A-Z

Sharon

Age at interview: 44
Brief Outline: Henry is 10 and had asthma since he was 4. Viral illness triggers his asthma easily, which can, without starting inhalers develop into a chest infection. He’s often treated with antibiotics and Sharon has explored improving his health with alternative medicine.
Background: Sharon is 44 and lives with her husband and two children. She works as a part-time administrator and teaching assistant. Ethnic background: White British.

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Sharon’s son Henry developed asthma at the age of four. He was hospitalized with pneumonia and although not given asthma diagnosis as such, he was prescribed asthma inhalers and put under the care of an asthma nurse. Henry has never had a full-blown asthma attack and his symptoms are only triggered by having the cold, flu or chest infection or hay fever.

Henry tends to be ill with a flu-like-illness a couple of times a year. Sharon explains that at the first sign of illness, Henry starts his blue Ventolin inhaler. Most of the time this is enough to prevent the illness from progressing to anything more than a cold. When he does develop a flu-like-illness he typically has high temperature, shallow breathing and he will cough up phlegm. His condition can deteriorate very quickly and wheeziness is a sign that he’s getting worse. If symptoms won’t ease off after the first three days with inhalers and home management, Sharon sees her GP or the out-of-hours doctor who almost always treat him with antibiotics (Amoxicillin). Sharon says she is worried about whether Henry has had antibiotics too often and if he could develop resistance to antibiotics in the future.

As Henry has gotten older, he is more able to describe to his parents how he is feeling. Sharon uses a scale of 1-10 for him to explain how ill he is feeling. Sharon says the biggest impact of Henry being ill has been on school. Having to miss school because of illness, as well as appointments, has increased pressure from his primary school and had a negative effect on Henry. Sharon says Primary schools aren’t always very understanding of the fact that some children simply do get more ill, and more frequently than others.

Because of his early hospital experiences, Henry developed a fear of needles, which made taking blood tests and giving vaccinations very challenging and made him anxious. The flu-vaccine becoming available as a nasal spray has made it easier for him to have it now. Sharon says she wants to try and minimize Henry’s intake of medications, as well as the additives in his diet or unnecessary toxins. She has found help in aromatherapy and homeopathy for managing colds but says her daughter responds to them better than her son. She also gives Henry probiotics daily to try and replenish the good bacteria in the body.
 

Henry has asthma. Sharon says she now feels more confident in the way that she manages his flu-like illness at home.

Henry has asthma. Sharon says she now feels more confident in the way that she manages his flu-like illness at home.

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I think because we learn now how to manage things better.

OK

So, it is much better because we know the minute he has a virus – flu, cold – that we start the blue Ventolin [salbutamol] inhaler, twice a day, so that it then hopefully limits the need for antibiotics for a full-blown chest infection. That’s not a guaranteed remedy but I think because we now know how to manage things a lot better we stop most infections progressing.

Yeah

And, at the end of the day, the aim is to stop antibiotics – you don’t want to take the antibiotics unless you really need to. Because too many antibiotics are obviously not good. So, I think it's managed better yeah.

I think I can say now that I can manage things a lot better in the last sort of three years or so. I think, because I've seen my son have various illnesses, I now feel more confident in the way that we manage things. But that’s only through course of time and having certain viruses and things happen to him. Where maybe we haven’t used the inhalers early enough and he's had to go on antibiotics and maybe the antibiotics haven’t worked and you go onto some more antibiotics.

And it just pans the whole illness out for him and then, as you get older, that’s more time off of school and then the more antibiotics you take the more other infections I find that he then picks up as well – ear infections, throat infections which you sort of go hand in hand. So I think, finally I now know to, with myself and my son, give the inhaler the chance very early on, the minute you start feeling ill with a virusy, chesty kind of thing.

Yeah

And that certainly helps.
 

Sharon will make an appointment with the out of hours hospital based GP service via 111 if she thinks Henry is deteriorating and he cannot wait until the next day to see his own GP. She would prefer to speak to a doctor on the phone.

Sharon will make an appointment with the out of hours hospital based GP service via 111 if she thinks Henry is deteriorating and he cannot wait until the next day to see his own GP. She would prefer to speak to a doctor on the phone.

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And, you know if he's still having these symptoms by about day three, [um] who would you then…you said you'd seek medical advice – who would you go to?

I'd ring the GP's surgery.

Yeah

And we are very lucky, we have a very good service where they'd see us the same day.

Yeah. Is that for anybody or is that particularly for children do you know?

I think it's for anybody.

Yeah

They have what they call a sit and wait appointment which can be literally what it says; it could be a two hour wait but, you know you do get seen that same day. Quite often we've had to use out of hours as well.

OK 

Because things happen at weekends and bank holidays quite often.

Mm yes, yeah. And what sort of out of hours provision do you have locally here? Is it twenty four…or well, does it cover the night hours when the surgery's closed?

Yeah it does, yeah it does. And it's normally a telephone call to a 111 and then somebody will call you back and we get an appointment at the local hospital to see a GP. So, the minor injuries unit but you're seeing a GP, so you have an appointment so it's not too long a wait when you get there.

And what's your experience of the 111 service? 

Very lengthy in the questions that I'm asked. Comparing it to the service that was offered before, I do find that the length of time that you're answering various questions does seem a little bit over the top maybe. But having said that, I've never really had a problem that I've not got what I needed to get out of the service.

Do they ever give you any sort of advice on the number or is it more sort of for you to be able to access the appointment to get the appointment?

Yeah

Is that kind of your?

Yeah that’s my aim when I'm ringing the services yeah.

And when somebody calls you back is that a medical person or is it just them confirming the appointment?

No it's not, it is just them confirming whereas, prior to this service it was a medical person that would call you and say, "Yes, I think I need to see your child," or, "I don’t; you could do this." Yeah, so it's a little bit less personal this service.

Mm and are you happy using them as a sort of way for out of hours appointments or?

Well it's the only way to access that GP out of hours so; you don’t really have much of choice really.

How do you think that could be improved? How could it be better?

I think having the call-back by a medically trained person would be helpful particularly if you were a parent where you're not entirely sure if you need that GP appointment or not.

Yes

And then just having that conversation with the GP on the end of the phone, out of hours, could determine whether you need to go the chemist and buy something and administer yourself or, you need to be seen that day.

And how do you make that judgement, say in the evening or even in the night that you need to call the 111 and access the out of hours then, rather than wait till the morning?

I think again that’s been the learning curve as well that I mentioned earlier.

Yeah

Is that…and you do kind of know as a parent…you get that sort of instinct in that, yes things definitely aren't quite right and I think, now on hindsight, knowing that things can take a turn for the worse quite quickly, you kind of just know that you need to get some medical advice or some antibiotics. I mean that’s really the reason that I would do the out of hour's appointment because you can see things aren't working; they can deteriorate within a few hours so you need the antibiotics tonight, you couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
 

Henry sometimes has diarrhoea when he takes antibiotics. His GP advised that the antibiotics are still working despite the diarrhoea and to complete the course.

Henry sometimes has diarrhoea when he takes antibiotics. His GP advised that the antibiotics are still working despite the diarrhoea and to complete the course.

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Yes, we have had some instance of affecting the diarrhoea and if you query that with the GP they still are quite keen for you to continue taking them and not to change the antibiotics. So that is quite hard to deal with when you're constantly having to take something that, you know is having that reaction.

Yeah

But from what I've been told from GPs the antibiotic is still taking effect and doing what it should be doing and that is a side-effect, not an allergic reaction.
 

Sharon only uses trusted websites. She finds charity websites, NHS Direct and BUPA websites helpful for information about her son’s symptoms.

Sharon only uses trusted websites. She finds charity websites, NHS Direct and BUPA websites helpful for information about her son’s symptoms.

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I mean the internet is a good tool but you have to be careful on what sites you're looking at because I'd only go to sort of trusted websites – NHS Direct, that type of one, particularly for symptoms, I find that one very, very useful.

Yeah

And the BUPA website again, I find is a sort of symptom tool checker – they're very handy.

And reliable. And talking to people as well. I think, you know mums that talk quite a bit and your children will catch all these sort of illnesses particularly in the school playground – you tend to catch the same sort of similar thing so it's talking to people as well and you can gather advice and help from each other.

What about forums, web forums, do you…?

I'm not a big fan of that really because I've not really… I've not really become on those no. I know people that are on sort of Netsmum, Mumsnet and forums there but I personally haven’t, no, done that.

What about Asthma UK, have you been in contact with them at any point or any other asthma charities?

Yes I have. Asthma UK and the Eczema Society.

I do look on their websites and read sort of their articles. I'm a member of the Coeliac Society and Diabetes UK. And I probably couldn’t do without their support on both charities.
 

After getting a reaction to the injection, Henry didn’t have the flu vaccine for a couple of years but now the nasal spray is available he has started having it again.

After getting a reaction to the injection, Henry didn’t have the flu vaccine for a couple of years but now the nasal spray is available he has started having it again.

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It was initially a couple of years ago. We'd both had our flu jabs done and he particularly had a reaction in his arm - a big swollen red hard reaction.

Right

So that put me off doing it the next year. So, both him and myself we didn’t have it done for two years. And I can't say that we particularly caught any extra infections through not having the flu jab. But equally, you don’t know if that sort of made a difference because you don’t know what you might have caught.

So, it's very hard to monitor.

Sure.

But then, last year we did both decide to have the vaccination. I think we both had such a bad year of having various infections.

OK

That we felt our immunity was actually probably quite low so we were probably at risk of catching something anyway, so we decided to have it again.

And also, the difference with my child is that they now offer it in this area as a nasal spray for under eighteens.

Yeh

So both my children had the vaccination last year – because it's less invasive.

Yeh, yeh

And they were happy to do it.
 

When her son’s primary school started giving her negative feedback about his low attendance, Sharon asked her GP to print out a list of Henry’s appointments and the reason for each one.

When her son’s primary school started giving her negative feedback about his low attendance, Sharon asked her GP to print out a list of Henry’s appointments and the reason for each one.

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I think, probably the biggest impact is time off school. Because it only sort of takes a few viruses throughout the school year that require time off and antibiotics. But then your attendance is obviously going down and school aren't always as supportive as what maybe they could be.

Yeah

Because they're obviously having to… they're concerned about their figures and their attendance rates and, that then puts an additional pressure normally on your children as well, that they're aware that  their attendance is lower than expected, and it can also then have a knock on effect to your academic ability as well. And that’s probably the biggest impact that I found.

Have you been able to come to any arrangements with school or?

With my older child being at secondary, yes.

OK

Much more support is available there remotely. So, email and work can be sent to her via email which she can get on with and that’s not so much of an issue. I think at primary it's a little bit more difficult, because you are missing out on the structured lessons of the day and then if a topic has been introduced and you’ve had a week off school and you go back again. Then it's very hard to catch up.

Yeh. Do you think it's affected him? 

Mm

Does he have a sense that he's…?

Definitely, yes he does yeah.

In what way?

I mean he doesn’t want to be ill.

Yeah sure

And although he doesn’t look forward to school particularly every single day he, you know, he never wants to go to school all the time. But, he equally doesn’t want to be away from school and not learning. You know he gets the bigger picture on why you're at school and that you need to learn. And I think if you're off in a term and you're off for maybe five/six/seven days of a term, that’s a lot of time out of school that you’ve missed, and he's aware of that being older. And I think that has just a bit of a negative impact on him really.

Do you think he feels the pressure?

Mm yeah. And then you also notice that your child thinks, 'Why me, why am I ill all the time?'

Really

Why am I catching everything?

Yeah. I mean, for my experience I've had very few supportive teachers with my primary school. I don’t think they understand that you can just catch as many viruses and, the one way which I've  recently, at a meeting at school, I've got my GP to print off a list of just basic date and incident of going to see the GP and what the reason was.

Yeah

And it's a two page A4 sheet; I think it was dated back to 2009 up to 2014. So that’s evidence. I just felt that it… comments and things that we'd had in meetings about attendance had got to that level where I needed to just say, "Look, this is what he's had; this is how many viruses and different illnesses that he's had over the course of time." And I wasn’t asked to do that but I felt that I needed to evidence that my child is only off if he's ill.

Mm yes, yeah

Because we've had some very negative feedback from class teachers.
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