You might think you have the day to day schlep-factor of dealing with allergies down to a tee. However, there’s nothing like trying a new recipe to give you a fresh perspective. Dr Marinda McDonald reports from the battlefield.

After many years of practising as an allergy doctor, I believed I thoroughly understood the impact allergies had on my younger patients and their parents’ lives.

I regularly read quality of life studies. In many instances, my patients also fill in questionnaires so we can get a clear idea of how their allergies impact on their quality of life.

Going to the supermarket, I often read labels to develop an understanding of how long it takes to select non-allergenic food and skincare products. I was confident that I was going the extra mile to put myself in my patients’ shoes.

A few months ago, we took in a group of patients from the public healthcare system who do not usually have access to the advanced resources my usual patients have. We started an adventurous journey where we strived to give excellent service and find the best products and treatments on a shoestring budget.

I would often pat myself on my back, thinking I’ve managed to keep my reputation as a kind and caring doctor intact. That was until I decided to bake one of these patients some cupcakes.

The recipe I chose was published in the most reputable allergy journal by an expert in the field whom I greatly admire. I was confident that if she can bake six cupcakes, so can I. What could possibly go wrong? Were the cupcakes going to be as hard as rocks? Inedible? I was willing to bake, fail, repeat until I got it right.

Ready …

My baking experiment started with some grocery shopping to find the required non-allergenic ingredients. I soon came to realise that this was going to take much, much longer than I anticipated.

I usually reassure my patients with food allergies that searching for the right ingredients shouldn’t take longer than an additional 45 minutes. However, with this cupcake recipe, finding the right ingredients took twice as long. Feeling defeated, I gave up after only gathering half of the ingredients I was looking for. The next day, I decided to give my shopping spree one more shot, and another 90 minutes later, I had all my ingredients. The additional cost for non-allergenic ingredients? R200.

Steady …

I was (prematurely) beaming with pride and ready to start baking. That evening, my kids had to settle for two-minute noodles for dinner, because this mom was ready to save the world, one cupcake at a time.

All I needed to do, was replace the (cow’s) milk with rice milk, and Bob was going to be my uncle. But once the batter was ready, I realised I had forgotten my patient also is allergic to wheat. I had to start all over.

I shrugged it off and reassured myself it’s a minor hiccup in the greater scheme of things.

For my second attempt, every possible trace of an allergen had to be erased.

Very carefully, I put all the contaminated utensils in the dishwasher. I also had to meticulously wash the cupcake pan to ensure there were no residual allergens in them. Everything had to be washed twice, rinsed and dried with a clean cloth. I was paranoid about this because I could envision the scandalous headlines of a child who got anaphylaxis from the cupcakes her doctor baked.

Bake!

The milk-free, wheat-free batter looked fantastic. The fact that the clock was about two hours past my bedtime did occur to me, but these cupcakes had to see the light of day, and they eventually did.

I thought it might be helpful to share my experience with some of the allergy moms I get to interact with. It turned out it was only beneficial to me, as most of them replied with a giggle, explaining this is such a normal part of their everyday life.  None of them thought my baking-effort was exceptional or extraordinary.

The ingredients for six, non-allergenic cupcakes cost R200 – not to mention the time it took to gather it. Baking six, non-allergenic cupcakes once again reminded me how expensive, and exhausting, it is to keep grocery cupboards allergy-friendly.

I take my hat off to allergy moms, and other patients with allergies, for going to this extent to stay out of harm’s way.

  • The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of allergies and the treatment options that are available for it. This article should by no means be used, or viewed, as a primary source for medical advice – please arrange for a personal consultation with your medical practitioner before taking any decisions that could affect the wellbeing of you or your loved ones. Read our medical disclaimer for more information.

Marinda McDonald

Dr Marinda McDonald has offered specialised treatments for allergies for most of her professional career. Read more about her on the home page of this website (allergydoc.co.za).