Dominic suffers from pica, and has done since his long hospital admissions started. Having pica means that, for no apparent reason, he eats non-food items. The common misconception is that it’s because he is tube fed. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, and he will still do it, even if he is allowed to eat food. It started when he was very small and regularly traumatised in hospital, which for me is the key to why this behaviour started (as it is sometimes seen in abused children).
At it’s most serious, in the middle of an operation to re-do his fundoplication, the surgeon pulled out a whole load of Elastoplast and medical gauze from his stomach. Even after this event we were not offered any help in resolving it, not I think because the professionals were disinterested, but because they genuinely didn’t know how to tackle it. So we tackled it alone.
The pica generally settles a little when he’s out of hospital for a long period of time, but it is still the behaviour that he falls back on when he is anxious as it seems to comfort him. Now he’s older, he fully understands why he shouldn’t, but can’t stop himself, even though he is aware of the risks.
These days things definitely aren’t as bad. I used to have to watch him all the time as he kept eating his hickman line dressing and nappy (oh and poo, but we don’t talk about that one). Now it’s less often, but he still takes me by surprise, like a couple of weeks ago when he ate an entire tube of antibacterial cream.
It seems to be an area of psychology that doctors have very little training in and we have received no advice to date. Since creating this website, I have been contacted by other parents with similar children, so it’s perhaps not quite as uncommon as doctors might think.