Peace In A Dyson

June 15, 2009

I vacuumed.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I vacuumed.

We knew last night that something wasn’t quite right about the bug bite on the side of Emilia’s face. It was a little swollen, a little bruised. We debated what to do. It was late, the clinics and pharmacies were closed, and it didn’t look that bad. A bad allergic reaction would be pretty immediate, right? It wouldn’t be a slow swell, right? I wrung my hands and worried; my husband soothed: we’ll check on her in the night. We don’t know that it’s an allergic reaction. We’ll check; she’ll be fine.

We didn’t check.

When my husband went to rouse her this morning, he found a nearly unrecognizable child, a wee thing with a swollen and misshapen face, her cheek and neck grotesquely bloated, her right eye a purple, bulbous slit. My heart stopped.

And then – while my husband gathered clothes and prepared to hustle us all out the door to the hospital – I vacuumed.

I told myself, the floor is dirty and that’s just not helping things. The floor is dirty and it should be cleaned. Somebody needs to do this. Somebody needs to be on top of these things. Somebody needs to pay attention to these things. I told myself, the floor is dirty, it’s dirty, just do this, now.

Because the floor was dirty. But more because I couldn’t look at Emilia without my heart stopping, because I couldn’t speak without berating myself, without berating us, for not getting help for her last night, because I all could do was do something, anything, that felt like it might make some minute bit of difference in the universe. Because my little girl was sitting there, clutching her Toady, whimpering a little, asking why is my eye shut, Mommy? and because I knew that if I hugged her again, I would cry.

And I didn’t want to cry. So I vacuumed. And now my floor is clean.

But my cheeks are still streaked with tears.


Emilia is going to be okay. She had a bad allergic reaction to a bug bite, and the good news is that antihistamines are bringing down the swelling and returning her poor face and neck to normal. The bad news is, we don’t know what bit her, and so we don’t know what she’s allergic to.

And no, I didn’t take a picture. I thought about it, once I’d calmed down enough to stop vacuuming. But I didn’t. I don’t want to remember it. It was horrible. She looked horrible. I’m still sorting through my feelings about that – my heartbreak not only at her pain, but at the fact that her outer beauty had been so distorted – but I do know that I’m not keen to revisit them. I wouldn’t have shared the picture, anyway, so.

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    Jaelithe June 15, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Poor baby. Give her a hug for me. (Like you're not already going to be hugging her all day.)

    Anonymous June 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    My 3 y.o. child had the same thing happen to him a month ago. We ended up getting injections at the hospital (drug called fenicort). Later I went to see a super specialist in child allergies and she actually calmed me down. According to her this one reaction does not mean the child will ever get it again, as long as it isn't a bee or a wasp. Apparently children's reactions to bug bites do not follow patterns, they grow out of them etc (apart from bee/wasp thing) Also it is good news if the reaction is delayed and not immediate as then it means greater resistance (we had the same story, the bite happened in the evening, the huge swelling disfiguring his face came 12 hours later). She gave us medicine in pills called encorton and antiallergic drug in drops called zyrtec. I'm supposed to have these both at hand. If I see a swelling following a bug bite (if a swelling is anything bigger than normally), I should give my son a prescribed dose of both medicines immediately. If the small swelling is not going down, I should increase the dose (she wrote the daily maximum). My friend's partner is a paramedic and he also confirmed all the above, apparently it does happen quite frequently. I don't know if any of that helps, especially that I'm in Poland and even the medicines may have different names (though these are by international medical companies), but I just wanted to share what I know/experienced. Still, it's advisable to see a doctor about any strange swelling obviously, but I go camping and travel a lot with my boy and wanted to have something at hand if I have no access to hospitals or doctors.

    Anonymous June 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    is this really true?? omg im so sorry i would feel the same…..

    Adventures In Babywearing June 15, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Oh, I'm so sorry. I've had these times- we have bad food allergies and animal/bug allergies with my boys and you're right- usually it isn't a slow swell. I would have probably done the same thing. Hope your heart comes back to normal setting soon.


    mapsgirl June 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Allergic reactions are so scary. Trips to the hospital are really scary.

    I'm glad she's going to be okay.

    Anonymous June 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    This reminds me of that story I heard on This American Life. A 10-month-old got the measles because a family opted against immunizing their child, so when the child traveled back to Sweden, he brought the virus back to San Diego with him. Anyway, long story short, the 10-month old almost died from it and was horribly disfigured for a while from the bumps and sores.

    She said (and I'm getting weepy again thinking about it) that she went from being one of those mothers who took hundreds of pictures a week of her baby boy to taking zero. She said there are several months of her son's life that are absent because she didn't want to remember him looking that way. That he was totally unrecognizable.

    For some reason, your story made me think of that. I'm not sure why I'm rambling about it on here… I'm not sure if it will help or not. I guess I'm just trying to make you feel better about not wanting to remember it. That your feelings are normal. ?

    I dunno why I'm rambling. Anyway…

    I am so sorry about your daughter. I'm happy she'll be OK. But I'm sorry still.


    Christina June 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Poor gal. You did the right thing – most bites don't swell that bad, so you had no idea it would do that.

    And hey, I can understand the vacuuming. Sometimes you have to focus on something you can control in a frightening situation. And dirty floors can be controlled.

    Anonymous June 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Isn't it funny how all moms need to control their surroundings when they feel out of control and feel that they can't help their kids? I've been there. When my son was diagnosed w/cystic fibrosis, my house was ALWAYS clean. :)

    Assertagirl June 15, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I'm glad to hear she's feeling better. Sounds like you'll be scarred more by the experience than she will be. xo

    Ben June 15, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    You were vacuuming because your subconscious wanted to get that bug and all its friends too. From now on this is the story you should tell people.

    Her Bad Mother June 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Ben – YES. That's EXACTLY why. Will keep that story at hand.

    Kelly June 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I'm so sorry to hear that your daughter had a bad allergic reaction. I hope that the antihistamines are doing their job by now.

    This reminds me of when my youngest got struck with a sudden "allergy attack". The first nice day of spring last year I opened up the garage and let the boys play. I sorted through stuff that we were putting in our yard sale. We went inside and then all of a sudden Alex was stuffy, runny nose, watery eyes and just looked miserable. I chalked it up to seasonal allergies which have plagued me all my life. It got worse as he napped. The next day, or our yard sale, DH and I got up opened up the garage and started our sale. When Alex woke up both his eyes were nearly swollen shut & you could tell he was miserable. So, off to urgent care we went. Where I told the dr that I figured it was seasonal allergies. 3-4 prescriptions later we were home. I had to sit on the poor child to get him most of his medicine.
    We went outside again and it happened again. A few days later I was in the garage and saw a mouse run across the floor. I immediately knew that was the source of our issues, Alex must've touched something and then rubbed his hands on his face. I felt so horrible, like I should have known, should have searched through the garage for what was instigating these attacks. He wasn't allowed out in the garage after that, thankfully we've moved since – our landlord didn't seem to care…

    Mandy June 15, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    We've had a similar situation happen, but with a less severe reaction. I think it must have been a spider bite as it happened at night and there were two, even, fang marks.

    It's scary. I feel for you.

    Molly C June 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    There are pictures of me as a child with my eye all swollen from a bug bite. Painful, itchy and hot. Not at all fun! I still have reactions to bites sometimes, but usually a dose of benadryl helps big time! poor thing. I've been there. Hug her for me!!

    Michelle June 15, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Sometimes when something so completely overwhelming happens, we need to do something mundane to reaffirm that the world is still spinning on its axis… and that there is something constructive we can do other than wait. I totally understand where this comes from.
    I'm glad she's feeling better. That would have scared the crap out of me too.

    Miss Grace June 15, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Dyson's are wonderful machines.

    Jo June 15, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    The important thing is that she is ok.

    Please repeat after me:

    "The important thing is that she is ok."

    If you are like me, you will beat yourself up over this. (I should have checked on her, what if something really bad happened because I didn't, I suck, how could I NOT check on her, etc…)

    I waste MUCH time and energy doing this that is better spent loving on my family. Therapy has helped but not completely. You have to say it. Out loud. Repeatedly.

    The important thing is that she is ok.

    *hugs and blessings*


    P.S. I have developed hives in the past and we could never determine the cause. For peace of mind, ask your pediatrician for an Epi-pen for your daughter. Better to have it on hand and never need it then wish you had one. (I've never used mine.)

    GingerB June 15, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    My friends Al (albuterol) and Ben (Benadry) go everywhere with me, for just such an emergency. You hardly ever need them, but when you do, there is pretty much no friend like Ben.

    Vacuuming is a good way to brun off adrenaline. You were obviously thinking your way through the situation.

    Karishma June 15, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    oh, catherine — i'm so sorry. these things are never predictable, and always succeed in making moms feeling like they missed something important. don't let yourself feel guilty. you're right. a bad allergic reaction would have made itself obvious way sooner and would have moved down into her airway, and not just the outer neck. this was just her immune system going into overdrive in that particular location, and not into her respiratory tract. often, this type of allergic reaction looks far worse than it actually is, and as people have said before, can be outgrown. i was like this with mosquito bites when i was young – visits to india during mosquito season were horrific – but the allergy has descended to almost normal levels over the years. keep her on the antihistamine. she'll be good as new. don't feel guilty. she just as easily could have healed up all by herself overnight. there's just no way to tell.

    Jo June 15, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    P.S. OH, and Benadryl. I take that everywhere too.

    Joy June 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I am so sorry that she had such a bad reaction, and worse yet, is when there isn't something that we KNOW to do right then. Black flies, in my families, are especially horrendous, particularly for the first few bites of the season. My mom got a black fly bite on the top of her foot one summer, and only went in two days later when the swelling reached her knee… We travel with Benadryl lotion, and the liquid, always. And, sometimes, a wrung out tea bag can help get the swelling controlled until the drugs can be accessed.

    All the hugs in the world to you. And I'm glad you had the Dyson to help you out for a bit, there.

    Nickie June 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I'm glad she's going to be ok. And I understand your need to vacuum. I do. My Little Man woke up one morning with nearly one-half of his body swollen and red and hot with fever that turned out to be a bad allergic reaction to something- we still don't know what. It was a horrible experience and one I hope to never repeat. I didn't go back to work until he was completely cleared up, but I did keep myself busy at home- more than usual- just to keep from sitting there and staring at my child in his pitiful state. It was so worrying that it was hard to put a coherent thought together; tears came easier.

    red pen mama June 15, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    The fact that you vacuumed makes perfect sense to me. I probably would have put the dishes away and cleaned the kitchen.

    I'm glad E is going to be okay. I'm glad YOU'RE going to be okay.


    Don Mills Diva June 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    That IS really scary.

    We had to rush Graham to a clinic last year after he swelled up from a nasty bite – it is heartbreaking to see them like that.

    And vaccuming is a totally normal reaction – controlling the environment and all that.

    Glad you're BOTH ok.

    Immoral Matriarch June 15, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I was following your tweets, I'm glad she's going to be alright, that sounds horrifying.

    Anonymous June 15, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    My son swells up like that with mosquito bites. Last summer we were in Sarnia for a family reunion and he woke up with one eye completely shut and the other one just barely open. Forehead was swollen. I gave him Benadryl, it comes with us all the time but we still took him to the ER. The doctor took one look at him and asked why we were here. Alex looked like he had been in a bar fight yet apparently, it was no big deal to this doctor. I had an appointment with an allergist for another reason and asked about the bites. He said there is nothing you can do. I was hoping he'd suggest no camping since we are supposed to go soon. No such luck! Oh, I couldn't bring myself to take a picture. He was so happy swimming and playing yet he didn't look like the gorgeous boy he normally is.

    Maggie May June 15, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    What a scary experience. I love that Dyson guy- his voice? Like butter.

    Goldfish June 15, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    So glad she is good and that the swelling is going away. And her outer beauty is beautiful… but her inner beauty is far more important. No bug will ever steal that from her. Or from you.

    Christine Klocek-Lim June 15, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Both my kids are violently allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. We've rushed them to the hospital more than once. The most important thing to do is hug your baby girl and remember that modern medicine is a miracle. We carry epi-pens with us everywhere and steroids. You will get through this.

    Even though we know what my boys are allergic too, we can never tell when something they eat from the store or in a restaurant will contain a microscopic particle of the allergen (and yes, we take precautions, but still ended up at the hospital more than once). So, just because you don't know the bug doesn't mean she won't be okay. She will. You know she has an allergy and that is the best means of prevention there is because now you carry meds that will help if this ever happens again. Better that than the unknown.

    Hugs to you and your family.

    Yondalla June 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Yes, GOOD mother's always know when their children must see the physician and never over-react, taking children who only have colds to be tested for flu or strep.


    Sadly, most of us fail to be GOOD mothers.

    another bad mother

    B June 15, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Oh geez. That is so, so , so scary. And I would have done exactly what you did — vacuum all the badness, all the creeping scaries, take it all, all away. Get control somehow…

    I'm so sorry you and Amelia had to go through this. SO glad she's ok. Every time I read a story like this or worst I just CANNOT imagine how I'd cope. Or IF I'd cope at all…

    tallulah June 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    My child had an allergic reaction to a medicine my husband accidentally gave to him instead of our daughter. His hands curled up in a ball and his neck was paralyzed in one position. It's called a dystonic reaction and it is rare. But it freaked me out! He just needed large doses of Benadryl to put him back together. But my husband and I cursed ourselves and felt so bad for our scared little boy.
    We are not perfect, we learn from our mistakes. Do berate yourself too much.

    HLiza June 15, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Hi I'm one of your regular peeps..this reminds me of my own experience when I was 14. I came back home from school (I had to walk quite a distance back then) not feeling well. I went straight to sleep and when I woke up my mom looked at my face and she screamed! I was puzzled too..and when I looked in the mirror, I found myself looking at a face was all swollen..I nearly fainted. My whole body was red and puffy too. Dad came back, had one glance at me and have this look that says "Oh God, what had happened to my child?" and quickly brought me to a clinic. The doctor gave me a jab and I slept upon reaching home. The next morning when I woke up, it was all gone. Just like that. It's like a short nightmare and ai didn't know what was it until now. The dr just said I might be bitten by something during the walks.

    U take care okay..and vacuuming is therapeutic..I know.

    Just Me June 15, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    So I know it's belated and helps not one bit, But so sorry she had to go through that. And you too. Sucks to be a kid some days. And a parent too.

    Karen Sugarpants June 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Oh buddy…that's awful. Please don't beat yourself up too much – I once let an ear infection get "out of control" (doc said) because my little guy wasn't complaining or tugging at his ear. These things happen. Hope E is much better soon!

    chermonblie June 15, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Soooooo glad she's getting better. How scary!

    BeautifulWreck June 15, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    My daughter has horrible allergic reactions, especially to food. Her very first one, she was unrecognizable and had an anaphylactic reaction and before going to the ER, I changed all our clothes because the voice of my dead mother was in my head saying "You aren't going to wear that out in public are you!"

    I am glad your little girl is going to be okay.

    Kyla June 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    KayTar has a food allergy and I'll never forget the first (or second!) time her lips swelled up. The next time her tongue swelled, too. Talk about frightening.

    Glad E is okay.

    Patricia June 15, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I take photographs – not for any sort of morbid curiosity, but so I can show the pediatrician how a particular injury looked prior to our appointment. After the child is well again, the photographs get deleted — but they have proven helpful at least three times now when I've had to say, "He looks a bit better this morning, but yesterday, he looked like this…"

    (((HUGS))) to you and Emilia. I'm so glad she's okay. And you know what? I totally get the vacuuming. My thing is laundry. I figure as long as I'm caught up on laundry, my world can't totally crumble around me. It's the one thing I *can* control.


    The Girl June 15, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Poor sweet girl, poor sweet you. Glad the medication is working, glad she's okay. My goodness, how breathless with fear you must've been– good job vacuuming instead of pulling one of my signature moves: Projectile Vomit of Super Horror. So happy she's going to be okay. Don't beat yourself up– you couldn't have known. I know that doesn't help, but you know what does? BOOZE. Booze helps. Yessir.

    Maggie June 15, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    So frightening! Poor girl! Isn't it terrible that these things always seem to arise at night! It is always such a hard decision to either make your baby stay up past bedtime and go to the hospital at night or wait until the morning hoping that things won't get worse!

    Cloud June 15, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    I'm so glad everyone is OK.

    We keep benadryl on hand and always travel with it for just this reason.

    But there is absolutely no reason you would have known about this use of benadryl if you haven't had past experiences with allergies beyond hay fever. So definitely don't beat yourself up over this. I know- that is easier said than done.

    DEFINITELY talk to your regular doc about it when you get the chance. Allergies can get worse with subsequent exposures to the offending substance, so your doc may want to give you an epi-pen, or specific instructions for how to use benadryl, or something. (That said, I get big, ugly reactions to my first mosquito bite in any new locale, and much smaller reactions to subsequent bites. I've never figured out why this is, but I offer it as a counterexample to my gloom and doom statement about allergies getting worse!)

    Momma Sunshine June 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Poor lil sweetie. I hope she's back to her regular self soon….

    Karen June 15, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    oy – Henry has a nasty reaction to mosquito bites – naturally our yard is a swamp – but thus far has managed to not get bit on the eye or near any of this breathing parts…we have seen his wrist triple in size, so we are a fan of benadryl – does it have a facebook page, seems like all of us would join…www.facebook/

    jeluttrull June 15, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Just glad that she is going to be OK. Something similar happened to my oldest when she was younger. She came into our room an woke my wife an I up. When we looked at her, we could barely recognize her.

    Like you, we did not know what had bit her. But, over the years, we have come to believe it was just a regular mosquito since she swells up like that whenever she tends to be bitten by them.

    Hopefully you guys are able to figure out, or get a better idea as to what it was. In the meantime, don't beat yourself up over it. You are not the first parent, and she is not the first child that it has happened to.

    Hopefully that knowledge will help ease the pain. :)

    Lolly June 15, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Aww poor kiddo. I'm glad that some good ol' antihistamines helped out. I would have freaked out so you handled it better than I would have!

    Veronica Mitchell June 15, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Poor Emilia. I hope she is better soon.

    My 5yo hurt her foot for the nth time two weeks ago. I thought, "It will either get better or it will get worse," which was my mother's mantra. Next morning, it was worse. In fact, her toe was broken. It's better now, but I'm unsure whether to flagellate myself for not taking her straight to the doctor, or feel pleased that I'm less hysterical than I used to be and she's still fine. Dunno.

    mamatulip June 15, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    I held my breath the entire time I read this.

    Poor sweetie. And poor you. Pour yourself a stiff drink tonight – or two.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant June 15, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    I get the vacuuming. It was either that or standing there feeling helpless.

    I'm so glad E is okay.

    toyfoto June 15, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    So sorry. Could it be a spider bite? I had one when I was little and it was not pleasant.

    I totally get the vacuuming, though. TOTALLY would have done that, too.

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