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Hand Foot-in-Mouth Disease

by John Jericiau May 28, 2012

By: John Jericiau

It started as an innocent fever. The whole family had decided to spend three nights in Palm Desert together since Alen had a conference there. Sunny warm weather, a reasonable condo rental through VRBO.com, a swimming pool -it was a no brainer to pack everyone up (including his parents) and drive two hours east, which translates into four hours when you’re driving with kids. We finally arrived at 9:11pm (we had to wait until Alen got off work), and were very satisfied with our new temporary digs – three bedrooms, three and a half baths, four TVs, and twenty-nine pools! We were all looking forward to a break from our hectic schedules.

By the next morning our youngest son had a definite low-grade fever. Nothing we haven’t been through before with both boys. A Motrin and Tylenol regimen around the clock until the fever subsides always does the trick. We’re almost always amazed how the symptom disappears almost as quickly as it appeared, and this wimpy Palm Desert fever was no exception.

That afternoon, after Alen and the boys spent an hour trotting through some extremely coiffed grass on an off-limits golf course (the above mentioned condo of ours was in a country club), we noticed a few bug bites on our son’s ankle and decided to steer clear of any more grass. Unfortunately over the course of our mini-vacation the few bug bites began to spread. They showed up in groups about a dozen strong on his back, his chest, his knees, his face, his hands, and by the time we arrived back home, the roof of his mouth. These were definitely not bug bites!

Being as we have more than one son, and it was time to go back to preschool, and we have a pregnant friend/surrogate (15 weeks!) around, we decided to quickly visit urgent care on Monday morning at Kaiser. Our personal pediatrician was not available, but the random one assigned to us had no problem diagnosing the problem as soon as he laid eyes on his subject.

“Hello, little boy! You have Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease”! I was so relieved it was not the measles or chickenpox, since I in fact know that these diseases are dangerous to a pregnancy. But isn’t this foot-mouth disease or Mad Cow disease or whatever it is life-threatening?

“This is NOT foot-mouth disease!” the doc explained. “It’s Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, from a virus that is very commonly seen in children, only second to the common cold. There’s no medication, no vaccine. Keep him comfortable if he gets itchy (our son didn’t), and keep him out of school or classes for a few more days so he doesn’t kiss or rub up on other kids, but other than that there’s nothing you can do.”

After the doctor’s visit my spotty son and I had to go pick up my other son from preschool (they are in the same preschool but not the same classroom). Upon arriving to the parking lot of the preschool I made a point to tell some moms the details of the visit, as well as the ins and outs of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. The news spread quicker than my son’s rash. By the time I picked up my other son (in the two minutes it took me to walk from the parking lot to the classroom), two other moms and the teacher were already in the loop! I was surprised but didn’t really mind. I wanted to warn all my friends (and the other parents) to be on the lookout for similar symptoms in their children.

“Not a good idea”, said my physician/husband later that night. “Our son has a right to privacy. We are doing everything on our end as instructed by the pediatrician. Any transmission of this illness from our son to others has ended since we will keep him out of class for the rest of the week. (We decided to be conservative and extend his time out of school until the following Tuesday since we were coming up on a holiday weekend.) Some uninformed parents may get unnecessarily weird toward us and him.”

I went to bed feeling skeptical of his views, but he ended up being so right. Upon arriving to school the next day, one mom marched up and unceremoniously dis-invited both of our sons to her son’s birthday party scheduled for the coming holiday weekend. “I can’t take any chances”, she announced. This was the same mom that caused a panic the day before at the karate studio where I took my UNspotted son for his class. I even went as far as leaving my spotted son in the car while I brought my unspotted one inside, just to be conservative. But this mom was sure that my unspotted son, although symptomless, had to be carrying this horrible disease and should be banned from class. I didn’t dare tell her that I was heading to Costco after class.

Some parents are hyper vigilant; others are extremely nonchalant. We fall right in the middle of the spectrum. I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward anyone. Each person has their own comfort level and must do what they feel is right for their child. I subsequently reached out to this mom. I bought a nice birthday gift for her son anyway. And I as have in the past, I shared some avocados with her from the huge tree we have growing in our back yard. I caringly placed three of them in a brown paper bag, and smiled kindly as I handed the bag to her. As I walked away, I was content that I had taken the high road in the situation. And I was amused with myself that inside the bag she would find three beautiful green avocados, each completely covered with red spots that I had so lovingly painted on them.

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John Jericiau
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