My eldest has a peanut allergy. I’ll be honest, we don’t give it much thought.
The rest of us love peanut butter and having a boy who’s allergic to peanuts in the family doesn’t stop us. We just know to be very careful with hand and utensil washing after eating it or making sandwiches – and not to make his sandwiches at the same time.
We didn’t even realise he had the allergy until he was nearly 10. He suffered two allergic reactions in the space of a few weeks and it took us a while to work out what caused it. But, after that, nothing.
He was tested at the hospital and I was surprised at how little peanut he reacts too. I always tell myself it’s not a bad allergy, but, in reality, do I really know?
Back when he was first diagnosed, we were told to go back when he was a teenager and more independent to get an EpiPen. Teenagers go out eating with their friends, they may not want to look uncool by asking what the ingredients are. Oh, and teenagers travel abroad without their families. Where the food is as unfamiliar as the language. With both a French exchange and a Scout camp in Holland on the horizon, we decided it was time to get an EpiPen.
Apparently it’s best to have two. Just in case the first doesn’t work.
The doctor was happy to prescribe them and my son has been very good at carrying them around with him.
At the start of the year, the teacher leading the French exchange got in touch. She needed to know more about the peanut allergy and the treatment, for the school’s risk assessment.
I did my usual thing of playing it down a bit. He’s only had two reactions (plus a controlled one in hospital) and hasn’t had a reaction for four years.
But, actually, it’s quite scary. Who’s to say his throat won’t swell up in addition to the rest of his face? Who’s to say his next reaction won’t be worse? What if he doesn’t get medication quickly enough?
The teacher spoke to her boss and decided she needed an EpiPen for him too.
I got in touch with the doctor. They wouldn’t let us have an EpiPen. They’re too expensive. It’s not necessary. Two is plenty.
I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I know that he doesn’t need three. The doctor wouldn’t prescribe him another one. But what if the school refused to take him away unless he had three? Imagine denying a child a great opportunity like that for the sake of an EpiPen he won’t need.
A few days later, we saw the doctor about his acne. She’d be more helpful face-to-face, obviously. She wasn’t.
‘Well, are the school going to pay for it? It’s a waste of NHS money. He doesn’t need it. What medical knowledge does the school have?’
I could see her point. But I could see the school’s too.
And, in between it, I could see a boy who just wanted to go to France with his friends.
‘Well can I pay for it, then?’
The magic answer. I could. A private prescription – £28.50 and the elusive third EpiPen was ours.
Until the day before the trip. The teacher had been given ‘her’ EpiPen, my son had his two, but the teacher had assumed there was a FOURTH one in the school office!
What if they used the first two and then needed another two?
What could I say?
‘I think we’ll have to hope and trust that he won’t need them again.’
There was no way at 4pm on a Friday afternoon I was going to get another EpiPen in time for going away on Saturday.
The reality is a) he’s unlikely to need them at all b) he’s unlikely to need a second even if he needs a first c) he can take Piriton anyway, which works well, but isn’t fast-acting in an emergency.
Having spoken to the deputy head, the school has concluded that it would be safe to take my son away with ‘just’ three EpiPens. I had to write down as much information as I could about them, so the teacher could buy another one in a French pharmacy, should he use one or two of them up.
My son is away now. EpiPens and all. Let’s hope he comes back with all three of them and I’m proved right, that it was all a storm in a Peanut Butter Cup and a big fuss about nothing.