I had mixed feelings, but I was hopeful. I hoped for an expanded diet for my son. I hoped we’d learn he had outgrown his allergies. I hoped we’d be free of the EpiPen. In fact, I think it went beyond hope. Despite any concerns I had about introducing dairy, I actually expected that my son would pass his latest food challenge.
The first couple of doses were simple enough. I brought organic whole milk. The nurses put the milk into tiny syringes. He sucked it down with ease. And then we waited. We watched for hives. We asked if he had any itching. We monitored for a cough. We waited for a reaction.
After 20 minutes of no reaction, the next dosage would arrive, each double the amount of the previous one. The taste of the milk grew less appealing to my son over time. Fortunately, I’d remembered the nurse’s advice to bring chocolate syrup and had stopped to pick some up late the night before.
Four doses into the test, the largest amount he’d had was just a few swallows. Then, he had to go to the restroom. My son has creative descriptors for his bowel movements. This one was “splatter poop.” This didn’t sound good. But still, we continued.
Toward the end of the afternoon, he had a full paper cup of chocolate milk sitting in front of him. He had little interest in it. (And I don’t blame him.) Then, there was another trip to the bathroom. We discussed these bathroom trips with the nurse, and before the test was complete, they pulled the plug. Clearly, the dairy was causing GI distress.
Our doctor came in and asked if he had been having stomach troubles prior to the test. No, I said. My son’s symptoms, she says, could be more a result of a sensitivity than a true allergy. Part of the reason was that the quantity ingested seemed to impact the reaction. However, she also had to consider the fact that his blood work was still showing a small positive to dairy. While it was slight enough to make her recommend doing the challenge in the first place, that immune response coupled with the GI symptoms raises a red flag.
She said we would be wise to continue to carry the EpiPen. We can continue to do baked goods with dairy in them, and she thinks we’ll be fine with things like waffles and pancakes with dairy, too. But no yogurt, no cheese, no milk, no ice cream, no butter.
In some ways, this is still a step forward. It’s just not the leap forward I had hoped for. After our doctor left, we gathered up all of our toys. (When you’re in an exam room for four hours, it helps to have toys.) I looked at my son and told him he did really great. I knew he didn’t like that milk, and he still drank it with the hope of learning that food allergies were a thing of the past for us.
I had told him we were doing this test to see if he could safely eat certain foods. He was looking forward to trying cheese. I was looking forward to him trying cheese, too.
I asked him if he understood what was happening and explained that he still won’t be able to have dairy. He still won’t be able to have cheese. He looked at me and said OK.
Then he looked at me and asked, “Does that mean no butter?”
“Yes,” I said, “that means no butter.”
He flashed me a look of disappointment, picked up his stuffed monkey and walked to the billing area to get his sticker.
We already had mommy-son plans to run errands and have dinner after his test. I thought we would be celebrating. He fell asleep on the way to the bookstore. It has been an exhausting (and nap-free) day. I glimpsed his sweet, sleepy face in my rearview mirror and started crying, thinking about all the experiences I had hoped to have with him that I now have to wait for. Foods we won’t get to try together, new dishes he won’t get to help make just yet.
I had been nervous about what the introduction of dairy to his diet might mean for the health of this diet. But as I teared up on that drive, I realized just how many of my own emotions I had wrapped up in this test.
When I pause to think about it, I know this isn’t that big of a deal. We’ve been dairy-free for nearly five years. What’s another year? And he’s otherwise healthy. Even with this perspective, though, it was a blow. It will be another year before we do more blood work and even consider another challenge.
But the night after his test, I watched my son at dinner order a pizza: “Just sauce and pepperoni, please. No cheese. I have a dairy allergy.” He was his usual cheerful self. There was no sign of disappointment that he wasn’t trying cheese on that pizza.
Yes, I told myself, he’s going to be just fine.