Finding somewhere to take an atopic child on holiday is hard. For MyItchyBoy, it’s not just the food allergies, but eczema too. We have to find somewhere not too remote (proximity to medical services and availability of food), somewhere not too hot (aggravates his eczema) and affordable and preferably where we can communicate with restaurant, supermarket and pharmacy staff – if needs be.
Holidays have become a bit of a luxury to us now that MyItchyBoy is in school and the prices are pretty unaffordable. But, this year I was determined we would do something more interesting than last year’s three days in Norfolk.
The UK is the obvious choice, but it doesn’t often tick the ‘affordable’ option these days and for me, doesn’t tick the ‘more interesting’ box either.
In the end we went for the French Alps. We figured that being in a town known for both its winter and summer sports would be good for medical services and pharmacies. My French is rusty but passable so I felt confident that if I took a cheat-sheet with me, I’d manage in restaurants and would be able to read ingredients in the supermarkets. We booked an apartment so we could manage breakfast and packed lunches hassle-free and cook a couple of evening meals.
All was going well until Tuesday. We’d been out all day and decided to eat out in the evening. So far our restaurant experiences had been ok. Choices were limited (I’d forgotten how cheesy traditional Savoyarde food is!) but we’d been fine communicating the essential points with the wait staff and supermarkets. The place we went to that night was busy but the waitress took our list of allergens to the kitchen, advised on what was possible and we felt confident all would be fine. All seemed fine.
On the way back to the apartment, we stopped for ice-cream for Husband and a dairy-free sorbet for MyItchyBoy. MyItchyBoy ate his sorbet then ran all the way back to the apartment.
By the time he’d reached the front door, he was complaining of tummy ache. We put it down to indigestion, at first. By the time we got inside, he was saying he felt sick. Bundling him into the bathroom, he then began to sneeze repeatedly. Husband and I shared a worried look and I grabbed the Piriton. He was fussy and agitated but we managed to get him to take it. Then he threw it up.
What unfolded then was a long evening involving:
- Talking to French doctors in French whilst Googling symptoms in French (although I’d prepared with food translations, I hadn’t prepared the words for what happens if he had a reaction)
- Discovering that the local hospital closes at 8pm
- Discovering there were no out-of-hours doctor in the town after 8pm
- Discovering there is no taxi rank in the town
- Discovering the extortionate cost of a taxi at night
- Discovering hives on MyItchyBoy’s legs and torso
- MyItchyBoy being super calm and explaining that it felt like when he’d previously been to hospital after having a reaction to peanuts
- Making a good decision to enlist the help of the reception staff at the posh hotel just opposite who spoke good English and French and knew the details of medical facilities and how to access them
- More conversations in French with doctors
- An emergency ambulance turning up with three lovely Pompiers* rather confused at where the ‘emergency’ was as MyItchyBoy sat in the hotel reception happily chatting away (although a bit sleepy by now). Only one had a vague idea what an Epipen was and none seemed to know the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Luckily MyItchyBoy wasn’t having any respiratory problems other than telling me he could hear himself breathing and asking for his puffer quite early on.
More conversations with the Pompiers and doctor by phone and we were all finally in agreement that yes, MyItchyBoy did need to go to hospital
Ambulance to Hospital
So off we went. Well, me and MyItchyBoy. Husband couldn’t fit in so he was left behind to sort anything else out while the nice men strapped MyItchyBoy into the bed in the back of the ambulance.
With the siren flashing, we were off to who knew where (nearest open hospital was 30 mins or so away but I had no idea in which direction). MyItchyBoy seemed calm and collected in the back whilst I was stressing quite a lot whilst trying to work out what we had in the bag that was any use for a possible few hours waiting in a hospital waiting room. Luckily, once we knew things were looking serious Husband had the foresight to grab a favourite bear and I’d chucked in some emergency snacks and a colouring book. So, there my beautiful boy lay, in an ambulance, cuddling his rabbit, listening to me making stilted small talk with the accompanying Pompier.
I needn’t have worried about a waiting room though. We didn’t even see one. We were taken straight through to a room, details were taken, I signed lots of paper and apologised for not having MyItchyBoy’s passport on me. We were checked over by a doctor who took the whole thing very seriously, gave MyItchyBoy an anti-histamine and steroid and told us the nurse would take us to the paediatric ward for the night.
It was so quiet in the hospital with such lovely staff who didn’t seem in a rush or harassed. We were treated with patience and understanding, which was great considering it was now getting on for midnight, both of us were falling asleep and my French was getting progressively worse every time I had to repeat what had happened.
We were given a private room with a bathroom, with towels and a lovely nurse made a fold-up bed for me next to my precious boy. I covered him in the emollient that we always carry, gave him his rabbit and we held hands for a while before falling asleep. It was a restless night for me as the panic took a while to get over. Luckily at that point I hadn’t seen the price list on the wall for medical services we’d already consumed!
Our first visitor of the morning was not a doctor but the woman coming to collect our insurance details. I had our travel insurance details in my handbag just by coincidence and I was pleased that my cautious Husband had declared everything when buying the policy so MyItchyBoy was covered with a nut allergy and if it wasn’t nuts, then it would be a ‘new’ thing and therefore should be covered. Husband was desperately trying to email a photo of MyItchyBoy’s passport and deal with the insurance company in the UK while MyItchyBoy himself spent the morning eating breakfast (not a great selection for a kid admitted for food allergies!) and colouring in our peaceful room.
He was given more anti-histamine by a nurse and then we had a bit of a wait until the doctor did her rounds and said we could go. Then it was off to the discharging office to sort out paperwork and payment (thanks to our insurance company we didn’t have to pay) with a lovely woman who was also patient with my lack of specialist medical French vocab.
And that was that. Back to the apartment, back to Husband and back to holiday. MyItchyBoy was pretty shattered for the rest of the day so we had a calm afternoon close to ‘home’.
The rest of the week we didn’t dare eat out and MyItchyBoy was a bit clingy, but we did manage to put it to one side and get on with a good few days of the holiday.
- At no point did I actually think that MyItchyBoy was in a really serious state. This is mainly because he didn’t have any breathing problems. I know reactions are volatile but it did help us to keep outwardly calm and think clearly.
- It has made us extra nervous about something we thought we had under control.
- It means we now have to try to find out what the reaction was to and add it to the list.
- We’ll hope to be better prepared next time. It is something I would like to avoid ever happening again but know that this is unlikely and being prepared makes it easier to deal with it if and when it happens.
My next post will be a bit of info on how we could have prepared ourselves better so I can perhaps help someone in the future.
We didn’t need to administer his Epipen and although there was a point that I was thinking ‘right, this is it’, the doctor confirmed that we were right not to use it in this instance. MyItchyBoy was given anti-histamines and a steroid and possibly something else (we have been unable to get his medical report from the French hospital) and the main reason to stay the night was for him to be kept under observation for 12 hours to make sure the reaction had worked its way through his system*In France, the Pompiers are the local emergency services so they cover fires, road accidents as well as providing ambulance services.