Monday, August 27, 2007

Olive oil — or not?

The New Yorker's got an interesting article on fake olive oil: "Slippery Business: The Trade in Adulterated Olive Oil."

What does that have to do with my kid's allergies? Well, just reading the first paragraph of the article gave me the shivers:
On August 10, 1991, a rusty tanker called the Mazal II docked at the industrial port of Ordu, in Turkey, and pumped twenty-two hundred tons of hazelnut oil into its hold. The ship then embarked on a meandering voyage through the Mediterranean and the North Sea. By September 21st, when the Mazal II reached Barletta, a port in Puglia, in southern Italy, its cargo had become, on the ship’s official documents, Greek olive oil.
We use olive oil all the time because it's supposed to be so good for you. My severely nut-allergic friend even used to add it to her son's food to get some extra good fat into him. Have we just been lucky all this time, that we didn't get any contaminated batches?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Two more allergy blogs

I've just added two more allergy blogs to my sidebar: Because I said so ... and The Lancaster Family.

Hey, at this rate, we should start a webring!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Great allergy books for kids

Christina Black has written two books for kids who have allergies, and she sent me a couple of samples to review on this blog. The books are Mommy, Is This Safe to Eat? and Starting School with a Food Allergy: Tips for a Peanut Allergic Kid. (Click on the book titles to get screenshots of some of the pages in the books.)

I'm delighted to be able to wholeheartedly recommend these books. They're captivating and informative, and best of all, Andrew likes reading them and looking at the photos.

My favourite part of the preschooler book (Mommy, Is This Safe to Eat?) is the photo gallery of various nuts and where you might find them. (Some of these pages are in the preview pages.) Allergic Living magazine had an article about how kids don't always recognize the things they're allergic to, because we've done such a good job of keeping them away from their allergy triggers. Having these photos in one place gives him something to study, but from a very safe distance.

When we read this book to Andrew, he was tickled by the scenarios in the book, because they're much like what we do for him — special cupcakes at parties, shopping for safe food at the grocery store. I think he liked knowing that he wasn't unique in his life experience.

Andrew also liked the Starting School with a Food Allergy: Tips for a Peanut Allergic Kid book because he's a very social kid. He won't start kindergarten for another year, but he's already made friends who will be a grade ahead of him in his school, thanks to preschool, and he's looking forward to seeing them again. This book is upbeat and optimistic about life at school for allergic kids, something I think we'll need to hold onto when we get to that stage.

I'd give both books a thumbs-up, and a very strong "buy" recommendation if you've got allergic kids. Thanks, Christina, for the review copies!

One mom's story

This story brought me to tears, because I've been there.

From the Unfunny Files:
Do you know what it’s like to rush to the ER not knowing if your child is dead or alive? I do. Three times over.

Do you know what it’s like to speed down the highway in the pouring rain, shaking and sobbing with tears streaming down your face as you think back to that morning’s breakfast and how that might be the last meal you ever share with your child? How that morning, when you kissed him goodbye at daycare may have been the last time you saw your child alive? How that morning’s drop off may have been the last time you heard your child’s sweet voice say “Mommy, I Love You”? I do.
If you're away from your child, and he's had a bad reaction, you live in a weird state of suspended animation until you're reunited with your child. You can't breathe. You can't think straight, and yet, all you can do is to think about what ifs, and how abouts, and do you have your car keys, and what's the best route to drive to the hospital when you get off the SkyTrain. It's all mechanical, and it's all unreal.

Until you get to your kid, and he's fine, and he's still smiling bravely at you, and you don't dare break into tears in front of him because then he'll know how freaked out you are, and how scared you are, and he'll figure out that mommy's not superhuman after all, and can't always take care of him and fix all of his owwies for him.

But at least you can start breathing properly again, and the world suddenly turns colour again, like when Dorothy lands in Oz.

Not-so-allergy-friendly Gelato

It's taken me a week to blog about this because I'm still trying to process the experience.

In Vancouver, there's an amazing gelato place that I loved before I had kids. It's called La Casa Gelato, and they have all kinds of flavours of ice cream, from the normal chocolate and various chocolate combinations to the fruit flavours, to weird ones like curry, garlic and durian. And they let you try any number of flavours you like (they give you little spoonfuls), until you settle on what you want to order.

I haven't been back since Andrew was diagnosed with his allergies, because I figured that it wasn't safe. Well, my friend and former roommate Catherine was visiting from California last week, and wanted to visit La Casa Gelato to get some of her favourite pomelo gelato. (Yes, like I said, they have unusual flavours, and they're all yummy.)

I did the usual allergy-check when I called ahead, to make sure that there was something there that Andrew could have. Otherwise I would have brought him a treat or a chocolate bar instead.

They told me that they've got a huge selection of non-dairy ice cream, and that I just had to tell the server that he had a nut allergy, and they'd use a separate, clean scoop.

So we went there, and I read him all the flavours he could choose from -- about 25 different flavours. His eyes went wide with the selection, and inside, I was ecstatic because I figured that I could order him an ice cream cake from here for his birthday. Woo hoo!

He finally settled on the blackberry ice cream, and I got myself a papaya one, and Geoff got a mango one -- all non-dairy. Geoff's was fine, and looked tasty, and mine was great.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

After three or four licks, Andrew started grabbing at his throat, and complaining that it itched. I took the ice cream away from him, and took him to their bathroom, where he tried to throw up a few times.

I then gave the cone back to the servers, who continued to assure me that what I'd given him was non-dairy, and contained no nuts. (And to add insult to the injury, they didn't even offer me a refund on the ice cream, despite the fact that he was obviously having an allergic reaction.)

Did they not use a clean scoop, despite my request? I was too busy being delighted by the range of choices to actually watch the server get the scoop. Or is there just so much cross-contamination in their kitchen that they can't actually control for nuts or nut dust falling into other flavours?

I don't know what happened. All I can do is to advise you to avoid La Casa Gelato if you have nut allergies. (Andrew's almost outgrown his dairy allergy, so I'm pretty sure it was a nut reaction.)

Andrew was fine after a dose of antihistamine, though I did have his epipen with me just in case.

This is the first time that any restaurant or other place has served us something that caused him to have an unexpected reaction. And then, despite all evidence of his reaction, they continued to assure me that it wasn't their food that caused it.

I'm left feeling betrayed and mistrustful of all other restaurants now. And I don't like being in this place.

And Andrew was fine about the entire thing. He willingly handed over the faulty blackberry ice cream, and told me that "next time we go to the ice cream store, I won't get the sour blackberry one. It didn't make me feel good." He's only just turned 4 years old. At that age, he should be screaming in frustration that he can't have his ice cream on a hot summer day, not resigned to the fact that it contains something that's bad for him, so he won't eat it any more.

I love that he's so mature about his allergies. I love that he's able to ask "does this have dairy in it?" before he'll eat a new food. I love that, when something does contain an allergen, he will turn away from it, and not ask for it any more.

But I wish that he didn't have to do all of that, that he didn't have to ask, "mommy, what does die mean?" I want him to have a normal childhood. I want him to be able to taste any food that's out there. I don't want to have to watch for nuts and nut shells and be paranoid about everything that he comes into contact with.

But since I can't have that, then all I want is for restaurants and people who serve me food to not lie about what's in the food they've prepared for me, and be trained enough to know what the ingredients are, and how safely everything is prepared. And maybe even use a clean ice cream scoop. (See my Cobs bread experience for another bad learning experience.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Winner of the Wateroos contest!

Andrew chose #3 for the winner of the Wateroos contest, and that's Olena! Olena, can you contact me for how you'd like to get the penguin drinks for your kids?

(Yes, I'm horribly behind in my blog -- we just got back from our summer vacation.)