Anaphylaxis and White Privilege

These topics have been swirling around my mind for the past two weeks and I’ve decided to let them out online. So here goes…

Two weeks ago we had the most terrifying ordeal of our lives, when our happy, chubby little toddler had a severe anaphylactic reaction to nuts. The reaction happened instantly. It was as if he had swallowed bleach. He held his hand to his mouth and screamed in agony. Within seconds he vomited. The inside of his mouth, his lips, his nose and his eyes immediately began to swell. Blisters and hives formed on his lips, his eyes and his hands. He was struggling to breathe. With shaking hands I gave the Epipen to his father, who administered it, as I held him close. I called for an ambulance and we watched and waited in our collective distress.

There was no ambulance available in Kilkenny and it was an agonising 40 minutes until one arrived from Clonmel. By this stage his condition was worsening again and we were considering giving him another pen, but with the help of the paramedics we got a different medicine into him and he began to show improvement on the way to the hospital and a few hours later, was playing happily. Thankfully, we are all now recovering well. (I really don’t know what I’d do without yoga and meditation!)

The care we received during the whole ordeal was incredible. Paramedics, nurses and doctors all taking time to develop a rapport with him. The nurses showed me genuine friendliness. One of whom has allergy kids of her own and listened as I shed a tear, while confiding in her my worries about the future. An orderly made me up a second (larger) bed, with no fuss, so that I could get in and comfort my child with breastfeeding. The catering staff checked ingredients and patiently figured out what we could eat. We were given space and I felt so reassured and completely safe being in the hospital, despite the pandemic because of the precautions all staff were so visibly taking.

So why am I writing this? I’ve examined my motivation deeply and taken my time in posting this. I know I write it partly for catharsis, and I write it partly for all of my friends and family (and anyone who is ever in contact with my child) to know just how serious his allergies are. I don’t want to have to explain this traumatic experience over and over. I also write this because with all that is happening in the world I find it impossible to separate these events from thoughts of my white privilege, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

You could dissect white privilege, as I have, in so many parts of this story but I keep thinking in particular about how my baby’s allergy prick tests came up inconclusive. Despite this, my doctors believed me when I said it was because he’d never actually ingested the allergens, but that I knew the gravity of his allergies because of how he reacted to minimal exposure. They believed me and they prescribed the Epipens that saved his life. I can’t help but wonder if I didn’t have white privilege (and my education and fluency in English for that matter) would I have been believed? If I was a Black woman, an Asylum Seeker or a Traveller would I have been given the benefit of the doubt?

You might think these are just the natural ponderings of a mother who has been through a stressful event but the facts tell the story. Black Americans are more likely to die from anaphylaxis than White Amercians. They’re more likely to die of Covid-19 too. The racial bias in healthcare does not even come close to ending there. Before a Black American woman has her baby, she does so in the reality that Black women are at least 3-5 times more likely to suffer a pregnancy related death than White women and their babies are more than 2 times more like to die at birth.

I find myself empathising so much with Black mothers this week, but I know I can’t imagine the worry and anguish of teaching your child how to behave under the threat of their allergies, to avoid being killed, while also having to teach them how to behave to navigate the threat of police brutality, to avoid being murdered. I can empathise but I can never truly know because of my white privilege.

I’ve spoken of America here, but we all know racism is prevalent in Ireland too, from systemic racism to the daily microagressions people are enduring. If you don’t know this, you need to do some research or just follow @black_andirish on instagram. As for me, I’ve decided I’m doing what I can do. I’m reading more, listening more, and learning more. I’ve started following more Black (with a capital B) voices and educators on Instagram. I am making a plan of action for myself and my family to continue with this work. I need to do more than acknowledge racism, I must be Anti-Racist. I have started with actions to end direct provision, what Amnesty International has described as ‘an ongoing human rights scandal.’ Please join me. I’m attaching useful links. I would love for you to add to the list. Thanks for reading to the end.

Amnesty reports and petition:


Sample letter and TD info:

Also if you know me, please watch this video which shows how to administer an epipen to a toddler:

PS. Since I wrote this, the ending of Direct Provision has been announced as part of the new programme from government, but it could be a long time before it happens, and we need to make sure it’s replaced with something humane. Just this week a local TD continued to defend the current system to me. We need to keep the pressure on.

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