A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



There wasn't anything wrong with the chicken salad. It was quite tasty, actually. I especially liked the little pieces of cashew in the mixture -- but then, I'm sort of nuts about nuts.

Elizabeth, however, is not. In fact, our 10-year-old is allergic to peanuts. Horribly so. If she touches a peanut product-or someone who has touched a peanut product-she breaks into a rash. And if she eats anything with peanuts or peanut butter in it . . . well, it can get ugly. Fast.

That's why she reacted to the chicken salad that was served at a recent reception. It was those bits of cashew (cooked in peanut oil, it turns out) that got to her. Within minutes, her eyes were red, her throat was scratchy and her nose was congested-clear indications of an allergic reaction.

So what did I do? Well, I did what I thought any good father would do under the circumstances. I told her to tough it out. Then I munched down another chicken salad sandwich.

"But Dad, I really don't feel good," she said, huge tears welling up in her eyes.

"I know, honey," I said. "But there can't be much peanut oil on one little piece of cashew. Drink some water. Eat a mint. Sit and rest. It'll pass and you'll be fine."

Elizabeth looked appealingly to her mother, who suggested it wouldn't be such a bad idea to take our daughter home. "OK," I said. "But Elizabeth, I want you to put on your pajamas and get ready for bed. No TV. No playing. If you're too sick to stay, you're too sick to play."

OK, I'm no Johnnie Cochran. It was the best I could do with a mouth full of chicken salad.

Elizabeth didn't protest, which should have been my first clue that this wasn't a glorified bout of hay fever. Still, I was startled when her little brother bounded down the stairs in a panic.

"Elizabeth can't breathe!"

Thankfully, that was a slight overstatement. She was breathing, but she was struggling mightily to do so. She could barely force out enough air to speak, she was trembling like a leaf and her lips were beginning to turn a frightening shade of blue. We had her out the door, into the car and on the way to the hospital before I could even think of a rhyme for "Your father is an idiot."

Interestingly, none of the skilled professionals working in the emergency room that night told Elizabeth to tough it out, or to drink some water, or to eat a mint. They heard the words "allergic reaction" and sprang into action with death-defying speed and dexterity. She received a shot of Adrenalin, a steroid I.V. and an oxygen mask within minutes of her arrival in the E.R., and before long my daughter was resting comfortably-with wonderfully red lips.

Two hours later, we were on our way home, but not before the doctor delivered a short-but- stern lecture. "You almost waited too long this time," he said. "As soon as she reacts, you react."

His words were chilling, and have stayed with me from that moment to this: "You almost waited too long." What did he mean by that? What might have happened had we waited longer? I don't even like to think about it. How could I ever forgive myself for waiting too long?

And how many times have I done that in my life-you know, waited too long? Have I waited too long to praise, to give a word of encouragement, to console, to comfort, to say "I'm sorry"? I'm sure I have. But no more. From now on I'm going to react more quickly to the needs of those around me, to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done-just like the doctor said. His words were like Adrenalin for my hesitant heart, or chicken soup for this procrastinator's soul.

Uh, better make that chicken salad. And hold the cashews.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and