Amy Billington

Fueled by coffee and a passion for helping families living with food allergies.

Doctors Are Human

I know, I know, it’s hard to wrap your mind around. After that white coat comes off, there’s a real human under there. They have families, lives, political beliefs and mother in laws. So, when they put that white coat on and walk into that exam room, do all prejudices fall away and they only analyze the situation at hand with knowledge from past patients and medical books?

I find that people have two pervading feelings toward doctors: total infallible trust or complete and utter mistrust. I believe both are undeserved. For every three doctors out there scheduling potentially unnecessary c-sections around their golf game or vacation, there is another coaching a patient through a breech birth. We have to remember that these are people doing a job. Some will do it better and love it more than others. Some will base decisions upon pure medical science and others will let personal beliefs or their mood affect their actions. It’s normal and natural because they are merely mortals, regardless of how we view them (or how some of them view themselves).

Because I have a clear understanding that having a medical degree doesn’t make you less human, I am trying to be more tolerant of the allergy specialists out there that are ignoring actual science proving oral immunotherapy works, in favor of spreading what they may or may not realize are lies about the program. The very first time I heard about OIT was from a post written by our local, well-respected allergist denouncing the therapy as dangerous. Soon after, I spoke with a mom from our school who was flying to Utah every other week with her son to receive these treatments our allergist warned against. What?! Yes, she was well aware of our allergist’s position and no, she didn’t believe a word of it. From there, I began my own research.

Not only did I read studies that included success rates around 85% but I discovered some doctors, like this doctor in Utah, had success rates much closer to 100%. I joined Facebook groups and spoke with other parents whose children were eating their allergens under the careful eye of board certified allergists, not quacks as the naysayers like to tout, and these kids were not dying. They were living, in fact, lives they never thought they could have. Some of them had gained total freedom, eating whatever they wanted without regard to “made in a facility with” or “may contain” warnings on packaged foods.

So then I wondered, why are more doctors not jumping up and down shouting to the world that there is a process out there that can put an end to the stress a food allergy can cause on a family? Don’t they want to end the worry a child has that his or her next bite might be the one that kills them? Why are so many doctors willing to write a prescription for epinephrine and say, “Continue to avoid xyz” rather than to actually fix the problem? Isn’t that why they go into the medical profession, to fix people not just diagnose and send them off into the world and hope for the best?

On our own journey to Utah to give my (then) six-year-old the freedom to live a normal childhood, free of anxiety due to his severe peanut allergy, I began to see the full picture. Our OIT doctor manages a full allergy practice as well as maintains a lengthy wait list for other families like ours who want to make their children safe. Some of those children breeze through the program in 6 months while others take a year. Tough cases require changing protocols. Worried parents, whether warranted or not, call and text at all hours. Holidays, vacation, middle of the night…nothing is sacred. These OIT doctors are on call 24/7. They work more than a full time job and still need to find time to be human; spend time with their own families and take care of themselves. To them, this isn’t a job, it’s their calling and their life’s work. The kids aren’t just their patients, they truly care for them.

So when our local allergist tells new patients who ask about OIT that he still can’t recommend it, despite the fact that they have heard a previous patient of his has completed the therapy (us), because he thinks it’s dangerous…my first inclination is to get very upset. I’m upset that he told this parent that my son could have anaphylaxis if he skipped a dose/ This is untrue or it would have happened many times by now. I’m upset when I hear doctors tell their patients that their child is too allergic for OIT when really that means that they could benefit from it more. I’m furious when they make it sound like you are guaranteed anaphylaxis if you try OIT but are guaranteed safety by strict avoidance.

I have to step back and realize something very important: doctors are human. They learned something many years ago which is that food allergies don’t yet have a cure. This is still mostly true, but OIT has become a viable safety mechanism for many families and for some, OIT can become the cure. They also see the time and commitment a care provider must pour into a process like this and, quite frankly, some just aren’t willing or capable. That’s ok, they are human.

I think it is ok that some doctors want to show up, diagnose and send people away with their epinephrine. What’s not ok is lying to people straight into their trusting faces about a treatment that is already out there and is proven to be successful. Stop telling people to wait for a vaccine or a patch that may or may not work or be affordable. Steer people to a provider who is willing to do what you aren’t: help them.

Without OIT, The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) says nearly 15 percent of patients per year have accidential reactions. Stanford says approximately 25% will have a near-fatal anaphylactic reaction at some point in their lives. – Information provided by Gail Franks

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  1. Well done. OIT doctors are definitely a special type of doctor who really care about what the future can look like for our kids. We got lucky with Dr Jones!

  2. This is the kind of post people need to see…because we choose OIT for a reason: that "strict avoidance" is an epic FAIL in the country. So the doctors that are telling you that OIT isn't safe aren't willing to admit that what they are asking you to TRY and do isn't realistic. 200,000 ER visits a year for anaphylaxis, and millions more reactions where people don't go to the hospital. THAT'S the failure of these doctors, looking you in the face and not telling you that you can try and avoid it, and lead a stressful life in the process, and still have a mistake or accident. 15% a year have reactions, and 25% will have a near-fatal incident in their lifetimes. Those who choose OIT to have a normal life realize that the anaphylaxis risk doesn't go away–the kids are still allergic–but they are not living lives of exclusion, food fear, bullying and stress. These doctors doing OIT are seeing huge success and those of us back to living normal lives and not worrying about cross-contamination have little respect for doctors who, rather than making a referral to colleague who has perfected OIT, prefer to use scare tactics. This is highly unethical, unprofessional and sad for families who put their trust in the doctors.

  3. Kalleen Stoddard

    October 21, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Totally agree!!

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