Drama trauma

My word, people. This child of mine is making me age prematurely.

Or else he has a secret plan to collect all the ER’s stuffed animals in the shortest amount of time possible.

Yesterday I had, quite possibly, the most adrenaline-pumping car ride of my life. I exceeded the speed limit. I laid on the horn and zipped through a just-turned-red stoplight. I passed in the right lane. I picked up my husband (who was standing curbside) so fast that, if I had been driving a windowless black van, it could’ve been a scene straight out of a Jackie Chan movie.

Don’t look at me like that. I wasn’t trying to careless. In fact, there’s a good chance I was a better-than-normal driver, level-headed, focused, and attentive. (The tears and snot streaming down my face, the raspy breathing and repeated pummeling of the steering wheel—because cars were going so dang slow—were just for dramatic affect.)

Besides, I bet you’d go through the same little song and dance if your five-year-old’s eyeball turned all squishy yellow and swelled up so huge that it looked like it would fall out of its socket at any minute.

Seriously. I’ve NEVER seen anything like it.

We still don’t know what caused it. I was working outside, planting annuals and perennials, picking asparagus and rhubarb, potting plants, and trying to cajole the kids into helping me. Nickel was hanging out, playing in the yard and on the porch, doing his best to not help me. He got a little fussy. Said his eye hurt, that something was in it. He didn’t cry, didn’t yell. Just sat there fussing. So of course I ignored him.

About ten minutes later I went in the house to get lunch ready. I washed my hands and then said to Mr. Fussy, “Okay. Let me see your eye.”

I took one look—the whole outside edge of the white part of his left eye was bulging—and grabbed the kid under his armpits, raced him to the bathroom, splashed water on his face, realized water wasn’t good enough, and ran in circles around the kitchen, arms a-flapping, searching for the phone.

“Meet me at the ER,” I barked at my husband.

I called my sister-in-law. “We’re going to the ER,” I informed her. “I’m dropping the kids off.”

By the time I hung up the phone, all of the white part of his eye was spongy, yellow, and bulging in a way that no eye should ever bulge.

“GET TO THE CAR!” I screamed at the kids, wetting a hanky with cold water and slapping it on the eye as I raced out the door. The kids were already huddled out by the car. (Sweetsie was so traumatized by the grossness factor that she refused to sit in her regular seat beside her brother.)

After a drive-by drop-off at my sis-in-law’s house (and getting flagged down by my sis-in-law who was on the phone with my husband who was asking if I could pick him up on such-and-such a road), I passed a woman out walking her dog and pulled over, “Do you have medical training?” She shook her head no and I sped off.

By this point, Nickel’s whole eye was bubbling and bulging with wild abandon. The skin under his eye was pushed out so far it seemed like it no longer possessed any eyeball restraining power whatsoever. (To steady my racing brain I focused on the fact that there’s an awful lot of networking behind the eye that keeps it in place.)

“My eye feels like it’s cracking,” Nickel whimpered.

Suddenly the 20-mile drive to the hospital seemed impossibly long. Our friend, a nursing professor and a long-time overseas missionary in Central America , lived several miles down the road. Surely she would have a clue as to what in the world was going on. When I zipped around the curve in front of her house, she was sitting outside on her porch—I jerked the car over and backed into her drive. I called to her and right away she knew this was no regular neighborly visit I was paying. She jumped up from her rocker, ran to the car, took one look at Nickel’s eye, made like she was going to jump into the car with us, changed her mind and flew into the house for ice and a cloth, and off we sped. (Our friend was so worried about his eye—she had never seen anything like it, either—that she eventually drove the whole way to the hospital to find out how we were, but we had already been discharged.)

I already told you about the rest of the drive, minus the part when Nickel said, “My throat hurts,” and John said, “Just drive.” (I figured if a cop pulled me over, all the better. I’d just show him the eye and get myself a personal escort service.)

By the time we got to the hospital, the swelling was going down and we were beginning to realize that this was an allergic reaction. They put us straight through to a room, but then it took the doctor awhile to come in so we had a chance to regain our composure. Clearly, his eyeball wasn’t going to fall out. He would be fine. We relaxed.

The doctor confirmed our suspicions. Nickel had had an allergic reaction. To what, we don’t know. We now have drops to put in his eye if it happens again. If his lips swell up, he needs more than the drops (but it was the pharmacist who told me that—the doctor didn’t seem concerned about that).

I still have tons of questions. Like, do we even need the drops if a cold compress did so much to bring the swelling down? Like, was the slightly swollen eye that I noticed last week (the left eye, too) a precursor to this? It is likely this will happen again and will it be worse next time? Is this a condition he’ll have during a particular season for the rest of this life?

The internet was reluctant to cough up very much information on this condition. I looked for images and this one (the second picture) most closely resembles my baby’s eye (though his was more yellow than red and the skin under the eye was bulging out much further). I wish now I had taken pictures—it was so incredibly incredible-looking—but I don’t think of photos when I’m in the middle of being traumatized. Sorry.

In any case, Nickel now has a new stuffed animal and I know that I have the potential to be an ambulance driver if I ever get the urge.

P.S. Whaddaya know, he had another reaction as I was posting this.

So here you can see what his eye looked like in the very beginning stages, lucky you.

Oh yeah, and in all the drama of the last ten minutes, I burnt the bread, too.


  • Anonymous

    I have the same thing! When I touch my cat and touch my eye, it does the very same thing. A benadryl and an hour or so and I am good to go. I had the same horrific reaction when it happened to me the first time. So, my guess is that he touched something, be it grass, trees, flowers, etc. and then rubbed or touched his eye. Truly it looks much scarier than it actually is..


  • Marie M.

    I'm still hyperventilating from reading this. Oh dear. How frightening for you. Was Nickel frightened too? Or did he somehow keep his cool? What I find scary is NOT knowing what caused it. If you know the cause you can avoid it. I'm allergic to bee and wasp bites. Recently I developed an allergy to peanut butter — something I practically lived on as a child. (My mother was the world's worst cook. If not for milk and peanut butter . . . ) Getting back to allergies. They can range from redness and swelling to anaphylactic shock. Mine are the anaphylactic shock kind. Which means if I don't receive treatment within twenty minutes my throat starts to swell up (inside) and my breathing would my compromised and then I could die. I have a special ephedrine pen — you just hold it next to your thigh and press. I had a doctor once tell me I could buy a kind of ephedrine you inhale. Like for people with asthma. I didn't mean to write a book or unduly scare you, I'm sure you've done some googling to research this subject. I agree with another commenter. Get thee to an allergist and try to figure out what the cause was. If you don't know what caused it — get an anaphylactic shock kit and if he starts to have trouble breathing — give it to him. You might not have the twenty minutes to get him to the ER. Good luck and please keep us updated!

  • Steve

    My first thought when you mentioned gardening was that maybe he go Euphorbia sap in his eye. Euphorbia sap can cause extreme irritation and even temporary blindness. You may want to familiarize yourself with the most common varieties such as: Euphorbia cyparissias, Euphorbia myrsinites and Euphorbia marginata (Snow on the Moutain). Once you've identified them you can warn your kids to avoid them or you can work on eliminating them. Euphorbia cyparissias is very difficult to eradicate as it spreads by brittle underground runners that snap off and regrow when you try to pull it out. I had some on my property and it took years of careful digging and soil sifting to finally get rid of it.

  • Hello. My name is Meshan.

    Holy Smokes! I'm fully awake now thanks to you. Guess I can get out of bed. Phew, that was crazy!! Glad he's okay.

  • judy


  • the domestic fringe

    This is terrible! I know how scary it is when something happens to one of your kids. My is deathly allergic to bees and fire ants. We've had mad runs to hospital with both. Allergic reactions are nothing to shake a stick at. I do know that with both my son's traumatic allergic reactions, he had a milder one previously. It got worse each time. He now carries an Epipen everywhere he goes. Benadryl works wonders if taken (in liquid) immediately. I'm so sorry this happened to you and your little guy. Saying prayers for him today. Glad you made it to the hospital safely. God is good to us.

  • Anonymous

    Allergies can be so terrifying! I had this happen to me once after touching horses and then rubbing my eye without washing my hand first. (I'm very allergic to horses.) I've found that pretty much any animal's hair/dander will cause my eyes to itch and swell if I rub them after petting it. One of my boys inherited this reaction and also food allergies. So, the first thing I'd recommend is always having antihistimine on hand…always…liquid seems to work fastest. Then, do your darnedest to figure out what Nickel's rubbing into his eye. Prayers for a speedy conclusion to the mystery!


  • Misha

    Tears and crying here! We have done a couple of the race to the ER drives and calls to ambulances – with anaphylactic reactions. Lips swollen to completely absurd dimensions etc. So this hit home and I was crying with you.

    I am so, so, so glad he is okay. And for you – all I can say is I know. I am so sorry. It's such a horrible fear/horror/mama pain. Sending love and prayers for peace in your home…

  • Zoë

    Kinda like what we went through this weekend. 2 hours after we ate an Easter meal, Brad's feet were so swollen he couldn't walk and his face was about another half time larger than normal. It looked weird. (Turns out he's allergic to shrimp. Bummer!) Fortunately, I wasn't the ambulance driver. Our much speedier bro-in-law was. Sounds like their ride was about like yours.

    I hope you can figure out what's causing this!

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    Holy cow! I'm glad he's OK…for now? I would want more answers, too…

    And I have to say…you crack me up. Your sense of humor is the best…

  • Mama Pea

    Geez, I was getting teary eyed from stress just reading this post. I once had the swelling of the white of both my eyes and was told it was a sunburn of the eyeballs. I had been outside working all day in bright sunlight with no sunglasses. But nothing as extreme as you described here. So how did this second reaction he had (as you were posting) turn out? Did you use the drops?

  • Cookie baker Lynn

    Oh, heavens, a mama's heart goes through so much grief and pain. Who needs aerobic workouts when you have children?

    So glad to hear he's OK and the eyeball is still in place. You might consider taking him to an allergist to pinpoint what the problem is so that he can be prepared in the future.

  • Rosanna

    That used to happen to me. Usually, though, it was accompanied by skin swelling, which gave us the assurance it was just an allergy. It felt SO WEIRD to blink over a concave iris.

    Certain kinds of laundry detergent did it to me.

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    Sam's eye did the same thing a couple years ago! It was spring time, he was complaining about his eye itching and we gathered it was allergies even though he'd never showed signs of having them in the past. It wasn't until we came inside and really looked at it that we freaked out a bit. I honestly can't remember if we took him to the pediatrician or not. I'm sure I wanted to but there's a good chance Jamey talked me down and we waited it out and it got better. It's more than a bit unnerving to have your child's eye start hemorrhaging out of it's socket. I'm so glad it was allergies.

  • teekaroo

    Oh my goodness! I've never seen the eyeball swell up… I've seen some pretty crazy eyelids do a swelling act, but the eyeball? How scary!

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