“Can I buy some chlorphenamine liquid – and can you label it for me?”
I looked up from the dispensing bench, expecting to see the purchaser accompanied by a tourist or other non English-speaking person. Or maybe a customer with an elderly relative with poor eyesight who requires the directions in large print, in line with our accessible information policy.
Instead, I found the customer accompanied by a child in school uniform, and an explanation that the school won’t give any medicine unless it has a dispensing label. What next? Will schools need packed lunches to be labelled with feeding instructions, like a tin of pet food?
When I was at school, any sign of weakness meant being picked on, called names, or being slapped – and that was just by the teachers. These days it seems you don’t stand out because of glasses or hair colour, but if you don’t need an inhaler or an adrenaline pen. Whereas most children had apathy, they now have atopy. Is it something in their environment – like plasticisers, oestrogen in the water, or airborne chemicals?
I discussed this with a GP at our local surgery, only for her to blame the parents – an unusually tabloid response to hear from her.
“Their precious little bundle gets a swollen lip after eating a hot nut roast,” she explained, “so they come to me demanding a lifetime’s supply of adrenaline pens. And it’s not enough to have just the one pen – they need them in multiples of two, four or six, so that there’s also a spare for the separated parent, the afterschool club, the childminder and the hairdresser. So then I’m forced to say ‘No’ and have to explain to mum that they’re supposed to be carried around with you.
“And as for food intolerance, don’t get me started,” she continued. “I’m supposed to make separate pasta for my husband, who reckons he’s wheat-sensitive, but usually I just shove in ordinary flour and he can’t tell the difference.”
I would have remonstrated with her over this deception, but I had just confessed to a similar ruse with a patient who “had to have loose bendroflumethiazide”, but instead got blistered ones we pushed out of the foil.
But back to the mum requesting labelled antihistamine. We sold her cetirizine on the basis that she could give a single dose before school, but I know these concerned parents won’t all be that easy to please. As for the schools, I don’t understand why each education establishment isn’t just issued with a couple of adrenaline pens for the teachers to use. I imagine there’s any number of kids they’d love to stab with a three-inch needle.
So if you see me going red and flushed, wheezing and looking as if I’m about to collapse, it’s not anaphylactic shock, but a reaction to schools or parents that should have a big label saying: “Warning – may contain nuts!”