‘I had diarrhoea and vomiting last week, I know it’s a food allergy and I want a blood test.’
After I had manually reduced my TM joints (my jaw had gaped like a yawning hippo in utter disbelief) I set about the monumentally difficult task of re-educating this patient.
It was difficult to know where to begin. Judging by her astonishing ignorance, at about the age of 12, presumably her teachers had given up.
No, that is harsh, but food allergies are like pairs of denim jeans, in that they always seem to be in fashion and everybody wants one.
The language people use when talking about allergies has also changed. Note she didn’t ‘think’ she had an allergy, nor had she come for me to confirm the diagnosis. She had already decided what was wrong with her, and my role was reduced to being the provider of the blood test forms to find what she was allergic to.
I’m not sure when poor old viruses went out of fashion, but nobody wants a common old stomach bug anymore. It has to be something more exotic and only an allergy will fit the bill. Using the trouser analogy, viruses are the bright orange flares of the illness world.
I think in our largely secular society, ‘belief’ in an allergy, for some people, has replaced the faith in the existence of a superior being that many people held in less enlightened times.
It’s also easy to see the appeal of some alternative practitioner sitting you down in their joss stick-fragranced therapy room and spending an hour telling you how they can ‘cure’ your ‘allergy’ with some herbal tablets they just happen to have in stock, to the accompaniment of whale music.
For those without any scientific education, you can see why this is more palatable than a rushed five minutes with a harassed GP telling you your illness is due to a tiny thing called a virus and that there is no treatment for it.
There is one allergy that would bring a smile to my face though – a mass intolerance to blue rosettes and public school educated millionaires in about four years.
Dr David Turner is a GP in west London