Mosquitoes and Hope
Let me preface this by saying that as I write, I’m covered in dozens of mosquito bites both old and new. The fresh ones are demanding most of my attention, distracting me with their itch. They are raised and red, each one about the diameter of an orange. As bad as my reaction to mosquito bites, as attracted as they are to me. Sitting yesterday in the shady woodland near a creek, I was a veritable banquet- no matter how much spray I applied. It is fair to say that I hate mosquitoes, yet perversely, in the last few days they have given me hope.
I’ll start at the beginning of last week. We had returned from visiting family in Florida. Pudding was supposed to go back to school the next day, but couldn’t as we didn’t have a school-authorized Epi-Pen. Only the week before we had learned that Pudding has become dangerously allergic to peanuts, despite never having them (or tree nuts) as part of her diet. In fact, over the last year, she has become almost 10 times more allergic to peanuts than she was, even though she has had a very restricted diet monitored at all time, with no chance of cross-contamination. With the news I resigned myself to the fact that I have no control. No matter what environmental changes we try to implement, certain tendencies are just written into her DNA, I can’t change it, I can only accept it.
But I’ve been struggling to accept anaphylaxis in a child with autism. A child who has a real disconnect from her body and senses, to the point where I’ve witnessed her receive injections without flinching, without noticing or feeling the needle enter her skin. A girl who can’t tell me that she is ill, or in pain. A child whose ADHD makes her incredibly impulsive, the one who would see an unattended chocolate bar with peanuts and eat it before any of us would notice. And then be unlikely to tell us what had she had done. A child whose pragmatic language skills would limit her ability to tell us that something was wrong, that she can’t breathe.
I’ve been terrified. I’ve raged at the unfairness of it. I’ve worried about it constantly. And then, accepted that there is nothing I can do to change it. It is part of her, and I need to accept it, and learn how to work around it. It could be worse. She can be in a room with peanuts, she may even be able to touch them, our main concern is with ingesting them. As long as I continue to provide all her food, and she is watched to make sure that is all she eats, she should remain safe. And we repeat and reinforce what she can and can’t eat, and hope for the best.
But back to mosquitoes. One afternoon last week, the kids wanted to play on their sand and water table. I joined them outside, but upon seeing the mosquitoes, I decided to go back inside and watch them through the patio doors. The kids don’t tend to get bitten, so I thought they’d be okay. Later that night I learned that their apparent immunity was only guaranteed when I was around, offering my tasty blood to the little suckers. Pudding in particular had fallen victim to their thirst, and had a few bites. She came up to me and showed her leg:
“What’s that, Mummy?”
I told her they were bug bites, and showed her the corresponding wounds on my own body. She repeated bug bites as she prodded each one, and I applied the cream.
Just one word. One little word, I’d never heard her utter before, but it told me so much. She was able to accurately describe a body sensation. It gives me hope that, should the worst ever happen, she’d seek me out, or seek somebody out, to find out what was wrong.
It is going to be a long time before I’ll feel confident that Pudding can understand the danger of her allergy, but one mosquito bite at a time, I’m hopeful we’ll get there. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cream to apply.