Having children with allergies means many things - more expensive food, endless planning, sharing medical details with virtual strangers, day to day stress around the checking of all ingredients and, most disturbingly, food becoming a source of danger. There are many other consequences of allergies - ranging from exclusion at school events to bullying; but the worst…the absolute worst consequence…is the 1am phone call during a sleepover.
Molly was at a friend’s for a sleepover last week. The three girls are close friends; all at different secondary schools now. One has moved out of London so this was a real treat. All three united again, for the traditional ‘sleepless’ sleepover. The hosting Mum is a caring, generous woman – dairy free milk was purchased, dairy free margarine for toast – labels read on popcorn and crisps so no surprises there.
Hubby and I were out to celebrate our anniversary that night. So everyone was feeling a bit ‘demob’ happy. A night out for us without rushing home for a babysitter, Molly with her ‘besties’ and surrounded by caring, thoughtful people. It’s not often that we can go out and not keep checking our phones to make sure there are no questions to be answered (how many times have I had to whisper into my phone that yes, margarine, while not butter, still has dairy in it? Argh)
So…night out, wine was drunk, good food eaten and a great evening had all round.
Right up until 1:30 am when the phone went.
Molly was ill. She’d been asleep but had woken with stomach cramps and nausea. I was out of my pj’s as fast as possible, into my jeans (with apologises to Kristin Scott Thomas – I did NOT look tres chic with my hair sticking up and my crumpled jumper pulled over my head) and out the door I dashed. Driving was out of the question – if Molly was feeling sick then a car ride wouldn’t help…more importantly I couldn’t possibly drive as I’d had a large glass of wine and a martini. There I was…rushing through the streets of London late at night carrying an array of drugs for my daughter.
When I arrived at the house the hosting Mum was so upset. And so confused as she’d been so careful. Molly was pale, in pain, and thought she was going to be ill. We packed up her stuff, her duvet and pillow into a garbage bag and loaded up we staggered back into the street to make our way home in the cold February moonlight. The journey was slow…with frequent curb side stops. The conversation was (apart from the usual reassuring noises, hugs and handing over of wipes and water), as you can imagine, along the lines of ‘what have you eaten?’ are you sure the popcorn didn’t have butter? Are you sure you ate the dairy free margarine? On it went…as I quizzed her about everything she’d eaten and had to drink since I’d seen her. Sometimes I feel like the worlds’ most obsessive interrogator.
I started to wonder about what she’d eaten for lunch. We had gone to Itsu. They are great with allergies and print out, yes…print out, the ingredients of each menu item from the till. It’s wonderful – I can check everything. I knew lunch had been ‘safe’ so started to wonder if there was something new making her ill. A spice that had previously been okay. I vowed to go through the till receipts and make up a list of suspects when we got home. After all…it’s not like we would be getting any sleep.
Then my phone rang. It was hosting Mum. The culprit had been found. One of the girls had brought in Vimto sweets under the radar. They are chewy sweets – like Haribo, like Starburst, like Maoam, like wine gums, like a million other ‘jelly’ sweets. Molly eats this type of jelly sweet as milk chocolate is out of the question. Nobody thought anything of it, including Molly. After all – Molly had only had one as she hadn’t really liked it.
One unchecked sweet.
The ingredients had now been checked and there it was – egg white. How much egg white could be in one sweet? Well…enough to make my daughter sick for hours it appears.
This is the part that’s so worrying and stressful. Every mouthful has to be checked for ingredients and safety. EVERY SINGLE MOUTHFUL OF FOOD. It’s exhausting, and takes so much of the spontaneous joy of food away. My 11 year old can’t eat a sweet without reading the label. This has been drummed into her now. But after hours of pain and nausea I’m not sure I have to say anything much. She’ll be a lot more careful in the future.
Just to drive home how it's easy to make these mistakes - here is a picture of three chewy sweets - Vimto, Chewits and Fruit-tella. One is safe, two have eggs. You can see how a kid, who's had this type of sweet, would think nothing of popping one into their mouths.
I’m, of course, logging onto the doctors surgery to make another appointment with our GP. Her reactions are getting quicker, and more serious so it’s time to go back to the allergist. As an infant her reactions were classed as type 4 allergic reactions – delayed. Sometimes by days. Which was a challenge in itself. But now…a few hours and she’s literally on the floor in a ball of pain if she’s eaten even the smallest amount of egg. Time for a retest. My niece is allergic to peanuts and has recently developed an anaphylactic reaction to even the smallest amount. I fear we are going down the same road with eggs.
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Allergy UK is a great charity providing information and help for people with allergies.
Their hotline is staffed by wonderful people offering their help free of charge.
Their number is: 01322 619 898
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