“Mmmm… I fancy some coffee,” I said. M made it, and we stood in the kitchen and drank it, enjoying the quiet of that room as if it were a haven, while chaos reigned in the family room. It was as close to bliss as I can find these days, with two toddlers about — to stand in the kitchen and drink coffee in silence with my husband. When I finished the first cup, I poured myself another.
It was over too quickly, as ever, and time to get the girls down for their naps. M took E1 up to the loo and then get settled, while I attempted to grab her little sister, who was running away from me as fast as her tiny legs could carry her and yelling at the top of her voice, “Nooooooooo!” When I finally got caught her, she struggled so hard that I knew laying her down to change her nappy would pointless, so I hoisted her up onto my shoulder instead to create an exciting diversion. Ooooh, this was new, being up so high! She stopped screaming and looked at me, intrigued and starting to smile. I capatalised on this upswing and told her I was a tiger! and then began to bite her bare belly. She erupted into giggles, pushing at my face with her outstretched hands, and protesting most unconvincingly. I was laughing, she was laughing, and my ruse had worked: when I laid her down, it was on the changing mat, but now she hardly noticed. The whole operation was down before she even realised what was happening.
And then, as I was fastening the tabs on her nappy, I noticed the patch of red forming on her stomach. Like someone pulling the needle across an old vinyl record, everything stopped. I looked closer, and saw three white spots — three tidy little hives evenly placed amid the patch of angry skin.
My mind went straight to Code Red and began the drill:
When did she last eat? A while ago… maybe an hour…
What did she eat? Nothing unusual, nothing new.
Alright, what touched her skin there? Oh!… My mouth.
And what did you eat? Coffee.
Coffee… Coffee… Coffee! Coffee beans! Beans…! Oh shit.
The RAST tests say she’s allergic to beans, though we’ve never field-trialled the hypothesis, and I always knew in the back of my mind that that meant coffee was risky as well. And here now, on her skin, the three perfect little hives staring up at me seemed to be telling me that it was. Oh, and another, higher up where… yes, she’d bent down in her giggling convulsions and I’d nibbled her a bit there as well. Yes, there was no doubt…
So this is a contact reaction! It takes a special level of allergy to break out in hives just from mere contact rather than actual ingestion — it’s a food allergy on hyper-drive. This, I was slowly beginning to comprehend, was a serious allergy — possibly one of her most serious to date.
And… and… not even a reaction to the actual drink itself, just to the trace of it left in your saliva!… It got more serious still.
I stopped and pulled it back — it could have been the milk in my coffee. We know she has an allergy to dairy, but it’s always been relatively mild — she can tolerate the bread I make even though it uses a small amount of milk powder and wee bit of butter. And though I don’t drink milk directly, or even have it in my umpteen cups of tea each day, she does tolerate a splash of milk in my occasional cup of coffee. But maybe that kind tolerance has now disappeared… maybe it was the milk.
I thought about testing it myself — putting just a drop of milk on her skin to see — and then quickly realised I’d be a fool to do that. If her milk allergy was indeed on the march, morphing quietly from “mild” to “contact”, then a second exposure could potentially move directly past hives and escalate to something far, far more dangerous. No, I wasn’t going to conduct any stupidly curious experiments on my daughter. I would ring the allergist office on Tuesday and ask their advice. Until then, we’d just have to treat coffee and milk with equal suspicion.
But no need! Sod’s law ensured that the very next day, she made a bee-line for her sister’s milk cup when it fell to the floor, and got to it before any of us could catch her. It was snatched from her grasp with moments, but a drop… a drop… a milky white drop flew from the lip of the cup and arched through the air, falling, falling, falling in slow motion, until it landed with a gentle plop on the top of her bare foot.
I froze. M froze. And she, sensing our tension, stood stone-still and looked at us in confusion with her blue eyes wide. A paralytic moment and then we rushed into action — I wiped the droplet with my finger and reached for the wipes in order to wipe again more thoroughly. And then… just stopped myself and looked at her foot… Nothing. I made myself wait on the wipe for a minute more… Nothing. I let five minutes pass and then checked again… Nothing.
It wasn’t the milk then. It was the coffee. We have found her thirteenth food allergy. And it looks to be fierce.