For the last 40 years I have lived with a fairly low profile but very high impact disease - eczema. It's difficult to explain to somebody who doesn't have eczema just how much it affects your life. Perhaps the best way of explaining what eczema feels like is to explain that it comes from the Greek word 'ekzein' which means 'to boil'. Eczema at its worst feels like your skin is on fire. Incredibly 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in the UK suffer from eczema. There is loads of different information about the different types of eczema here.
Eczema is a 'non-disease.' It's not high profile or life threatening so the medical response is patchy and poorly resourced. I may be paranoid but I can't help feeling that some of the doctors I have seen seem to imply that I could be doing a lot more to help myself. A recent consultant gave me the third degree for missing my patch tests (we were on holiday at the time). While this is my own experience our son Alasdair has a very supportive GP and dermatologist at the moment.
Of our 4 boys 3 have eczema with little Alasdair (centre below) being by far the worst. When we tell people that he has hardly slept all night for the last 3 years, people think we are exaggerating. He can go through phases when after 2-3 hours of sleep he can be unsettled for the rest of the night. At times I've gone in to work on 3-4 hours of fitful sleep. Talking to some other fathers at the event last week, sleep deprivation comes up the most challenging issue. Some spoke of being in medical jobs where a mistake could lead to disastrous consequences and found little support from their employer.
Is there hope? Yes there is. Kids can get better - there is always hope they can grow out of it. Calum (10), despite having extreme food allergies has almost outgrown eczema apart from the soles of his feet.
Family is a huge help. James (13) has eczema so has an incredible bond with Ali. Often he will help him calm down when he is in a scratching fit. Use extended family to get a break, have a meal and have a good sleep!
As a couple it is important to work as a team. If both of us are having a sleepless night it can be horrendous. Better that at least one sleeps and the other tries to calm down the scratchy kid or that we take 2 hourly shifts. All the couples I have spoken to say that having a child with eczema can have a significant impact on your marriage and family life. Acknowledging this and talking about it can be first step to seeking more support. If possible get other family involved so that even once a month you can have a full nights sleep.
Organisations like Eczema Outreach Scotland are excellent. Bringing families together for mutual support is such a help and even though it doesn't solve the problem, at least people feel less alone as they struggle through.
Assertiveness can help. Some GP's don't routinely refer eczema sufferers to dermatologists. If you are struggling, insist on a referral and keep fighting until you get one. Once you see a specialist you will hopefully remain in the system until things are a little better.
Lastly, and most importantly for us, faith is a huge element of our life with eczema. We believe in a God who hears and answers prayer and in a Saviour who knew what it was like to suffer. We don't believe that suffering is meaningless but we believe that 'for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose' Romans 8 v 28.
The Psalms are also a great comfort to us - in them we find a great reality and comfort. Let me leave you with one of my favourites; 'You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again Psalms 71 v 20, 21.