich I had made for my son as a treat. Banana and chocolate cream cheese (I realize that isn't terribly healthy, but it is incredibly tasty.) I wrote on the container that it was nut free, that it was cream cheese, not Nutella. They still sent it home because it LOOKED like Nutella.

    The school is so careful about it that they do not allow parents to send in treats at all. Even pre purchased, packed treats with ingredient lists. It's a little, well, nuts.

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    1. I was mortified when my child's preschool was nut free - as she was an extremely picky eater and I derived most of her protein from nuts. We weathered, and now she can bring peanut butter sandwiches to school. A new school - switching was not nut-based, but the policies are thankfully more lax here.

      Nuts I agree! And balloon nuts. I can understand pre-K fear of balloons, but first graders?

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  4. Glad it was all okay in the end.

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    1. Me too, but not without dangerous elevations in blood pressure. Nuts may be ubiquitous and harmless in my house, but I understand in others it is the equivalent of poison. There was a nice article in the NYTimes Magazine on Germs by Michael Pollan this week regarding the effects of microbial milieu on gut flora and atopy. Made me think of all the nut allergies, wonder if it is related. He certainly made me think twice about the effort to eradicate H. pylori - a daily diagnosis for me.

      We may think we know a bit, but we've got a lot to learn.

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  5. Both my kids have nut allergies sadly and I live constantly in the fear that they might eat something not intended for them. We have been trying to educate them repeatedly, but it still scares me as their mom that this could potentially kill them. In any case I'm glad your son had a wonderful birthday:)

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    1. You are the mom I was hoping not to offend! I cannot imagine what you must go through. Aside from a couple of ear infections and a short bout of URI-induced asthma (son), we are largely health concern free, knock on wood, so far. Thanks for the well bday wishes. In defense of my wonderful school, they are much more stringent about food in classrooms where the children suffer from serious, possibly anaphylactic nut allergies. The nurse and teachers are VERY on top of it.

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  6. The part about the balloons being banned for a choking hazard for a class full of 8-year olds has me perplexed. Really?!

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    1. Thank you for commenting on this, because I too was like really? Ultimate power trip, or true worries? I tend to favor the former, with the qualifier that I have major respect for my kid's school and admin.

      Did they worry that the offending agent might float lazily yet evilly down the hall into Pre-K3? Possible true hazard, albeit farfetched. I'll go along with whatever floats their boat I guess (no pun intended). "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have . . ." Ack. I'm dating myself.

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  7. aahhh balloonie.. its dr doofenschmirtz's friend and evil partner!!!

    Sometimes I think they go overboard on the nut things, but I can see concerns for children with severe allergies.

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  8. I think I am more proud than embarrassed that I had to google Dr. Doofenschmirtz. Have heard of Phineas and Ferb. Glad to be on the tail end of Nick cartoons, in my household!

    Isn't that the nature of our country- to go overboard on things like balloons and nuts while we encourage the sale of assault rifles with minimal background checks? Save our children from balloons, by gosh!

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