Tag Archives: #livinginfear

Because #livinginfear is not *just* about the allergies

I wrote yesterday about the #livinginfear campaign and started thinking about what that really means to me.  I quickly realised that #livinginfear is not what I want for M or, indeed, for G.  It is so important that they are both aware of their allergies and that M, in particular, could suffer adverse reactions to the foods he eats.  They must take on responsibility for their own health when away from home and have an understanding about what they eat and what they have to avoid.  They need to know how to deal with mild reactions and how to communicate their needs to the people around them, especially when in new situations, or when Mike and I are not there to speak up on their behalf.  After our experience with the sweet potato trials, they now know that there could be other, more serious reactions that M’s not experienced before and that they could be frightening.  Most critically, I need to teach them how to respond calmly should those reactions occur.

dsc02717However, the most important thing is this: that my children are still children and whilst living with a chronic illness has forced them both to grow up a little faster than their friends and peers, I don’t want them shouldering adult worries or concerns, or feeling weighed down with fears that may never be realised.  Until the point when they reach their majority, I want my children to laugh, play and simply live each day as children, trusting that Mike and I will always be there supporting them, ready to catch them when they fall.

The truth about #livinginfear for us is that it is my burden to bear and is about more that just the potential for serious allergic reactions.  My fear is not even about M possibly suffering from anaphylaxis one day as, although the prospect of facing that is daunting, I trust that my parental instincts and ability to stay calm under pressure would get me through that most difficult of experiences.

No, that weekend highlighted for me what my true and biggest fear about his allergies and his health really is:  that I will not be believed…that I will become “that” parent…and that the health professionals involved in my child’s care will doubt what I say, thinking I’m causing a fuss about something that is simply not true.  The years spent chasing a diagnosis despite everything the doctors were telling us have taken their toll on my self-belief.  I second guess myself at every turn.  I discuss and dissect and deliberate my every waking thought about M with Mike to check that I’m not going mad, that he, at least, understands where I’m coming from and that I’m not being unreasonable or over-reacting to the situation.

Nothing demonstrates that self-doubt more than the fact that I insisted we tried M on the sweet potato again the following day when Mike was there, just so he could see the reaction for himself and confirm that what I had seen, and M had experienced, was true.  Despite my natural concerns that it could have been an anaphylactic reaction, I needed Mike to be an eye-witness to it too and I had our back-up plans in place, just in case his response was even worse that time round (fortunately it wasn’t).  I didn’t want to put M through the terror and pain of the reaction again, what parent would, but I needed to be certain that I hadn’t imagined it to be more extreme than it actually was.

I know that my confidence has been shattered by the very people who should have been supporting me and my family every step along the way – the medical professionals we’ve encountered on our journey.  I am no longer comfortable in trusting my gut instincts about M’s health, even though I have been proved right time after time after time; and that’s simply not acceptable.

willowtreeBeing a parent is a hard enough job when you have a happy, healthy child – there are no superheroes living in secret in my local community as far as I’m aware; but the burden quickly becomes overwhelming once you throw a chronic illness into the mix.  I find myself not always being able to state my case clearly or argue M’s corner when it matters most and I lie awake worrying in the middle of the night that the treatment I’ve demanded may not be the best course of action, or whether there was anything I forgot to mention at the most recent appointment.  I know myself to be a strong, intelligent woman and yet I find myself being instantly returned to my school days, with all the mixed emotions of being sent to see the Headmaster, the minute I find myself facing a consultant.

And I worry that G is getting lost in the chaos that is hospital stays and food allergies and medicines and diagnostic tests and the relentless need to monitor, record and report everything.  As she approaches her SATs and the prospect of moving up to “big” school looms ever nearer, my firstborn is growing up fast and I wonder how our relationship will survive the inevitable traumas of her teenage years when my focus so often has to be on her younger brother. Time together is rare and incredibly precious and something we both need and enjoy because I’m fully aware that I’m not necessarily getting this parenting thing right.

So, raising awareness this week has to be not just with the general public, although that is undoubtedly critical to protect the allergy-sufferers around us, but within the medical community too.  For most of us, you are our firefighters and the people we are forced to depend on in our darkest moments.  We need you to be strong, focussed and the experts that we are not, BUT we also need you to be gentle, compassionate and understand that you are holding the future of our most precious possessions in your hands.  Don’t dismiss our concerns, but believe that we know our children best and have an insight or opinion that is just as valid as your professional one.  Don’t belittle our emotions, but be empathetic when they overcome us and we need a shoulder to cry on more than anything else in that moment.  Be honest, but in the kindest way, knowing that your words have the power to break us when we least expect it.  Most of all, understand that we are constantly #livinginfear about our children’s health and life, so they don’t have to.

Why #allergyawarenessweek is important

This week is Allergy UK’s #allergyawarenessweek and their aim is to raise awareness of the serious, and sometimes severe, impact of allergies on everyday life.  Their campaign #livinginfear has invited allergy sufferers to talk about the frightening side of allergies, not least of which are the statistics that show an astonishing lack of knowledge about how to deal with serious allergic reactions amongst the general public.  Recent research carried out by Allergy UK shows that 44% of allergy sufferers in the UK are living in fear of a serious reaction, whilst 68% of the people surveyed wouldn’t know how to deal with a reaction; and this lack of public knowledge could be forcing sufferers into a life of fear and anxiety.  This useful infographic published this week uses the acronym FEAR to educate us all on how to recognise, help and potentially save the life of someone struggling with a severe reaction:

Courtesy of Allergyuk.org

Courtesy of Allergyuk.org

Whilst M’s allergies are extensive and challenging, I have always been extremely grateful that he has never suffered anaphylactic shock from anything he has eaten, although the question of whether he could experience one has floated at the back of my mind for quite some time.  We were lucky enough to be able to bring home a training epi-pen after our visit to the Allergy UK annual conference in 2014, though other than a cursory look when it first came home, I have to confess it’s been gathering dust in a box on top of one of our kitchen cupboards since then.  We’ve even gone as far as discussing, late at night, whether we should have an epi-pen on hand at home “just in case”, but I’m ashamed to admit that that is as far as we’ve got in actually doing something about it.

Courtesy of foodb.ca

Courtesy of foodb.ca

However, less than a month ago that decision came back to haunt me and I learned unexpectedly just what the reality of the #livinginfear campaign could be like.  We were trialling sweet potato with M, a previous favourite that we were desperately hoping would bring some much-needed variety to his meals.  The first mouthful on that first Friday night had been eagerly received and much enjoyed by M and although the following day was a little more fraught on the toileting front than it had been for a long time, we hoped it was nothing more than a temporary blip to be overcome.  We ploughed on with the food challenges and M had taken to waxing lyrical about how much he was looking forward to including sweet potato in his diet once again.  He even asked how long it would be before he could enjoy a “whole baked potato” once again.

It was at the 3rd meal and the increase to 2 teaspoons of mashed sweet potato that things suddenly and rather dramatically went horribly wrong.  Mike, rather typically, was out for the evening at a charity whisky-tasting event and it was just me and the children enjoying our evening meal at home.  M tasted his mouthfuls of the mash before anything else and then got on with the rest of his dinner.  He got no further than half-way through when he suddenly grabbed at his throat and started gulping down mouthfuls of his glass of rice milk.  He complained that his tongue was stinging and itchy, his whole mouth was itching and it felt as if someone had grabbed his throat and was squeezing hard.  Two glassfuls of milk later and a frantic phone-call to Mike about what was going on, things settled down and M was feeling a lot better.

I had spent those 20 minutes just about holding it all together, whilst running anxiously through all the possible scenarios in my head and trying to work out what I needed to do if things took a turn for the worse:

  • Option 1 – Jump into the car with both children, trying to keep as calm as possible and race to our local hospital, 20 minutes away and with no car parking options on site:  I’d get there, but what if he stopped breathing in the car and I needed G to get involved, even if it was just by using my mobile to phone for back-up?
  • Option 2 – Dash off to one of several nearby friends who are also doctors and ask for their help:  much quicker, but at least one of those was at the same event as Mike and who knew whether the others would be at home
  • Option 3 – Call 999 and wait anxiously for an ambulance to turn up, all the time acting as the proverbial duck (calm on the surface, but paddling furiously beneath the water): how long would it take for an ambulance to reach us? Could I keep both children calm at home as we waited? What would I do if M stopped breathing? What would I do with G if we needed to rush off to hospital?

We were lucky.  The reaction passed, although the stinging pain in his mouth and throat and the sensation of his throat tightening returned at odd times over the next few days.  Following a lengthy conversation with our GOSH dietitian, it seems likely that M actually suffered an oral allergy to sweet potato rather than full-blown anaphylaxis, though it doesn’t quite fit with the known causes and triggers of Oral Allergy Syndrome.  If you are interested to learn more about living with OAS, then I highly recommend the blog Feeding my intolerant child, whose description of her son’s oral reaction to a simple fruit ice lolly whilst on holiday is definitely reminiscent of those frightening moments at home a few weeks ago.

epipenNeedless to say, sweet potato has been banished from M’s diet for the foreseeable future and we are now seeking a local allergist who can help advise us on dealing with any other more serious allergic reactions that M might experience as we continue along the food reintroduction road.  Oh yes, and we’ll also be pleading to get him an epi-pen for our own peace of mind and for the sake of his well-being and I will make sure that we all know how to administer it correctly.