Rachel wakes up â€“ and drinks a kind of poison that feels like a glass of stinging nettles. As it slips downs her throat, she can feel it blistering her skin, leaving a trail of red, itchy welts behind. Later that day, scorching drops of the stuff start falling from the sky. At the local leisure centre, she watches others splash around in a pool of the irritant. They seem unfazed, but the moment she dips her toe in, sheâ€™s faced with burning pain.
No, this is not some bizarre alternate reality. This is the world of Rachel Warwick, who is allergic to water. Itâ€™s a world where relaxing baths are the stuff of nightmares and snorkelling in tropical seas is as appealing as rubbing yourself with bleach. â€œThose things are my idea of hell,â€ she says.
Any contact with water whatsoever â€“ even her own sweat â€“ leaves Rachel with a painful, swollen and intensely itchy rash which can last for several hours. â€œThe reaction makes me feel as if Iâ€™ve run a marathon. I feel really tired afterwards so I have to go and sit down for quite a while,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s horrible, but if I cry my face swells upâ€.