Tag Archives: failing food challenges

Reflections of an appointment

I started writing this blog post 12 months ago and had put it to one side then because I wasn’t sure that the time was right to share all that was going on with M’s care at that point, particularly when it came to expressing my hesitation about whether the decisions being made were the right ones or not. Today we find ourselves in an even more emotionally charged situation and are becoming increasingly vexed with the marked lack of progress made over the last year. I revisited this original blog post tonight and decided that it now feels right to express that turmoil and the frustration in dealing with a medical team that appear to have lost their impetus to engage with us and with M. Those words written in italics are about our current experience.

There’s been lots going on over the last 6 months as many of my blog posts about our mini adventures have shown, but the one area I haven’t yet shared is the journey we’ve been exploring with our local consultant as I briefly mentioned last November. The decision to move almost all of M’s care from GOSH to our local hospital has not been an easy one to make, but for many reasons we have concluded that it is possibly the best one for now. Having a complete MDT (Multi-Disciplinary Team) close at hand to discuss all the challenges of M’s health has been invaluable and experiencing first-hand their willingness to see him at the drop of a hat over a 6-week period, where we’ve had 2 “emergency” appointments and 1 planned one, has been a relief, especially when you consider the problems we’ve had with them in the past.

It sounds fantastic doesn’t it? An almost perfect solution to meeting the complex and on-going medical needs of M; and yet, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that we’ve had our ups and downs with some of their suggestions and have not yet found ourselves moving on and making progress from the starting point we had 12 months ago. The overall opinion held is that M’s ongoing problems are not really related to his EGID diagnosis or the numerous foods we have previously identified as being unsafe, but rather a physical problem that is massively affected by psychological influences that are still to be fully explored and identified. We don’t disagree that there absolutely has to be a psychological element to M’s health: how can any child live through the experiences of his first 12 years and not be impacted in that way? But it also feels as if they’re throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water and ignoring all of M’s physical symptoms from birth to 5, a time when it was impossible for him to have developed any fears of new foods or associations that certain foods would cause certain health problems.

It’s been challenging for us to adjust our thinking and look to embrace their suggestions of how to move things forward for M. Experience is constantly nagging at the back of my consciousness, gently reminding me that so many times I have been proved to know my son far better than the doctors treating him; but Mike and I have both worked hard to be positive about their new ideas because ultimately we want what is best for M and what will improve his quality of life beyond his, and our, wildest expectations.

In August 2017, my thoughts stopped there. I wanted so desperately to believe that things were going to change, to improve for M and it was, I think, a conscious decision to not air my hesitations and doubts because I was afraid to unwittingly jinx the improvements we were hoping would come about. However, nearly a year on and things have not changed at all. I now have a child who has struggled his way through the first year of secondary school and has lost the spark that makes him him. M no longer sees a positive in being treated at our local hospital and just wants to return to the care of GOSH, which is the last place he can actively relate to seeing any major changes to his day-to-day living. He has gained a couple of extra foods, but we are only at 9 (chicken, rice, cucumber, apple, pear, parsnips, bacon, onion and banana) and not the 20 that his consultant expected when we met him at the start of June.

At that appointment, the entire MDT acknowledged that M is not the child they knew 12 months ago and commented on his lost enthusiasm for choosing new foods to trial. I have tried so hard to explain to them that I am certain that M is not thinking his body into failing those challenges, but none of us really knows that for sure. The truth is that there are some foods that cause an unquestionable reaction and with others it’s difficult to judge if they’re causing an issue, or if it’s simply a case that we’re not really giving his body time to rest and recover between each trial. I’ll be honest, we’ve decided to relax the rules a lot at key times because it’s becoming increasingly evident that M needs the emotional boost that occasionally being able to eat more “normally” gives him. However, every decision to eat something we wouldn’t usually allow brings with it a set of consequences that are difficult for us all and not just for M to process.

I don’t know where we’re heading or what the next few months hold for M. The one thing we’re all agreed on is that we can’t keep living the current status quo because every day like this destroys another small part of the confidence we have in his medical team and buries his spark even deeper.

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Popcorn Chicken

You might not have realised it, but last week saw the celebration of “National Popcorn Day” in the USA – a day dedicated to “drawing awareness to popcorn and the never-ending amount of fun you can have with it!” Unfortunately, popcorn is currently yet another treat that M cannot enjoy due to a failed food challenge, but a revisit to my Kracklecorn post from last year reminded me of a popular chicken fast food chain and its popcorn chicken nuggets, This dish brings back fond memories of Mike’s grandmother, who loved this treat and of trips to the nearest KFC to pick up a portion or 2 for dinner whenever we were back in Canada and making a visit to see her.

kfc

January has been something of a grey month for M, who has struggled with giving up the foods unsuccessfully reintroduced during his GOSH admission. His health is infinitely better than it was 6 weeks ago, but my plucky 9-year old has found it tough to see eggs, potatoes and bananas disappear back out of his diet after such an intense period of eating them, no matter how ill they made him. Determined to develop a new recipe to cheer him up a little, and inspired by my Canadian recollections, I researched a number of popcorn chicken recipes to see if I could recreate this fast food treat. Despite a continuing absence of safe foods for M, we have been able to successfully expand his repertoire of herbs and spices and I wanted to introduce some quite bold new flavour combinations to tantalise his taste buds. Some of the recipes I found suggested using an Indian spices theme and, as India just happens to be M’s topic for the new school term, this seemed the perfect opportunity to prepare an Indian-style popcorn chicken for dinner.

Thanks to the ever-present box of Nature’s Path Crispy Rice Cereal, the only safe cereal M can eat and actually enjoys, my trusty deep fat fryer and a selection of Indian-esque spices from my kitchen cupboard, I blitzed up a crumb coating, added my chicken 20160106_180748and kept my fingers crossed. The first batch looked delicious and I couldn’t wait to take a sneaky bite or two to…ahem…”taste test” before serving them to my discerning public. The smell wafting through the house worked better than a dinner bell and first one child, and then the other, drifted to the table with washed hands, ready to try dinner. For that first meal, I prepared 2 chicken breasts worth of popcorn and left my youngest bitterly disappointed that there was absolutely not another morsel left for him to consume. Subsequent meals have seen bigger portions prepared and disappear in similarly quick fashion, and I’m delighted to have found another winning recipe for dinner. Mike has also declared my popcorn chicken a huge hit, even though all he’s been able to scrounge has been the sparse crumbs left once G and M have emptied the bowl. They really were “finger lickin’ good!”.

Thank goodness for TGI Fridays!

When you’re an allergy Mum, there is nothing better than finding somewhere your entire family can eat safely when you’re out and about. I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen when I’m at home, tweaking recipes and continually trying to find new, tasty and interesting ways to prepare 5 safe foods for M and sometimes I just want a break from it. We have found some firm favourites amongst the chains, who have not only been able to cook M-friendly food when we were excluding just 7 – remember those days? I just about can – but have also impressed us in the last 12 months too. From old faithfuls such as Pizza Express, Giraffe and Bella Italia, to newcomers Wagamama and Jamie’s Italian, my cup quite literally runneth over! Our holiday to Cornwall last summer led to the discovery of an amazing small independent restaurant who catered for M without hesitation and made all the difference on our first holiday with a tube.

tgiWith the start of a new year, we decided to branch out and challenge yet another popular old friend, TGI Fridays. M has been reluctant to visit this restaurant since he went elemental last year and our first suggested meal out after he was discharged from GOSH fell sadly flat, when he refused to stay there because “..everyone around me will be eating chips Mummy…“. As we had not long had to stop the potato trial due to all his problems in hospital, Mike and I could totally understand and were massively impressed that, at long last, he’d been able to tell us his reasons for not wanting to stay. However, never one to be beaten by a near 10 year-old, I bided my time until we once again headed out for a small bit of sales shopping and decided to treat them to lunch as well. M’s first choice was Wagamama, but an ill-timed fire in their kitchen put pay to that idea and I tentatively suggested TGI Fridays as a potential alternative. Although only a couple more days had passed since our first attempt, M felt a little more able to challenge their menu and we set off on our brand new restaurant adventure.

The first thing on our to-do list was to advise the greeter of our allergy needs as soon as we arrived at the restaurant and asked for a table. I always do this when we eat anywhere new, even when it’s just a new location of one of our known safe restaurants, so that neither child has to go through the stress and embarrassment of discovering they can’t cater for them and having to leave the restaurant. The greeter asked the restaurant manager to come talk to us as this is TGI protocol when dealing with customers with food allergies. We explained M’s dietary requirements and he reassured that they could prepare chicken, apple and cucumber for M, though sadly not any rice as their current rice dish contains a Cajun spice mix which we haven’t trialled with him as yet. With M happy that he would be able to eat, we headed for our table, ready to peruse the choices for the rest of the family.

20160103_160912 (1)For those of you not in the know, TGI Fridays has a separate menu for allergies, which lists the lactose- and gluten-free options readily available. G was delighted to see such a selection of starters that were safe for her and begged to be allowed to try one of those as well as her main course. She opted for the BBQ houmous starter with corn tortilla chips, followed by the Bacon burger with fries from the allergy-friendly children’s menu. Having sorted our little Miss out, we’re turned our attentions to the more knotty problem of young Master M and here I have to say, TGI Fridays came into their own. The manager came to sit with us at the table, armed with a mammoth allergy information folder and cross-referenced every single menu item we were considering for both children to ensure the food would be absolutely safe. He advised us that they used separate chopping boards for the food preparation to avoid cross-contamination risks and showed an in-depth understanding of our requirements which reflected the extensive food safety courses I later found out the restaurant chain insists all their managers attend.

The only potential issue arose when we discussed what oil M’s chicken would be cooked in as the restaurant uses either olive or the more generic “vegetable” oil in their cooking. As we are still limited to rapeseed and coconut oil only, I asked if the chicken could be cooked without oil and the manager went off to see what could be done.20160103_160748 I was impressed to discover that before settling on that as an option, he had actually investigated whether they could get hold of any rapeseed oil from one of the neighbouring restaurants for M’s chicken breast, but had rejected that option when he discovered those restaurants couldn’t guarantee that there was no cross-contamination risk. Instead, the chefs prepared the chicken oil-free and the speed at which it disappeared from M’s plate is a testament to how well prepared and tasty this dish turned out to be. G’s food vanished in similarly quick fashion and Mike and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that our risky restaurant choice proved to be such a success.

*following our visit, I discovered that TGI Fridays also have an impressive allergy menu on-line, which allows you to select the foods you’re avoiding to see what choices you have. This is a great tool to give you an idea whether they can cook for you or not, but nothing beats talking to the restaurant managers themselves.

 

 

But that wasn’t part of the plan

Without doubt, December whirled past in something of a blur. As I’ve already posted, we had been waiting for an admission to GOSH since last July and naturally it came when we were least expecting it. This admission had been planned by M’s dedicated dietician, who was hugely concerned by the continuing lack of progress we were making when it came to successfully reintroducing food back into his diet and she was keen to challenge him within the hospital setting so that they could see exactly what we were experiencing at home. Our initial discussions all those months ago were in terms of weeks: a lengthy admission, perhaps up to 6 weeks, to fully understand how M’s bowel and bplanody respond when food is eaten; a daunting prospect when you have another child to love and nurture at home as well as a job to hold down.

Move forward 3 months and we reached our October outpatients appointment with no admission in sight and, due to the lack of long-term gastro beds at GOSH, no clear indication of when that elusive bed might eventually become available. Cue the recommendation of a radical rethink and a change of plan to a one week admission, followed by a series of further 1-week stays, scattered here and there throughout the year as and when there was a bed. The gastro team, keen to get him in before Christmas, felt this was our best chance of getting a bed any time soon and so we rolled with the punches and agreed to this amended plan, still not quite clear as to when the admission would actually happen. Over the following weeks, I spent valuable time fine-tuning the details with M’s dietician, agreeing what foods we would choose for challenges during our stay and discussing what the medical team were hoping to achieve through this process. The hardest part remained the lack of a long-term plan. The truth is that M’s continued problems with so many of the foods we’ve tried to introduce is baffling his doctors and until this admission was under our belt, they just didn’t know in which direction we’d be heading next.

By the time M was admitted on December 3rd, the plan had been tweaked again and unsurprisingly would continue to be so during the length of our stay. That one week admission suddenly became a 2-week stay and the 2 foods we had agreed to trial: potato and sweet potato, suddenly became 4: potato, egg, banana and salmon. I had already expressed some concerns about the plan to challenge him with 2 foods in a week and the increase to 4 over a 10-day period was now ringing some serious alarm bells in my head. Mike and I knew full well that the chances were that I would be bringing home a less-than-stable M just in time for Christmas and were resigned to rolling our sleeves up and spending the holidaysSmall-Changes working hard to bring him back to a healthy position ready for the new school term. We weren’t happy about this situation, but felt there was really no alternative; we had to give their plan a try in order to find some answers.

Despite those misgivings, the ones I had fully voiced to everyone and anyone who would listen from the minute I first met with M’s consultant and dietician when we arrived at GOSH and that I continued to express through every step of the following 10 harrowing days, we set off on this plan with the hope that we would find another safe food for him and perhaps even start to understand what has been troubling his gut for so many years.

What wasn’t part of the plan was the continued reluctance of the medical teams in hospital to listen when I told them M was beginning to show signs that all was not well with the food challenges and that he was reacting to the foods;

the plan didn’t anticipate the reality of M’s bowel being so unable to cope that it refused to work properly by the time we were 10 days into the 2-week admission;

and it definitely didn’t include 10 litres of Klean-prep (the worst bowel prep known to man) being continuously pumped into his tiny body over a 6-day period in an attempt to clear the resulting chronic impaction.

Nowhere in the master plan had I seen fair warning that, by day 14, I would be rendered utterly helpless and only able to sit, holding his hand and massaging his aching limbs, as M was left bent double from the cramps that were consistently hitting an 11 on the pain scale, where 10 was classed as the worst pain imaginable.

dancing-in-rain

Somehow we limped through endless hours of pain and frustration and dashed hopes, and we survived. Somehow we talked and ranted and sobbed and challenged until finally the medics acknowledged that things had gone horribly wrong, and we survived. Somehow we managed to stand strong and stay strong and stand our ground and refused to compromise on what we knew was in M’s best interest, and we survived. Somehow we rode out the fiercest storms and learned to dance in the rain, and we survived. Somehow we found enough humour in each day to keep the smiles on our faces and to laugh the smallest of giggles, and we survived. Somehow we got through the unexpected and started to find our way back to our normality, and we survived.

But that wasn’t part of the plan.

“Run, run as fast as you can…”

“…you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”

To be perfectly honest, the last couple of months have been challenging ones. When we made the decision last year to move M to the elemental diet, we did so hoping that it would be the answer we were looking for and that he would finally find some relief from the years of chronic pain and constant bowel problems he’d barely been surviving. The great news is that his symptoms improved dramatically and for the first time in a long-time, M felt healthier and happier than ever before. However, despite the best hopes of GOSH that his NG-tube would only be needed for 2 or 3 months, Mike and I held the opinion that it would more realistically be in place for at least a year, if not longer, and we are rapidly moving closer to that 12-month mark. Of course, what none of us had anticipated was the struggle we would have in reintroducing foods back into M’s diet and over recent weeks, he has found the constant disappointment of failed food trials and the frustration of not being able to eat the same as everyone else almost unbearable to live with. With the agreement of our amazingly supportive dietician, we decided to take an extended break from the challenges, allowing M some much-needed time to come to terms with the realities of life right now.

shutterstock_190648280Having had that much-needed rest, M started to lose that haunted look that had been plaguing him for a few weeks and we finally seemed to have turned the corner and be back on track. We agreed on a new short list of foods to challenge in the run up to Christmas and had finally restarted where we had left off, more or less. However, last weekend, with another 3 unsuccessful attempts at reintroductions to chalk up to experience, tensions started to build and emotions threatened to overwhelm the tenuous calm that had just begun to settle. The final straw broke when G asked Mike and me to taste and review her cupcakes for her Food and Textiles homework. With hot, angry tears cascading down his cheeks, M crawled on to my lap to fitfully confide that it “just wasn’t fair” that everyone else could eat cakes when he couldn’t. Gently stroking his back, I offered to whip up a batch of one of the few sweet treat recipes I’ve managed to adapt for him in the last 12 months: Rice krispie treats? Cupcakes? Scones? Sugar cookies? Nothing seemed to quite hit the necessary mark, so I put my thinking cap on, did a little research and came up with the perfect pre-Christmas treat – Gingerbread!

Thanks to a few sneaky “mini” challenges, we have been able to add some extra flavourings to M’s diet and the most recent success was the addition of ginger to the humble pear crumble, so gingerbread seemed to be the logical next step. I started pulling the ingredients from the cupboards and, 20151121_162110as I weighed and measured out everything I needed, M’s interest was piqued and he pulled up the step-stool to stand by my side and help out. He rolled up his sleeves, washed and then floured his hands and, having selected an interesting array of cookie cutters, brandished my trusty rolling-pin to roll out the gingerbread dough on my pastry board. He chose to use the Christmas cutters as well as the odd one or two Mr Men ones, which have survived from my childhood and spent hours planning out to most effectively cut the shapes from the dough in front of him. We ended up with an impressive batch and I am heartily assured by my trustworthy taste-testers that they more than fit the brief and hit the mark!

Quick update

Stocks-Update-1With 2 weeks left to the end of term, there’s so much going on that I’ve barely got time to sit down and commit any useful thoughts to paper, so I’m afraid this post is just going to be a quick update.  We’ve just had our first appointment in the new “Complex gastro and nutrition” clinic that our consultant and lovely specialist dietician have started at GOSH.  The thinking behind this new clinic is that for children like M, who have a chronic gastro condition such as EGID as well as significant, complex and multiple food allergies, there needs to be regular meetings with both a gastro consultant and a dietician to ensure that everyone is singing from the same song sheet when it comes to treating the health of that child.

Hospital appointments always induce mild nerves in me, but this time round I felt more apprehensive than usual.  We are now into month 8 of the NG-tube, when the initial plans were that M would have it for no more than 3 months at most and I was concerned that there might be discussion about removing the tube in the near future.  M’s health has been so significantly improved since we went elemental in December that I don’t want to rock the boat any more than is necessary until we have a huge improvement with his diet.  generic round label_1265358343With only 4 foods on our “safe” list out of 12 tried so far, it has been a much longer process to reintroduce foods back than any of the medics expected, although, to be honest, Mike and I had always anticipated it taking a full year, if not longer.  At the moment, M is coping well with his tube and is keen to keep trying new foods, so there are no concerns that the presence of the tube is having a detrimental effect on him in any way.

So, in a snapshot, the outcome of our appointment was this:  that on almost every level, his health is remarkably stable right now and even his hay fever isn’t causing too many issues this year; but the area of most concern continues to be his ever-growing list of multiple food allergies.  Our dietician is very worried that M is struggling to tolerate so many foods and now refers to him as one of her “biggest, but loveliest challenges”.  The process of reintroduction has been so slow that until we have at least another 2 or 3 back in his diet, we cannot change the amount of E028 he’s having via his tube and so the tube obviously needs to stay in place.  We have chosen the next 5 foods to try – white fish, pear, GF oats, venison and coconut – and will also be doing some mini-challenges to see if we can have some more spices and flavourings to add into my recipes.  I will continue to remain in regular phone contact with her throughout these trials and we will keep persevering with the food challenges until our next scheduled appointment in around 4 months time.

Another food and an unexpected insight

This moment has been an awfully long time coming, over 4 months and 7 food fails in a row in fact, but finally we have a fourth safe food to add to M’s repertoire: apple.  The last few months have been emotionally tiring as we’ve worked our way down the list of food challenges agreed with our dietitian and M has systematically, and holy-grailsometimes dramatically, failed each and every one.  It has felt as if that elusive fourth food was our personal Holy Grail and there were times when Mike and I both began to wonder when we would ever achieve it.

One of the complicating factors we’ve had to deal with during the food challenges has been the whole host of reactions that we’ve seen along the way.  We were never told, as far as either of us can remember, that it was possible to see so many different allergic responses to the varying foods M was trialling and we were certainly not advised that he could experience some that he’d never had before.  His severe oral reaction to sweet potato was, in many ways, the easiest one to identify, even though horrendous to see happen, as we knew immediately that it had to be an instant fail; but the others have not necessarily been so straight-forward.

complicatedOur main goal is to maintain the improved health and toileting that M has achieved since he first went elemental back in December and even though that has meant ruling out some foods that would have been great to have back in his diet, I remain firm that his well-being, both physical and psychological, is our primary concern.  At our last appointment, we discussed with both M’s consultant and dietitian our approach to the food challenges and agreed that anything that causes a loss of bowel control, of any description, has to be considered an instant fail for the time-being. These foods are not ruled out permanently – well, sweet potato is as far as I’m concerned! – and we will, without a doubt, revisit them at some future point once we have more safe ones back.

Sadly he has reacted to some of his old favourites, but he has coped admirably well with accepting the outcomes.  He still remains reluctant at times to acknowledge exactly how he is feeling and telling us about the aches and pains we know he must be experiencing, but 9 years of parenting M means that I have become highly attuned to his moods and can sense when he’s feeling under the weather.  His willingness to lose a food again at times has indicated to us that he also identifies when it’s making him feel poorly, especially when he has been prepared to fight for those that he believes he can cope with.

Never was that so true as at the start of our apple challenge.  During the first couple of days, his body reacted with hives and itchy skin, just as we saw when we first reintroduced rice and he also struggled a little with his bowel control.  However, unlike with other foods where he has reluctantly agreed that it was likely a negative response to the challenge, this time round M insisted that the fault was his for not listening to his body and responding quickly enough and that he felt he was still in complete control.

10 days on and he has proved to be right, which is a valuable lesson for us all:

We have spent years fighting for our voice to be heard when it has come to M’s health and each step of the way have been shown to be right in our concerns and our thoughts for his ongoing treatment.  It seems that now we need to start listening to what M has to say too and take into consideration his opinions and insights about his body.  Of course, at 9 he is nowhere near old enough or responsible enough to make his own choices or sway our decisions unduly, but, just as I have spent a long time arguing my place as the expert on the subject of M because I’m his Mum, now as Mum I need to encourage him to be his own best advocate and take an active and involved role in his care.  After all, that’s a key part of my parental role.apples7

And whilst I ruminate on this latest insight into M’s development, I’m eagerly gathering ideas and recipes to incorporate apple, in all its glory, into his diet.  So far, we’ve ventured little further than apple juice, apple slices and apple pancakes, but with the help of good friends, including one whose son is just a few steps further down the food challenge road than M, and great resources such as The Recipe Resource, then apple crumble, apple crisps and apple cakes are all on our horizon.