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Chop Chop to Chop, A Stormy Night at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

It’s been 12 years since our last overnight visit to the CHOP, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Although my son has been in the ER numerous times for asthma, hives, and allergic reactions, he hasn’t been admitted overnight in years. Born in New Orleans during Tropical Storm Francis, he’s accustom to wild weather, so it was no surprise that just before Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, we found ourselves back in the hospital.

Monday before the storm I got a call from the school nurse. Hives began appearing on my son’s arms and torso. The nurse had been out when I brought in the plethora of pharmaceuticals, and condescendingly asked me why he had not been given his allergy pill since he told her he had hives. “Mrs. Millan! I do not understand why you knew he had hives and did not give him his medicine!” I felt my face get flushed and had to remain calm. I explained that the allergy medicine is given every 24 hours and he receives it at night. I told her to give him his antihistamine. She proceeded to tell me that their health office doesn’t have allergy medicines and to hurry to the school to bring his right away. She had no idea the school had been given an action plan, doctor’s notes, a revised 504 federal plan, an epi pen, as well as six different prescriptions and over the counter medicines. “He has an action plan and $187 worth of medicines with his name on them! Find them and call me back!” I told her. After a few minutes, she called to apologize and said that she had been out the week I brought them in. It was at this point I lost most of my faith in my son’s security at high school. She went on to further suggest that they should try half the prescribed dose of antihistamine because they tend to make the kids groggy. I said ok, but thirty minutes later the phone rang again and the hives were worse. The rest of the prescribed dosage was given and I went to get him.

The next morning, he woke up with hives covering most of his body except his back and face. He stayed home because the hives kept him up all night itching. The antihistamine did not work, nor did his antacid, or daily allergy medicine. He slept most of the day and into the night. By Thursday morning he developed a terrible stomachache. We went to his pediatrician who prescribed a high dosage of steroids. He took the steroids Thursday, but by the time he woke up Friday, the hives were covering his entire body, head to toe. What alleviates the itchiness is a very hot shower. For some reason, the receptors in the body that detect heat shut down the itchiness. However, the hot shower is a double-edged sword. The skin dries out and becomes even itchier. So as he emerged from the shower, I could see he was in real trouble. After 5 days with no relief, he was beside himself. I stood outside his bedroom begging him to open the door, put his pajamas on and go to the hospital. Reluctantly, he did.

If you know me, I am a pretty conservative driver. Not this day! I got my boys into the SUV and high tailed it to I-95 where several government agency vehicles were flying in the fast lane to Philly. Perfectly choreographed from Bucks County I was escorted to the 676 split that cuts across the city and made it to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in record time.

As we arrived, my son’s health got even worse. With epi-pen ready, we ran into the waiting area filled with nervous parents and were assessed and taken through triage within seconds. My son’s face was filled with red raised hives, his nose and eyes were swelling. The hives were so large that the skin around them appeared black. Blood was pooling around the raised hives and felt warm to touch. They immediately administered an antihistamine and took us inside.

As any parent of a child with life threatening allergies will attest, you get accustomed to knowing their medicines and dosages. Even in highly stressful situations, I can give you the dosage of all his meds since he was 18 months. Rattling off what he had taken that day, the nurses, doctors, and nurse practitioner came up with a strategy to quickly stop the allergic reaction. An IV was inserted and meds were administered. Within a few minutes his face turned completely clear, as if a magic allergy eraser scrubbed them away. However, he continued to have swelling in the throat and the hives on his entire body were still hiding just under the skin. As a precaution, we were admitted for overnight observation.

We were taken up into a room overlooking the atrium. If you didn’t know you were in a children’s hospital, one might think you were overlooking a spectacular hotel with beautiful art and kinetic sculptures. Through the night we met several doctors and nurses. The team in residence at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is second to none. They were patient with my son, asking many questions and really listening to how we described his allergy history. Any questions we had were investigated and we really were in excellent hands. Two triggers that he has are temperature extremes, especially cold, and the preservative sulfite in food, drugs, and antibiotics. As many precautions as we take, he still suffers daily with urticaria. They gave us hope that we would find answers to what is causing the hives and referred us to their department of allergy and immunology. After an exhausting overnight watch, checking his throat almost every ten to fifteen minutes, my son was finally allowed to sleep about 4 am. I think I had passed out around 3am on a very slender couch overlooking the atrium, but I am not quite sure. Texting close friends and family got me through the night.

As we were released the following afternoon, Hurricane Sandy was starting to bear down on the east coast. My only hope was we did not lose power. The strong medicines required breathing treatments every few hours, and I was not thrilled with giving his nebulizer treatments in the car if our power went out. Through the storm we lost our roof, gutters, two trees and the front door blew off, but we had power throughout the entire storm.

As we investigate alternative medicines, we are thankful that we live near the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Throughout the years I have learned that while there are many aspects and facets of allergy and immunology that may surface differently in each individual, there remains the consistent truth that there is no substitute to knowledge. Throughout the many years of dealing with my own allergy symptoms and that of my son’s I have learned some great lessons regarding self-maintenance in today’s medical society. Contemplating the many questions regarding my own child, for instance, I find that as I accumulate information that applies to his condition, sharing the knowledge may also help another child whose family is still struggling to find answers. While not everyone has access to a facility such as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, vital information and medical advancements in the field of allergy and immunology are becoming more available to lay people through the internet. Through websites, such as ProjectAllergy.com, the task of bringing together applicable information and medical data is becoming more available to everyone who either has questions regarding allergies and immunology as it may apply to themselves, their child, or toward another loved one.

Wishing you and your family a healthy New Year,
Janet Millan
Founder, Project Allergy