Until he was 5, our youngest son had a serious allergy to Egg. Thankfully, by the time he took the ‘Egg Challenge’ he had outgrown it. This is where in hospital, the patient is given ever-increasing amounts of the allergen under careful observation to see if at what point, and how badly they react – if they do. The most dangerous situation is when after contact with substance concerned, the body’s auto immune system starts to go badly wrong, resulting in massive and if left untreated, fatal reaction known a ‘Anaphylaxis’ or ‘Anaphylactic Shock’
As far as allergens are concerned One of the most deadly culprits is, as I am sure you know, peanuts. (Personally, I never found Shultz’s cartoon capers involving Charlie Brown and gang all that offensive; but I digress and this is no laughing matter.)
Our son’s first attack, just prior to his first birthday was sufficiently bad to warrant a ‘white knuckle ride’ to the nearest hospital and after he had been treated, prompt one of the A & E medics to take us to one side and say “We managed today – but next time it’ll be much worse. You need to carry adrenaline, in the form of an Epipen. The Epipen, a simple auto-injector, if administered in time, gives the patient a measured emergency dose in the form of epinephrine, which buys between 15 and 20 minutes.
Well finally we get one from the GP, despite what seemed, if not reluctance, then the impression we were being over-cautious. That summer, we are on holiday in Spain when it dawns on us. We are staying about twenty minutes drive – if you’re lucky and there’s no traffic or surly Guardia Civil in sight – from the city of Valencia. Clearly, it meant that the 15 minutes of time the Epipen buys you would be insufficient, were we to have a crisis or a suspected reaction, God forbid, anywhere outside the immediate city centre. It wouldn’t be enough to cover the driving time to ‘La Fe’ the city’s main hospital, never mind the time it would take to get to a car from where contact happened to have taken place.
So when we get back to Blighty, we go to the quacks and explain we want another one:
“You want another one?..Why?”
“Why…. Why? So we can fucking go and sell it down Wembley Market you muppet! Why do you think?”
This was 1995/6 or thereabouts. It’s hard to believe that people – including some health care professionals I have to say, were so ignorant of the dangers of severe alleregic reactions. People confused allergy, in which, the body’s immune system is activated and in its worst cases, is life threatening; with intolerance, where the body reacts to substances it can’t process: usually because of deficiency or lack of certain enzymes. Which is unpleasant, no doubt, but rarely puts sufferers at risk.
We made a point of joining organisations and groups, to find out as much as we could about it. I was fascinated by a presentation given at Northwick Park Hospital (It must have been good if it managed to hold my attention for more than an hour in one of the most dismal places in Christendom) by Gideon Lack , Professor of Paediatric Allergy, King’s College London. He told how he belived that people are sensitised to allergens via broken or damaged skin. This insight came about through his treatment of a young girl with chronic ezcema which seemed to resist all attempts to ease it, as well as a severe allergy to latex: which defied explanation. He asked the parents to let him admit the girl and agree to being observed while they appplied her creams and emollients. Father was a dentist. When time came for his turn to cream the girl the first thing he did was put on a pair of (latex) protective gloves. Obviously, anxious to reduce the risk of causing infection to his daughter’s damaged skin, he was unwittingly, making it much worse.
And why the sudden rise of the evil peanut to status of ‘Public Enemy No: 1’? It was never like that before? I believe that in the last 20 years or so the number of sufferers from allergy to peanuts has doubled to (currently for children) one in every seventy. And how? Infantile eczema is very often the precursor. What do you do when you have dry, itchy, cracked skin? You put creams on it. What are the creams derived from? I’ll leave you to work the rest out for yourselves*
I think things are better now. Generally, people are more aware. My wife was tireless in her fight to educate people; far more alert to dangers than I was. Constantly vigilant. But you had to be. For instance, did you know that the MMR vaccine was grown in on an egg culture? Okay, maybe a remote possibilty of causing a reaction. But you don’t take that risk with somebody’s life! The number of times we got a: Well, a ‘bit’ won’t do him any harm will it?’ response in cafes, restaurants, pubs and so on.
‘Errr … Yes it will. That’s precisely the point. That little ‘bit’ could be the ‘bit’ that fucking kills him, you moron’
So here we go. Here’s an example: yes, I know this is the bit you’ve been waiting for – The Rant
(In a cafe, with the kids and a couple of their friends. They are all over the table. Everyone’s starving. Bloody nightmare. Oh no! Along comes the catering industry’s equivalent to Dappy from N-Dubz. It’s the dopey work-experience waiter)
“Can I help You?”
Hmmmmm. I think the jury are still out on that. Anyway, we bung in the order leaving no.2 son till the end.
” Now, he would like the sausages, but he has a serious allergy to egg. Do they contain any egg? ”
“Nah.They don’t have egg in ’em, you get that when you order a full English breakfast, innit”
Oh dear. It was going to a long lunchtime.
“No. What I mean is have they got egg as part of their ingredients?”
“Oh I see. I don’t thinnnnnnk so….”
He screws up his eyes and draws the menu closer to his face; as if the answer to my question is printed somewhere on it in teeny tiny writing.
“Nah. They’ll be OK”
Biting my lip and feel a twitching along the knife edge of my right hand and foot that suggests sudden and violent contact with the neck and solar plexus of the spotty retard before me.
“Yeah, you see the problem is I’m not talking about a food intolerance, I am talking about a serious food allergy, we need to categorically know (which is quite different to guess) whether or not egg has been used in the process of making the sausages – otherwise he can’t have them”
“I’ll go and ask chef”
“What a good idea…”
As he trundles off, I notice he is wearing a “How Can I Be Of Help Today?” badge. (You can be of help to me by taking a walk out that fucking door and under the nearest bus, I find myself thinking)
(5 mins later)
“He can’t find the box they were in. Y’know it’s like a big catering pack they come in. The chef dunno anything they’ve got in them … well except meat of course …. I think …. Anyway, he is pretty sure they haven’t.
(Losing patience…But still managing to come across as jovial, friendly and even-tempered: teacher training you see)
“Alright. What about the Steak and Kidney pie then?”
OKAY! One Steak and Kidney Pie comin’ up”
“No, I mean before we order we need to know if it has any egg in it?
“I shouldn’t think so…I mean what would you put an egg in a Steak and Kidney pie for?”
“I Fu……….C’mon kids let’s go to Starbucks…”
… Later that evening, I follow Spotty Retard to the “Warner Village” cinema complex where he goes to watch ‘American Pie meets Haloween’. I sit behind him and slit his throat as he noisily and greedily shovel handfuls of a 24 litre bucket of popcorn into his mouth.
See? Understanding the difference between allergy and Food intolerance really could be a matter of life and death.
* I refer here, of course to shop-bought creams and emollients, not approved pharmaceutical products
Children’s allergy specialists at Evelina Children’s Hospital, part of Guys and St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust are conducting the LEAP Study to determine how to best prevent peanut allergy in children.
© Andy Daly 2010