Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hospitals and Food Allergies

Would you like to try to guess the most food allergy unfriendly place on earth?  What place is completely unsafe?  Who has the most uneducated staff?

You might name several restaurants-like the one where you throw peanut shells on the floor.  That is unsafe, true, but you expect that.  The fact that some restaurants are unaccommodating does not come as a surprise.  After all, there is food in restaurants and the staff are not doctors or nurses.  They do not have medical school training.

I've already blogged about our unsafe experiences at our doctor's office.  That was unexpected!  The department of our allergist had snacks containing peanuts in their office-I found the evidence in the form of boxes in the trash.  No, that place should not be unsafe.

However, I would like to present the award to the most unsafe and least food allergy friendly location to----the hospital!  Yes, you might think you go there to get well.  You think they save lives.  No, the food staff is armed and dangerous with things like dairy and eggs and gluten.  You might not make it out of there!

Before I begin the story-a disclaimer-lest I get angry comments.  This award applies to my local hospital.  I'm sure there are progressive and educated hospitals somewhere.  I'd like to think so at least.  However, I've talked to other allergy families and they've had similar experiences at other hospitals, so I know our case is not an isolated one.  But, please note that this applies to an experience that we had at our local hospital and I am not making a broad generalization of all hospitals, nurses, and other medical staff.  The particular hospital will remain nameless, however.

We had a scary day.  Curly was not feeling well and kept complaining about stomach pain.  She grew pale and weak and was unable to stand steadily on her own.  She curled up on our bed and lay there moaning.  I called our doctor and he told me to head to the ER.  So, we did.

Four hours later we learned that she had appendicitis which was just what I had started to suspect.  She had surgery the following morning and everything went very well.  We got to spend several lovely days stuck in a yucky hospital room while she recovered though.

I informed all the staff and every nurse and every person I saw that Curly had dairy and egg allergies.  Hers are not severe, thankfully, but we do limit her intake of both her allergens as large amounts of either one make her feel sick.

Day 1 was liquid diet only.  She was sent fortified apple juice twice that day.  This apple juice was enriched with protein-DAIRY protein.  No thank you!  The second time, I sent the juice back with an explanation of her allergies.

Day 2 she was sent Pediasure.  Umm, that has dairy too.  It has two types of milk protein in it.  In addition, the top 2 ingredients are water and then sugar.  Next is corn maltodextrin.  Gross!  We are not drinking that either.

I noticed a note on her tray that she was not allowed milk or apples.  Well, I guess they didn't send either of those foods but it was apparent that they had NO IDEA what food allergies meant.

Day 3 she was served BBQ brisket, green beans, and mac and cheese.  That would also be dairy.

At that point I marched to the nurses station and had a few words.  I was sleep deprived, cranky, worried about my child, and beyond exhausted.

I had wised up at the end of Day 1 and sent Prince Charming to the health food store where her purchased allergy safe snacks for Curly.  She enjoyed her own applesauces, juices, crackers, and snack bars without worrying about allergies.

That's when I was thankful that it was only Curly in the hospital and not Bee.  If Bee had been in the hospital and had been served the unsafe juice, she would  have gone into anaphylactic shock.  I was so thankful that despite my exhaustion, my label-reading habit kicked in and I noticed all the unsafe foods.

After we were released I contacted the hospital administration and gave them a few pieces of my mind-nicely but firmly of course.  They were shocked and I was furious at their level of uneducation.  This is a hospital.  These are nurses and supposedly dieticians who are preparing the food for each patient in accordance with medical diets.  They had NO IDEA what they were doing and were completely unaware that the juice contained dairy.  They were unclear as the the ingredients of the Pediasure which is also dairy-based.  I received several follow-up phone calls and I attempted to educate the staff as best I could.  I directed them to online resources to help them learn more about food allergies and ingredients.

I have no idea if my calls made any impact but I hope that the hospital will one day be a safe place for those with food allergies.  Until then, if you are in the hospital:
1) Mention your allergies to every person who walks in the room
2) Question everything
3) Eat nothing
4) Bring your own snacks
5) Get out of there as soon as possible

Here's Curly, at home again, safe at the allergy free hive!

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