Family life

Why I had to call 911 for my child

Jennifer Pinarski makes the scariest phone call of her life when her son has an unexpected allergic reaction to a bee sting.

1911Child-September2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

“Mommy, I’m not going to die, am I?” screamed my six-year-old son.

I looked at Isaac’s sweet face. His lips, gums, tongue, ears and eyes were puffy, pink and hot to the touch. Small hives peppered his torso. Angry red streaks ran up his right arm from his swollen hand, where a bee had stung him only 40 minutes earlier.

Taking a deep breath, I rubbed his back, which was also bumpy and covered in hives. “No, honey. The ambulance will be here soon and the paramedics will help us,” I reassured him.

****

Our Friday evening had been picture perfect up until that point. Despite accidentally uncovering a bees nest buried in some hay in the barnyard at a friend’s farm (and the fact that he got stung), Isaac was chatting happily about his favourite animals when we were tucking him in later that night. I looked at Isaac’s lips, which were slightly swollen and asked Mr. P to take a second look. In the minute that it took my husband to come look, our son’s unexpected allergic reaction got worse. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I don’t overreact to bumps and bug bites. But the physical symptoms that my son was displaying proved that this was no regular bug bite. This was serious. We dosed him with Claratin and waited.

Read more: 8 most common allergies >

If you know me, you’ll also know that I went to Twitter before TeleHealth. Don’t laugh — I’ve never found TeleHealth to be all that helpful. Besides, there wasn’t a nurse available on the TeleHealth line when Isaac’s allergic reaction first started, whereas I knew that Alex (aka @clippo) would be there to answer all of my allergy questions on social media. When the TeleHealth nurse finally called me back and I described Isaac’s symptoms to the nurse, both the nurse and Isaac started to panic.

“You need to hang up immediately and call 911,” barked the nurse. “Your son needs help right now!”

It was the first 911 call I’ve ever made in my life. And I hope it’s the last.

Considering we live in a rural area, we’re at least 40 minutes away from emergency medical assistance, so an ambulance was dispatched from the nearest town, 20 minutes away. I helped our son put on his favourite loose-fitting pajamas. His little sister, Gillian, found his two favourite stuffed animals. My husband gathered together our health cards, my wallet and shoes. It was decided that I’d go along to the hospital, if needed. All four of us stood by the window, looking for the flashing red ambulance lights.

My son kept wanting to lay down to sleep.

I kept wanting to cry.

By the time the ambulance backed into our narrow gravel driveway, Isaac’s allergic reaction had started to subside, controlled by the Claratin we’d given him. While his face was still a little swollen, he wasn’t panicking any more. Hooking him up to a blood oximeter and a pressure cuff, the paramedics thoroughly checked him over. His pulse and blood pressure were normal. In fact, Isaac felt well enough to pepper the paramedics with questions about their equipment. To help break the tension in the cramped and overheated space in the back of the ambulance, one of the paramedics told Isaac that the crash cart next to him was a machine that went “ping.”

I hung my head in embarrassment. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I feel awful for calling you all the way out here.”

They assured me that I made the right call since they could tell that his reaction had been severe, and they warned me that future reactions will get worse. Red streaks and hives still covered his body and his gums were still pale. They advised me to get an EpiPen as soon as possible and arrange for allergy testing. But still, I felt like I had overreacted.

“Overreacted? Not at all!” said one of the paramedics, himself the father to a three-year-old girl — he understood the terror of seeing your child in distress. “In fact, you were so calm I wanted to ask you what your background is. Do you have medical or trauma training?”

“Kind of, I guess. I’m a stay-at-home mom.”