Exactly one year ago yesterday, Alasdair was admitted to hospital, aged 3 months, because his eczema was so bad and had become infected.
Three of our boys have eczema, so I consider myself something of an expert on skin-care! James (10) had it quite bad when he was smaller and needed regular wet-wrap bandages as a toddler. His skin is much, much better now. The eczema is really confined to his hands and behind the knees although the rest of his skin is very dry and sensitive. His asthma got worse as his skin got better and he has an allergy to nuts and pulses.
When James was small I thought his eczema was bad but then came Calum, now 7! His eczema was on a whole new level of severity. It started when he was only 6 weeks old. He was also hospitalised with it, although not until he was 6 months.
Alasdair's eczema story is almost a carbon copy of Calum's, the main difference being that we had changed doctor's surgery this time round, and have a great GP who gave us the help we needed much quicker.
So, here is Alasdair's skin story. (Complete with lots of baby pictures, just to warn anyone who may be feeling remotely broody!)
From birth Alasdair had very dry skin. The midwives suggested that this was because he was born 11 days after his due date. (Yes really, my fourth baby was my latest, beating his oldest brother by one day) I had my suspicions about his skin but thought positive, after all David (4) had beautiful skin.
This is him at about 7 weeks old. Nothing too worrying really.
A week later and the redness was getting worse. It didn't seem to bother him yet though.
One month after that, and here he is the day he was admitted to hospital. He was put on three different iv antibiotics until they found out what type of infection it was. He was supposed to have a 48 hour course of antibiotics but we actually ended up having to stay in for five days.
Five very long days! Because he had an infection I couldn't take him out of our little room. I was allowed to go out for a walk myself, but he was so small I didn't want to leave him alone. My beloved had to work, his mother came through to look after the other boys, but she doesn't drive and so the boys couldn't come and see us until after work.
My brother's wife kept me sane those five days.
She came in with her youngest boy (she also sometimes brought David up). She would sit with Alasdair so I could get out for some air or to the canteen. She brought me lovely food, books and a portable DVD player with a boxed set of The West Wing (season 2, I think, one of my favourites!)
This was day 2 in hospital.
And day 5. We got home the day before my birthday.
As well as prescribing his antibiotics, the doctors took blood to test for allergies. They were going to test for dairy, nut and egg allergy. I asked them to check for wheat too. The doctor said he was highly unlikely to have a wheat allergy. I told him that wheat was one of the many things Calum was allergic to and he agreed to test for it. Turns out I was right. His results came back showing extremely high levels of allergy to dairy, egg, nuts and wheat. Since Alasdair was exclusively breastfed I was advised to cut these out of my diet.
This was him back home again.
Now was when I got a little mad at our National Health Service.
There are no dermatologists at our local hospital. They are based in the city and come out once a week to have a clinic here. Our stay in hospital didn't coincide with this day and so Alasdair was never seen by a dermatogist whilst in as a patient. Instead we were given an appointment to be seen in six weeks time!
Those six weeks seemed like an eternity. Although the infection had cleared up the eczema was making him miserable. He would wake up often through the night rubbing away with what little co-ordination he had at this age.
Finally we saw the dermatologist, a lovely lady, who prescribed the right creams and bandages for him. So began the oh-so-familiar routine of creaming and bandaging a not-too-cooperative baby, head to toe, day in and day out.
'I'm not happy mummy!'
He was seen weekly by the dermatologist from then (October) until Christmas. She would try different creams from time to time. She said that she had never seen a baby so young with such severe eczema and so resistant to treatment. But then, she had never seen Calum as a baby!
When he was on stronger steroids his skin was great.
But he couldn't stay on them for long and then it would all flare up again.
This was Christmas day.
Then at the start of this year the dermatologist prescribed pro-topic for him. It has the benefits of a steroid cream without the side-effects.
Here he is only a week or two after starting the new cream. Around this time I also started re-introducing wheat, dairy and eggs into my diet and he didn't get any worse. I don't think me changing my diet really helped him anyway. The dermatologist agreed. She said he would get such a small amount of allergens through the milk it wouldn't have a huge effect.
The cream really made a difference but he couldn't use it for too long as he then had some viral spots that she was worried the pro-topic could make worse.
Still, by now his skin was a whole lot better on his face. His eczema had started to settle into a more 'classic' eczema, on his arms and legs more than on his face.
Today Alasdair's skin is still very itchy. He has good days and bad days. Sometimes he needs bandaged up at bedtime. Sometimes the moisturiser is enough. He still wakes up scratching through the night. It's something we have got used to over the years!
We have found with all of our eczema boys that their skin always gets worse when they have a cold. The cold weather makes the skin on their hands crack and dries up their faces. The hot weather (haha!) makes them itchy. It's all about getting that equilibrium.
I am so thankful, for Alasdair's own sake though, that his face is mostly clear now. Some people can be very rude, and not just children! I am also thankful that eczema, asthma and food allergies are the only health problems we need to deal with. In the grand scheme of things these are only minor compared to what others face.