COVID-19 has generated a multitude of complications for individuals with health concerns – including fears related to restricted access of supplies. Here, one father shares with SPR his journey looking after his 18-month-old son with a cow’s milk allergy during lockdown, and how he has dealt with his worries.
CAN YOU TELL SPR ABOUT YOUR SON AND WHEN HIS COW’S MILK ALLERGY (CMA) WAS FIRST DETECTED?
My son is 18 months old and was first diagnosed with CMA when he was four months old. Up until that point we had been trying to use every type of infant milk formula available to buy but he continuously experienced severe stomach aches and projectile vomiting. He would cry sore as he was taking his bottle and that’s when we decided to go to the GP for advice.
HOW HAVE YOU TYPICALLY MANAGED HIS DIETARY REQUIREMENTS?
It has been quite difficult at times as many products have cow’s milk as an ingredient, which he isn’t allowed even in this form. My son’s appetite wouldn’t be and hasn’t been great which is why we rely so much on his prescription milk powder. We are now much more comfortable with what he can and can’t have but it has taken a long time – the worry is always that you may accidentally give your child something to eat or drink that will cause them discomfort or pain, which is every parent’s nightmare.
WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL CONCERNS WHEN LOCKDOWN COMMENCED? HOW DID THESE CHANGE IN LINE WITH THE ESCALATION OF COVID-19?
Our GP will only prescribe one week’s worth of my son’s milk at a time and when lockdown was announced I immediately panicked as I didn’t know what way GP surgeries and pharmacies would work. I ordered his prescription and it took a lot longer than normal to get and I had to borrow some from my local pharmacy.
When I turned up and saw a queue outside of more than 10 people I was really worried about how things would go. Some patients can miss a day or two of their medication if an issue arises, but my son isn’t able to miss his food. I have to say that my local pharmacy were fantastic and helped as much as they possibly could.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE WHEN TRYING TO ACCESS COW’S MILK ALTERNATIVES? DID SOCIETY’S BEHAVIOUR HINDER YOU AT ALL?
When people began bulk buying it really limited what we could feed my son as the shelves were constantly bare. For the first few weeks his diet remained pretty constant and bland as the choices available had declined significantly. Regarding milk, there was no alternative to his prescription and although I requested that he received a few weeks’ worth at once I was unable to speak to anyone in the GP surgery and just had to continue with the weekly stress.
HOW DID THE WORRYING IMPACT YOUR FAMILY LIFE AND OWN MENTAL HEALTH DURING THIS TIME?
It was always at the back of my mind: was his prescription ordered on time? Did the GP issue it or was there a backlog? Would the pharmacy then be able to obtain the stock if so?
I think that it was more stressful as it was a weekly cycle and we only really received two days of not worrying before it was time to reorder. Like everyone else the pandemic affected our work and also the ability to go out etc., and this was an added stress.
WHAT ROLE DID PHARMACISTS PLAY IN ALLEVIATING YOUR DISTRESS?
I have to say that my local pharmacist was fantastic – she always told me that if we needed to borrow any food, we could, and she was always trying to ensure that there was at least one tin in stock at all times. This really helped as I knew that even if the prescription hadn’t been completed on time, I would always be able to get something to keep my son going.
The pharmacy staff were already contending with their own stresses and increased workload – however their caring attitude towards me never wavered.
HOW CAN THE NEEDS OF THE FOOD ALLERGY COMMUNITY BE PROTECTED NOW AND INTO THE FUTURE?
I think sometimes it is not looked upon as an overly important issue – people tend to think that as the prescription is for food then surely the parents could just buy something similar in a supermarket to keep them going.
If an adult has a food allergy then they know to avoid it, but when it is a baby or young child it becomes so much more difficult, especially when it is their milk.
The actual initial diagnosis took a relatively long time as well – I feel that if there was more awareness surrounding CMA with both healthcare professionals and the public then children could be diagnosed a lot quicker and put on the necessary products immediately.
Also, once a child is being prescribed a CMA product, I believe that it should be prescribed on a longer-term basis than just a week.