Always Real, Modern Medicine

The $1500 M&M

This is the story of how one M&M cost $1500 and wrecked an entire day.

Several weeks ago, Sean had the day off of school (reason unknown) and it was a beautiful fall day so we got together with a friend for a play date in the park.

Before we left to go to the park, he asked if he could have something from his Halloween candy stash.  I said yes and let him pick out something.

He chose a little package of M&M’s.  I noticed that the package was red, but I figured that someone had pawned off their leftover Valentine candy on unsuspecting little trick-or-treater’s and I did not think much of it.

Sean bit into one of the M&Ms and immediately ran to the sink and began spitting it out.

It was a peanut butter M&M.

Sean is allergic to peanuts.

I was baffled because as soon as he got home from trick-or-treating, I immediately culled through his candy and pulled out all the known peanut products like Snickers, Butterfingers, Reese’s and the blindingly obvious yellow packages of Peanut M&Ms, all of which I set aside for me who is quite happily not allergic to peanuts.

Unbeknownst to me, they now make peanut butter M&Ms and they are in a red package and they look exactly like the regular M&M’s. Except they are not.  This you should know.

I got out my magnifying glass and took a closer look at the package and sure enough “peanut butter” is stamped on the front of the package in itsy bitsy teeny tiny print nearly invisible to 50-year-old eyes.

If we watched TV which advertises the latest in candy packaging fashion, we might have known better.  But we do not.

Sidebar: It would be nice if all peanut-containing candies were packaged in the same blindingly obvious YELLOW (or some other universally agreed upon bright color).

Heretofore when Sean has ingested a peanut bearing product, his reaction has been fairly brief and mild.  Since he hadn’t actually swallowed the M&M I figured that we could rinse his mouth out really well and be on our merry way.  He seemed to be okay so we went on to our play date.

Thirty minutes later I noticed that he wasn’t himself.  He was lethargic and would stop running to lay down on the ground, but not in a playful way.   When he said he felt really tired and queasy, we ended the play date and went home.  By the time I got him home, five minutes later, he was wheezing badly and seemed a little loopy, so we drove straight to the local children’s hospital ER.

They admitted him immediately and gave him an Epi-Pen shot in the thigh. Within seconds, the wheezing stopped and his lungs were clear and he felt better.  It was really just that fast.  It is astonishing how quickly that works.  They put him on an IV drip and administered some other antidotal meds and he spent the next four or five hours drifting in and out of sleep.

The doctor told us that these kinds of allergic reactions can spontaneously reoccur anytime with the next 6-8 hours so we would have to stay in the ER for rest of the day for observation.  And let me tell you this, you have not had a fantastic day until you’ve spent an entire day behind the curtain in a children’s ER room sitting in a hard straight-back chair, listening to the other patients wail and puke while you keep busy mentally flogging yourself for being the worst and most irresponsible parent ever.

The first time we suspected Sean was allergic to peanuts was when he was about two. After I had eaten some peanut butter I kissed him on the cheek and the place where I kissed him turned crimson red, like he had a rash or had been scalded.  And then when he was about three, unbeknownst to me, he had helped himself to a peanut butter cookie at a family get-together.  He came to me very distraught, clawing at his tongue, trying to indicate to me that his mouth and throat were itchy and on fire.

In both cases, after a short time the symptoms subsided, so while it was a little scary, these incidents never seemed life threatening and we wondered if he might eventually outgrow it.  So far, his allergy is mild comparatively — he is fine on airplanes that serve peanuts, he can sit at a table with others who are eating peanut butter, although he doesn’t like it because he hates the smell, and he can eat chicken strips that have been fried in peanut oil.  He just can’t eat peanut products, and luckily, he has no desire.

So I was surprised that this time, the reaction was much much worse.  I knew that I had to get him to the ER.  I’ve since learned that typically, each subsequent exposure will increase in severity.  It will only get worse from here on out.

Before they would allow us to check out of the ER, I had to go to the pharmacy and buy two sets of Epi-Pens, one for home and one for school, which thanks to our cruddy insurance was $300.  And then in Saturday’s mail I saw that the ER had sent me a $1200 “thank you for stopping by” note.  If the geologic law of uniformitarianism is really true, and that which has happened in the past will happen again in the future, I know I have another big fat juicy bill coming in from some invisible medical professional whose face I never saw.

And that is how one M&M cost $1500 and ruined an entire day.

When I put my little boy to bed that night, in his own bed, and I sat beside him in the rocker I’ve sat in for seven years, none of that mattered.  Not one bit.

As I sat there and rocked and watched him drift off to sleep, safe and well, I thought about how I would have sat in a hard straight back chair in the ER for seven days and spent seven times seven times seven times $1500 to have him safe and well.

But I’d rather not.

42 thoughts on “The $1500 M&M

  1. So sorry you went through that.

    FYI–there are no safe M&M’s sadly. They all are made in factories that process peanuts. It’s amazing the number of things that are not peanut safe, unfortunately. My grandson has a peanut allergy and it’s overwhelming constantly checking labels, as products can change their safeness at anytime.

    Also, peanut oil, for some reason, does not cause allergic reactions.

    Good luck.

  2. Oh, AM! You must have been beside yourself. I am so sorry about the bill, but so very, very, very grateful that Sean is alright. I have a friend who also suffers from peanut allergy. When we were young 20-somethings, I went up to Houston to spend the day … we were going to hang out at her townhouse, munch on yummy snacks from the deli, and watch movies. I picked up some sort of cheese ball (I am a mouse in a people suit) and some crackers as my offering to the table. Not knowing the cheese had nuts in it … thankfully her reaction was not emergency-room worthy, but I felt terrible when she had to swig some benadryl and then sleep through most of our visit. 🙁

  3. So happy to hear Sean is okay! We suspected our Little Man had dairy and egg allergies and his pediatrician finally agreed to allergy testing when he was just over year old. The dairy and egg allergies were confirmed, but not deemed life threatening.

    They tested him for nuts at that time too, and it came back alarmingly high. Just from the skin prick he needed Benadryl almost immediately. Although no one in our family has a nut allergy, I work in parks and recreation and we have many clients with them so I knew the drill.

    He carries Epi Pens with him everywhere and we’re constantly reading labels too. The expense is a challenge, though like you, I’m comforted knowing he’s safer now.

    Blessings to you both!

  4. Oh, I’m so sorry. You have so much to be grateful for. Epi-Pens included.

    * * *

    Indeed I do. I’m glad we were at home and had an ER nearby and a car to get there and… So glad I live in America.

  5. You are right. They really need to mark those with huge neon letters for safety reasons.

    They say the best way to get a company’s attention these days is through blogging or tweeting. Maybe this post will get the word out.

    So glad your boy is okay now and I know you would gladly live in a box to pay the medical bills that keep him safe from those darn peanuts.

  6. I’m so glad he’s okay, AM. Sweet sweet boy. One of my girls is allergic to peanuts, and the boy is allergic to fish. Our Urgent Care center knows us by name. Don’t beat yourself up. 🙂

    Have a very Merry Christmas, my friend.

  7. I could cry! I’m so sorry you and your family had to go through that. Poor lil guy. At least he was smart enough to spit it out.

    Maybe this story will make you feel better.

    It was my uncle’s surprise 50th birthday and I was down to help my cousins decorate. Blake was with me and was 16 months old at the time. I was trying to get ready and had already taken a dime out of his mouth and put him in his pack n play but he was crying so I was stupid and took him out. I was standing next to my cousin putting on my makeup and I knew it was to quiet. So I look over and Blake has the bottle upside down and was drinking out of it. It was clear and odorless…. it was kerosene. He became pale and lethargic. I tried to get him to drink down some water hope it would make him throw up or dilute what he drank. He and I got a ride in the ambulance. There are way more details but obviously since he is now 19 and in college he is fine. I just will not forget the details of that day. Oh then a month later he was in a car accident with his dad. So don’t feel too bad we all make mistakes as parents.

    I’m sorry Sean was in the ER but praise God he is all right now!

    Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  8. Poor little guy. And poor mom! I think it’s just as scary for the parents to see their little child in distress as it is for the kid to go through it. Glad he came through okay. Stupid non-descript packaging.

  9. Sean won’t remember that you missed the package of M&Ms in your candy check. He will remember you being there when he needed you, sitting by his side, caring for him tenderly. Parenting score = A+

  10. It seems like all insurance is getting worse and covering less things all the time. It’s good that Sean hates the smell of peanut butter! That could save his life.

  11. ER and urgent care are never any fun. And those chairs are usually a nightmare. The childrens hospital where I live has some chairs that rock/bounce and sometimes we’d be lucky enough to get one. Score.

    Glad your little dude is home safe. Food allergies are rough. Reading labels for every little thing is no fun. (I’ve learned all the fun words they use for milk. I’m a blast at parties…”what’s in that?” ! LOL)

  12. Food allergies can be very frightening, and it is scary to know that it does not always turn out as well as it did for you.

    I have worked in a lot of schools and been an administrator as well–please be sure to verbally tell each teacher and each director of his allergies, even if you have already written it on the medical form. Also, for a school to be required to take the necessary precautions, the doctor must indicate it on the health form. Make sure your dr does not overlook this.

  13. I just almost burst into tears reading this at work. I’m so glad that you knew to get him to the ER. The bad thing about those Epi-pens (well there is nothing I guess very good about them) is that I think I read that they expire just like all other prescriptions. So even if you don’t have to use them, you have to keep buying new ones. 🙁

  14. Oh my! A heart that loves must look like a worn out teddy bear or something. It wears you out sometimes doesn’t it? I’m so glad everybody is okay! Hugs!

  15. Oy poor little guy! I’m just now learning how to live with nut allergies (as my fiance is allergic) and it’s heartbreaking when they eat something accidentally.

    Hugs to you both!

  16. Wow, I’m so glad he’s okay, and you were thinking so clearly to get him to the ER right away – love your conclusion, none of that matters – great reminder for these busy weeks!!!

  17. You are definitely not the world’s worst and most irresponsible parent…in fact, I think of you many times as an example I hope to follow suit in parenting.

    I am so thankful Sean is ok and well! Yes, that was one expensive M&M. 🙂

  18. Poor thing!! I am plagued with food allergies. My list is actually 9 foods long. Most of mine will only make my tongue feel like it is on fire. But others will put me in the hospital within minutes. I keep epi-pens on hand… all times! I was told the last time I was in the ER that not only could I have another episode within the 6-8 hours, but I may have to use two epi-pens to stop the swelling. So now I have to carry two pens where ever I go!!

    I am so sorry Sean has this allergy! It isn’t fun reading labels…..

  19. AM – I am so thankful that Sean is well now! I hope that you are feeling better too. A mother’s life is not for the weak of heart, we earn all our gray hairs! Have a wonderful Christmas.

  20. Oh,AM, as a parent there is nothing scarier than health concerns regarding our children. Thank God Sean is alright. I’m sure Sean’s recovery is quicker, by far, than yours. Give yourself a break and have peace in knowing you did everything right in getting him the help he needed. Hopefully Sean never needs the epi pen again but the bright side is now he has one at home AND at school, a little peace of mind. God bless you and your family this
    Christmas and in the New Year.

  21. You’re so very right about the packaging. That should be standardised, for sure.

    I think you do yourself down. I think you would spend more than 7 days in an ER straight-backed chair for his health and safety.

    Thank heaven for epi-pens.

  22. So glad that Sean is well again. I would say you handled this beautifully. Thankfully it happened under your watchful eyes and now are prepared. There is nothing I worry more about than my Children’s health. I understand.

  23. I’m so glad to hear that he’s okay, but how scary that must have been…I am so grateful we don’t deal with food allergies here. Yet. My oldest has mild eczema, so I do wonder if it’s connected to food…

  24. Poor Sean! Years ago we lived in Suffolk, VA (“The peanut capital!”) where they have several peanut processing plants and an annual week long peanut festival (think Peanut Queen, peanut-butter sculptures, peanut-themed rides, etc). I don’t have a peanut allergy, but I did have a nasty run-in with a drug allergy and had to go to the local allergist. He told me that just because of all the peanut dust in the air, people in Suffolk suffer from peanut allergies 4 times more than anywhere in the US. From the dust! I felt so bad for all those people with a peanut allergies who couldn’t even breathe the air. (Maybe avoid the Suffolk area in the fall when planning your next vacation). Anyway, long rambling story short, I’m glad Sean is okay, and I’m sorry those sneaky M&Ms caused so much anguish.

    * * *
    Did people used to have peanut allergies and I just wasn’t aware of it? I don’t think I knew ANYone who had a peanut allergy when I was growing up and now it seems a lot of people suffer with it. So sad that he will never know the joy of peanut brittle. Unfortunately it’s not just an annoyance, it’s life-threatening.

    And oh, who wouldn’t want to be the Peanut Queen, escorted by Mr. Peanut himself, perched upon a float made entirely of peanuts as it rolled down the main drag of Suffolk? That. Is a dream come true.

  25. Frightening! Glad he is on the mend and that it didn’t take an even more serious turn.

    We had to keep Anja away from nuts, fish and melons until she was pretty old, since her daddy has allergies to those things. But now that she’s eating them, so far we haven’t noticed any reactions. I keep hoping and praying that she and Markus will be able to avoid allergies. They are such a pain.

  26. When my daughter was seven, I noticed she was breaking out from taking an antibiotic. I decided she was allergic to sulfur and stopped the antibiotic. The nurse jumped on me for not finishing the prescription. I gave me daughter another dose and she became very ill. I beat myself up for not listening to my instincts. I’m glad your little one is okay.

  27. I am so very thankful to Sean’s Creator for providing the needed care for him- the ER’s, the Epi-Pens’, and yours. Seeing as how neither you nor he knew how dangerous it could turn for him, this easily could have happened while he was in the care of someone who didn’t recognize the problem & know what to do soon enough. This incident was probably a blessing, and I am grateful he is ok.

    * * *
    Oh good gravy, I hadn’t thought about that! That would have been… really not good.

  28. So sorry….we did not know this.
    We have a Nephew who is also severly allergic to peanuts. He is now 21 yrs old. The Doctor advised him to also avoid peanut “oil”. Wasn’t worth the chance…..he has also had a couple of hospital stays. Very scary!

  29. You have a gift in writing.

    I’ve sat in an ER with my child. My child has autism. It is never the place you want to be. But oh how wonderful when someone can give you help. I have a friend who has a child with a peanut allergy, and also a cousin with it. Scary stuff.


  30. Two years ago my then-1-year-old had a mild fever which I did not immediately medicate because I had been told that a fever is the body’s way of killing bacteria… one febrile seizure, a frantic 911 call, a terrified ambulance ride and $1200 later I was told that a dose of Tylenol would have prevented it all. I know EXACTLY how you feel! And you’re right, it doesn’t matter one bit. Glad Sean is okay – have a very Merry Christmas!

  31. Oh, I’m so glad you were able to get him help quickly. It’s awful to see your child in a hospital hooked up to an IV, but it would be so much worse to not have that option. I slept in a chair for four nights at our children’s hospital earlier this year so that my little one could receive care. My back will never be the same, but I’m so thankful that my son received such good medical care.

  32. Where have I been?? My girls both have LTFA – our comfort zone has always been much tighter than yours and I’ve done that ER stay three times. Try not to blame yourself – as with all things, its a learning curve. I am comforted that you have epi pens now – no peanut allergy should be without them. If you find yourself with spare computer time, you might check out the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis website for some additional learning time –

    Bless you AD and your Sean.

  33. I’m so happy that Sean is okay. Recently, we had the $1400.00 bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Running to the kitchen to douse her flaming hot tongue, my daughter broke her little toe on the door frame. I even contemplated not taking her to the ER, because having broke my own little toe, I know that there is really nothing they can do. Sense of duty won. She did leave with a velcro shoe that came in handy, because you can’t wear flip flops in Ohio during the winter.

  34. Just now read this, and I’m telling ya — it made this old heart beat faster than usual. Just thanking the Lord that it all eneded okay — all glory to God. And, yes, so thankful we live where we have access to help during a medical crisis. And — “they” really should be required to have some type of universal color/warning/whatever for products containing peanuts.

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