I ventured into alien territory on Wednesday morning: visiting the nut butter section of a supermarket for the first time in two years. My mission? A jar of peanut butter for my 2-year-old daughter’s hospital peanut challenge.
My daughter, C, had skin prick tested negative for peanut and her blood test results had also not revealed any sensitivity towards peanuts or tree nuts. Things were looking hopeful that she might have dodged the food allergy curse. However, given the severity of my son’s first allergic reaction, the hospital had offered her a peanut challenge, just to make sure. Given she now goes to nursery one day a week, I was particularly keen to know for certain, so that she could be prescribed her own emergency meds if need be.
I had put off buying food containing the evil P-word until the day of the challenge, so that I didn’t have to keep the stuff in our nut free house. On Wednesday morning, after my son had been safely deposited at nursery, at 8.30AM I found myself scouring the shelves of our local Sainsbury’s, trying to decide whether to plump for SunPat, Skippy or Sainsbury’s own brand. It all felt rather surreal.
I’m pleased to report the challenge went well. Actually, I will rephrase that. Whilst my daughter didn’t show the slightest hint of an allergic reaction (hurrah!), the challenge was itself somewhat of a challenge. Little Miss took an intense dislike to the taste of peanut butter and no matter how much chocolate yoghurt we used in an attempt to disguise it, after the first dose, she knew what was coming. Hiding it under jam, on a piece of toast? No chance. This meant she had to be pretty much pinned down, whilst a blend of peanut butter and chocolate yoghurt was spooned into her mouth. It then invariably stuck to the roof of her mouth, as she refused to swallow it. Cue 10 minutes or so of protesting and drooling, until she was distracted and calm enough for it to finally be swallowed. Repeat times five. All in all, quite a wearing couple of hours.
Stress quota: likelihood of reaction vs the subject food
What was different this time round, compared to the previous food challenges we’ve been through for my son? Emotionally, two things:
- C hasn’t ever shown any hint of being an atopic child. Despite being treated in exactly the same way as her older brother (save for not being exposed to any nut containing foods), she was rarely sick as a young baby and, save for once having a patch of dry skin on her cheek, has never shown the slightest hint of eczema. Although once prescribed a blue inhaler and montelukast, if she gets a cough it tends in the main to be croupy and gone after a couple of days, rather than something that’s chesty and needs antibiotics. I’m no medical expert, but, for these reasons, I would have been extremely surprised if she’d had any type of reaction.
- The fact the food was peanut, loaded more anxiety onto the challenge. This was the thing which had put my son on life support when he was 20 months old. The things which cause me to shudder slightly when I see them in a jar on a pub bar or in bird feed bags at a garden centre. So, whilst I felt quietly confident that C wouldn’t react, I was all too aware of the symptoms which could be triggered if she did.
One tip for food challenges for girls…
Practically, I came away with one top tip for girls having food challenges: wear socks not tights. This isn’t something I’ve ever needed to consider for D, seeing as he’s more of a socks kind of boy! However, as the challenge got underway, it dawned on me that the hospital need to attach a monitor to the child’s toe which, for a small child in particular, needs to be held in place (and disguised so they forget about it!) by wearing a sock. Tights just don’t work for this!
… and apparently hospital food “may contain nuts”
One last thing: a new feature at this appointment was having to sign a disclaimer in respect of C’s lunch. The hospital kitchen handles nuts and they therefore can’t guarantee the food is free of nut traces. Nut allergic patients now need to sign a disclaimer to that effect.
This was a new one on me and I went along with it for C’s meal. However, if D was ever in hospital then I couldn’t risk it. We would be forced to bring in safe food from home. The absolute last thing you need when your child is in hospital is additional tasks, as the whole experience is already stressful enough. And surely, of all places, hospitals should understand the need for a food allergic’s meals to be free of their allergen(s)?
How ludicrous is it, that my severely peanut allergic child might one day be in hospital post-anaphylaxis, and the only food the hospital can offer him may contain nut traces? From chatting to other allergy mums on Twitter I understand this is commonplace across many NHS hospitals.
And so, I discover just another thing in the nut allergy world that could be easily remedied and needs to change…
Which brings me on to the nut allergy bees I have in my bonnet…