Life’s never dull

I had today’s blog post planned and then this happened:


Cue: reams of paper towels to stem the bleeding; a frantic phone-call to get M safely to school with a friend; miles driven between home, GP surgery, local Minor Injuries Unit and local hospital; and bucket-loads of tears and the occasional hysterics as anaesthetic was injected to numb her finger.

Result: no stitches for the time being despite being told 3 were needed originally, a well steri-stripped middle finger, a buddy strap to keep it straight for a couple of days and a much-needed day off school for when emotions eventually catch up with her.

Life’s certainly never dull in our household!

School Dinners

One of the roles that I’m most proud to have taken on in the past few years is that of Allergy Ambassador for the wonderful restaurant review website, Can I Eat There?, not least because we are a family who enjoys to eat out and embraces the challenge of finding somewhere safe for both M and G. We have to accept that there a some places that we just can’t visit as a family because of their allergies and whilst that causes the occasional moments of heartbreak, we’ve learned to avoid them as best we can. In similar fashion, we have had to adjust our thinking when it comes to the matter of school lunches for both children. G’s food allergies have been a part of our lives for long enough that we’ve always had to make special provision for her lunches at school and, whilst her first school was prepared to buy gluten- and dairy-free alternatives to cook for her on a daily basis, it became increasingly difficult once we made the decision to move away article-1052305-0283dca100000578-744_468x306from the independent sector to a school with external caterers. We did manage for a couple of years once M had started at school by making sure that G and her teachers knew to pick the safe option from the choices given, but once M went MEWS-free in 2011, school dinners became a thing of the past and packed lunches were the way forward.

I was recently talking to a good friend when the subject of school lunches came up in the conversation. If I’m honest, I can’t quite remember what led us to that topic, but I was really interested to hear about the steps her daughter’s school was taking to make more than adequate provision for those with dietary needs. The school in question, Ashcombe Primary in Weston-Super-Mare, runs their own kitchen and work hard not just to maintain their healthy school status, but also to use local produce and to minimise waste. They are also keen to be inclusive in their approach to cooked school lunches and ask parents to talk to their kitchen manager if there are specific dietary requirements or allergies, menuso that they can work together to provide a healthy and nutritious alternative menu customised for that child. I’m sure that they cannot be the only school to make such efforts, but they are certainly the first I’ve heard about from someone in the know and I was impressed by what she told me they offer.

However, when I saw this sample menu that she e-mailed across to me, I was even more impressed. This school kitchen has really taken on board the requirements of the 2014 changes to EU legislation concerning allergens and their monthly written menu reflects them. Every single item on the menu indicates which of the top 14 allergens are included in the dishes and as each day offers 4 alternatives, that is no mean feat and shows a level of dedication to getting this right that is admirable. The steps this school has already taken in making this effort would reassure me, as an allergy Mum, that the kitchen manager knows her stuff when it comes to catering for children with allergies and that is something that is, without a doubt, absolutely priceless. Of course, I don’t know how successful they are in preparing freefrom alternatives when needed and would be fascinated to discover if their encouraging start actually delivers in reality.

Do you know of a school that offers a similar service or have firsthand experience of one? I’d love to hear from you and be able to share and celebrate these individuals who are working hard to be inclusive and not exclusive when it comes to lunch-times at school.

Giraffe, food allergies & me

This restaurant chain has long been a favourite of ours, even before the days of M’s extreme restrictions, and was one of the very first that we ventured back to once we had successfully got 3 foods back into his diet in 2015. We’ve visited their restaurants in various locations across the UK – London, Bristol, Milton Keynes – and have unfailingly had great service and understanding about the risks surrounding food allergies. So I was disappointed recently to see a Twitter conversation where fellow allergy-sufferers had not had such a good experience and indeed where one had suffered a severe anaphylactic reaction when her request for no soy beans in her food had been ignored. tweet

Naturally, me being me, I couldn’t help but wade in with my size 8s, not just because of our previous encounters, but because of our most recent and excellent experience at the Giraffe restaurant in the Brunswick Centre. I was so impressed with the impeccable diligence taken in regards to safeguarding my children during our meal that I have been singing their praises far and wide and felt it was about time that I did the same here as well.

img_11141G, M and I had headed there for an early supper following a busy day in London. G had been at her 2nd YPF meeting at GOSH for the day, whilst M and I had walked many thousands of steps exploring the activities and displays on show to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Once our day was done, we had just enough time to sit down for our dinner before heading off to catch our train home and wandered to the Brunswick Centre because of its proximity to GOSH. The Brunswick Centre hosts a number of different restaurants, most of which we have tried at one time or another over the years, but Giraffe is the one that we most commonly head back to as both children enjoy the food and it is one of the few that prepares rice for M to accompany his meal.

downloadDecisions made about what they’d like to eat, our waitress came to the table to take our order and this was when their attention to details become really apparent. I started by telling her that both children had allergies and she immediately disappeared to grab their allergen listing to run through their menu choices with me. I mentioned that M’s allergies in particular were complex and unlikely to fit the detail given in their book, but she advised me that she had to go through it because she would be asked about it as soon as the order went to the kitchen and that her neck would be on the line if she hadn’t taken that first step of checking it all out. We started with discussing what would be safe for M to eat and she was immediately able to offer brown rice, a grilled chicken breast and cucumber slices, a meal that would more than meet his needs and then we moved on to G.

G had decided she really wanted steak and chips for dinner and whilst there was no problem with preparing a safe steak, the chips were more of a problem. Our cheerful waitress said it was possible that the chips couldn’t be cooked gluten-free as it was dependent on whether the oil in the fryer had been changed since their lunch-time service or not. She immediately headed off to the kitchen to check the situation with the chef and came back to apologise that unfortunately the chips would be cross-contaminated and so we needed to pick something else. G was insistent that she didn’t want rice and I was struggling to spot an alternative as the potato wedges are also cooked in the fryer and so wouldn’t be safe. 20150408_181702However, our waitress came to the rescue and suggested that G had the crushed potatoes as, whilst the menu stated they included dairy, she could request that they be prepared with just a little oil instead. Situation saved!

It didn’t take too long for our plates of food to arrive at the table and we were delighted with the meals that were served. Despite all the hassle with getting G’s meal ordered, the steak and crushed potatoes that arrived looked delicious and she devoured the lot in fairly short order. M munched his way through his dish too and the second chicken breast that we asked for half-way through was prepared and served before he had managed to clear his plate. I really was incredibly impressed with their approach to preparing, cooking and serving allergy-friendly food and how hard they worked to ensure that we all had a meal we could enjoy and remain safe eating. I don’t know if this system is in place across the Giraffe chain, or if it is carried out as thoroughly as it was at the Brunswick Centre, but I’m certain that this is a restaurant we would happily choose to eat at again.

The impact of mental health

In a world that is frighteningly open as people regularly share their location, activities and even the contents of their lunch box via social media, there is still a huge reluctance to linger on anything that hints at emotional instability or mental distress; but the sad truth is that matters of mental health are a huge part of living with a chronic illness and not just for the individual concerned. Today is World Mental Health Day, a day that is seeking to raise awareness of mental health conditions in an open and honest way, to encourage individuals to understand more about how these problems can affect just about anyone at one time or another in their lives and how others can support them. There is a tendency to make light of the language used when referring to mental health issues, after all, how many times have we heard someone say that they’re feeling depressed about having to go back to work after a holiday or the break-up of a particular pop group1-in-6-wmhd, when what they really mean is that such events have saddened or upset them rather than the total immobilisation that comes when you struggle with depression on a daily basis. I am not devaluing the emotions they may be experiencing when those things happen, but are they really akin to the overwhelming nature of depression? I think not.

I don’t speak lightly as I have been dealing with the constant presence of recurring depression since my teenage years. I know what that “black dog” is like and just how much it can impact on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis in the real world. As a teenager living with T1D, I struggled with accepting that this was a reality that was never going to change for me, that the need for regular injections, sensible eating and facing the risk of serious complications was never going to disappear. I didn’t handle it well. Though few of my peers may have realised it at the time, I refused to do what I needed to do to maintain my health, not because I wanted to cause myself problems, but because I couldn’t see a way to live like my friends and not feel isolated by my T1D diagnosis. I know that I was not alone in my reaction to my chronic illness and my family and I owe a great deal to my fantastic consultant who worked hard to help minimise what often felt like insurmountable differences as I went through those troubled years. With time and support, untitledI did eventually come to terms with my diagnosis, though sadly my determination to get my T1D control back on an even keel brought with it an unexpected complication with my eyes, which in turn has led to even more serious implications than I could ever have imagined when I was 13 and feeling very much on my own in a battle against the rest of the outside world.

Move forward a few years and I found myself back in the mental health fight when I was diagnosed with post-natal depression following the difficult pregnancy and early arrival of M. This time I was more open to receiving help and my diagnosis, when it came, proved a huge relief as I didn’t have to actively speak out and ask for that support. Having struggled with counselling as a sole answer to my depression as a teenager, I readily accepted the suggestion from my GP that I be prescribed with low-level anti-depressants for the first few months and am not ashamed to say that those helped me through some very dark times indeed. Anti-depressants are not for everyone, just as much as counselling hasn’t always proved to be a success for me. There should be no stigma attached to needing that medicine to survive the battering of a mental health problem. It is a necessity for some, just as insulin keeps me alive or a feeding tube and elemental feed proved to be what M needed to help him regain better health.

I have learned over the years to identify when I start to feel a little low and my ability to cope with the everyday becomes more of a strain. Mike and my Mum have developed their own sixth sense to pick up when I am beginning to struggle and offer me their unfailing support as I try to find my way back out of the pit. Our 7 year journey to get an initial diagnosis for M and the ongoing challenges in keeping him fit and well have taken their toll and there have been times when tempers are frayed and relationships fractured because of it. 1-in-3-traumatic-event-wmhdThat strong support network of family and friends who are constantly surrounding me is invaluable and the knowledge of what is really important – M and G – keeps me getting out from under the duvet every morning and making my way through each day.

Even more importantly, my own experiences with chronic illness mean that I am well-tuned to the impact that his own diagnosis will have on M. It is a frightening reality to face that your own child might end up fighting the same demons that you did at that age, but it also gives me an insight that lends a level of trust and understanding between M and me that is unlike the relationship he has with anyone else. I can fully empathise when life seems unfair and unjust and he can allow his emotions to pour out because he believes that I get it. We have long been arguing for psychological support for M and finally, thanks to a developing shared care relationship with our local hospital, that seems to be being put in place. Our new gastro consultant has fully acknowledged that the EGID diagnosis will have not only shaped the person M has become, but also had an effect on G and on our family dynamics. He wants to adopt a holistic approach to treating M and the next few weeks will tell if that is a solution that will make a significant difference going forward. I know that recognising the signs of mental stress now are really important when it comes to M’s ongoing mental health, especially as there can be no denying that he already struggles with mood swings, anxiety and feelings of isolation, not just due to his EGID, but also because of his dyslexia and dyspraxia. Early recognition of those symptoms will help us and the medical professionals find a way to put into place coping mechanisms that will serve him, not just now, but into his adulthood too. He already has a good cohort of friends surrounding and looking for him, but they are young, only 10 years old. Just as with any other child as they grow up, he will learn to distinguish those who will stand by him through thick and thin and those who are just there for the fun times. Most importantly to me, 70300is that he doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by the times when he’s not able to cope emotionally, or mentally, or even physically with the pressures that his diagnoses will have on his life, and that he learns to openly acknowledge them; and that he realises that he’s not on his own in that regard.

Likewise, we can’t ignore the reality that having a chronically ill sibling has a massive impact on G and her mental health too. The Young Carers meetings that she has attended over the last few months have covered the areas of anxiety, facing fears and anger management, which are all inextricably tied up with the role of being a young person caring for another. Those sessions have taught her strategies for dealing with her yo-yoing emotions and provide an outlet for them in a safe and understanding environment. She has made stress balls and relaxation jars to bring home and use as she needs. I hope that the proposed psychology appointments at our local will not only look to support M, but also to help G in her own right as well as us as a family. These are all things you don’t want to even consider that your children might ever need to deal with, but there is no escaping the reality of chronic illness and mental health, and we need to accept our responsibility to help them both. That is the key message of today’s World Mental Health Day – that we all have a role to play in supporting those around us as best we possibly

Allergy Blog Awards UK 2017

Why not write a blog post about your success?” they said.

“Yes, why not?” I replied.

Ask your readers, family, friends, colleagues, social media followers to vote for you

and I nodded my head in agreement.

They might even promote you through their own social media channels!

“Fantastic!” I thought.

And then came the task of sitting down and putting pen to paper and doing that very un-British thing of talking about my success to, well you know, to other people.


I am incredibly flattered and proud to have been nominated in 2 of this year’s Allergy Blog Awards UK‘s categories, the Parent Allergy Blog and Allergy Blog of the Year and would like to thank anyone who took the time and effort to put my blog forward for these awards. I am up against some wonderful other bloggers who have become friends over the last few years and they are definitely strong contenders for these awards, but I’m hoping that with the help and support of my readers, and maybe even your friends, I might make the shortlist for one category at the very least.

I started my blog to share the highs and lows of life with EGID and multiple allergies, not least the road we travelled to reach M’s diagnosis. I didn’t want any other parent to feel as isolated as Mike and I did when we were trying to convince the medics that there was something wrong as well as letting other families know that they really aren’t on their own with their battles. Since my first post in 2013, my blog has morphed into more than just a commentary on a child with a chronic illness, but looks at all aspects of family life from birthdays and days out to schooling and hospital visits. Without a doubt, I will always find the time to keep writing because each and every day brings a new challenge to overcome or achievement to celebrate and it gives me a form of release that helps maintain a level of sanity at all times.

So what can you do? – and yes this really is the trickiest bit to write. You could click on this link here and cast your vote in either of the categories I’ve mentioned above. Just scroll through the lists until you find 7yearstodiagnosis and click to make your selection. You could also share this through your social media channels or email contacts to ask friends to add their votes too. I really appreciate each and every vote cast between now and 30th November 2016, and will hopefully be able to share whether I have successfully made it through to the next stage or not.



Giving young people a voice

ypfI mentioned a couple of months ago that G has been invited to become part of the GOSH Young People’s Forum, or YPF as it’s more readily known. When I wrote that post, she was just about to attend her first meeting and was excited to see what the YPF was all about. For those of you who perhaps can’t quite remember the finer details, it’s a group of approximately 40 young people aged between 11-25, who are all either current patients at GOSH, previous GOSH patients or siblings of patients. As well as being one of the youngest in the group, G is, I believe, unique in that she is the only member who is the sibling of an existing GOSH patient, which makes her comments valuable coming, as they do, from a completely different viewpoint.

The purpose of the YPF is to improve the services provided by GOSH to their young patients, whether inpatients or outpatients and focusing on the teenage patients in particular. It is very much a two-way process, with the hospital asking for input on important issues or developments that are happening on-site as well as the YPF members developing their own projects to improve the experiences of patients and their families. man-speaker-1Members get involved in all aspects of hospital life from inspections such as the PLACE assessment and providing valuable feedback on projects planned by hospital staff, to writing content for the TeenGOSH community webpages and helping design areas of the hospital such as the reception area, which was redeveloped in 2014. You can read more about what the YPF members have been up to through their blog here.

The Forum meets 6 times a year at the hospital and each meeting lasts for the full day, with lunch and snacks provided by the GOSH catering team. They have been brilliant at providing safe food for G, although there are still a few glitches to iron out such as making sure her lunch arrives at the same time as everyone else’s. The 2 meetings that G has attended so far have been extremely different, but overall her experience has been good and she’s keen to continue her involvement with the YPF for the time being. At her most recent meeting – the minutes of which you can find here – they really did cover a whole range of different aspects of hospital life. G has now become something of an expert on the subject of the recruitment process and was able to share what they had been told about the different areas that needed to be covered when GOSH is looking to recruit new members of staff. A professional photographer went along to take photos for the new publicity campaign to raise awareness of the YPF and its role within the hospital and G is looking forward to seeing which photos are chosen for the final published materials. They were also lucky enough to go on a couple of tours of some little known areas of GOSH, including the various sacred places that provide spiritual support for those families from a number of your-halloween-party-2014-in-paris-sizel-161421-649-420different religions and a sneak peek at the Morgan Stanley Garden that was displayed at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year. The particular highlight for G was the discussions held around arrangements for the teenage attendees of this year’s Halloween and Christmas parties and she had great fun inventing gory names for the food on offer at Halloween.

Cheese and Onion Skin flakes anyone?