On Illness

The simple way to start is to say I hurt my back. Except I didn’t “hurt” it in a set injury kinda way, just the wear and tear of my 30+ years, of my now mother ways, up in arms with 30+ pounds of fleshy love, in and out of car seats and high chairs. And so somehow I ended up in an MRI machine, with a herniated disc, three days in the hospital, four shots of morphine, a couple more of something dreamier, and the aftermath of weeks of what could hardly be called walking. But that’s another story.

At the same moment I lay in that MRI machine playing word games in my mind to stave off panic, Craig was with our son at the pediatrician, trying to find out why the county health department had called that very morning. A few days before, we’d had to take Wes to the emergency room – for the first time – when the after-hours nurse practioner felt uncomfortable treating Wesley’s apparent “hyperacute” pink eye himself. At the hospital a swab was taken, and the results, although surprisingly common (he tested positive for Haemophilus Influnzae, a bacterium, a misnomer, as it is not the flu), still had to be reported to the proper authorities. H. flu in its most annoying form is pervasive but relatively harmless, but because type B was historically responsible for meningitis, it still raises red flags. Most kids get vaccinated against this type of H. flu now, as Wesley has been, but as eye swabs are not routinely typed, they need to know you know what’s up.

In other words, our boy had what y’all know as the “pink eye.”

Except this “pink eye,” this insidious and treacherous “pink eye” grabbed on to our son and simply would not let go. A month later, he was still testing positive for H. flu in his eyes.

We fought this H. flu for almost two months. We attacked it with three different antibiotic drops, a steroid, three oral antibiotics, and after a third trip to the emergency room – at the point when the capillaries in our son’s eyes started to burst and bleed from the swelling, and the doctor announced that the double ear infection that had apparently cleared three days earlier had returned, for the second time — two doses of antibiotics via injections. We coated his nostrils, and our own to prevent more spreading, with antibiotic ointment.

In the course of fighting this we’ve seen three different E/R doctors. Our own pediatrician. Our nurse practioner. An ophthalmologist. An infectious diseases doctor.

None of them can agree what the real problem is. Apparently, very possibly, sinusitis, which is rarely diagnosed in children as young as Wesley because in truth, their sinus cavities are rather small. But the point is his little head seems to keep cycling the infection from one area to another. The eyes clear – the ear infections pop up. The ear infections clear, his nasal packages seep with pus. The nose dries up, but the eyes swell and shut. Then the viral panel showed he was, at this same time, fighting ye common cold. And, because that wasn’t enough, he was also either 1. having an allergic reaction to some part of the treatment, 2. developing a true allergy to something at the exact time that the bacteria and virus invaded, or 3. mimicking an allergic reaction as means of getting rid of the crap in his system.

He’s doing much better this week, let me tell you that, before you continue to worry too much.

But to make matters worse, Wesley is scheduled for surgery to repair a hydrocele/hernia in about 3 weeks. Of course a surgeon won’t touch him with a ten foot pole if he’s still got all that funkiness swimming in his little noggin. And so he got one more injection of the antibiotic, (though we will not give him any more antibiotics at this point unless he develops an unsafe fever), he’s finishing a course of steroid eye drops, and he’s on an antihistamine to try to dry him up.

But the infectious disease doctor suggested something much more natural — and in some ways, much harder: he told us to pull him out of daycare. The man was lovely, I should say that, and so I feel I need to clarify that he did not make this suggestion lightly, nor in a I-hate-working-mothers kind of way. But he pointed out the obvious. When you look at his chart, you see the picture of health for Wesley’s first 16 or 17 months (the time he stayed at home with me), and a much uglier picture appear at about 18/19 months, the time he started day care. Whatever the yearly average is for ear infections, Wesley has more than surpassed it. He’s had something like 6 in the past 5 months alone – or really, what they assume has been one or two long ones that never fully cleared up. Everyone tells us “more infections means better long-term immunity,” or “they’ll catch everything now and be so healthy by the time they start Kindergarten,” but the sheer amount of time fluid has been building up in his still very young ears means his hearing  has very possibly now been compromised, and so now he’ll need his hearing tested when his ears clear up. And the number of infections he’s fought so young may very well contribute to the likelihood he’ll develop problems with asthma in the future.

I wondered why so many other children go to day care, get sick, get over it, and move on much more quickly than Wesley has. All the doctor could say is that he’s seen kids like our son, children with hyper-reactive systems who catch everything and who can’t fight it so much all at once. Children with sensitive systems. And really, we’ve known him to be sensitive in every other way. That his health is too should not come as a surprise.

We need day care for about one more month – there’s nothing much we can do about that. But May, June, July, and most of August, we’ll keep Wesley home with us (one benefit of working in academia). It’s a chance to let his system clear up. To let him breathe. And over the next couple of weeks, as course selection for the fall semester creeps up on me, we’ll have to decide what we can do long term, if anything.

For now, our boy is turning 2 on Sunday. We will to go to the zoo. We’ll sing songs in the car. We’ll roar like lions, eat cuppy cakes and ice cream. There will be twirling and head bobbing. There will be candles. We will open loads of presents. We will be silly in every way we know. We will celebrate that we’re a little healthier, and, best of all, alive.


6 thoughts on “On Illness

  1. Poor guy! What a lot to go through at his age–I hope that everything clears up soon and his surgery goes well.

    I also hope that you are feeling better! I’m thinking of your family.

  2. A couple of suggestions:

    – Does he drink milk of any type or form? Discontinue it. Specially at night. Cerals as well.
    – Raise his head bed board part by 6 inches so that when he sleeps his head is draining down by gravity.
    – Try a naturopath doctor… I truly think that ear infections are due to allergies. And you know that allergies run ranpid in our family. Elimination diets are a pain but they do work. Plenty of resources in the internet.
    – You may want to start giving him some Zyrtec or claritin in the moring. If things improve a bit, that is a clue that some allergy issue is at hand.
    – The nursery might be a problem but I don’t think is the main cause. The fact that his average is higher than other kids triggers the question why? Why is he more susceptible? Lower immune system? Why? What is the root cause? How are his white blood cell counts? Vitamin D count? Someone is overlooking something… what does he eat regularly? what does he play with? products he uses? Start keeping a food diary etc… Good luck my dear. Hope he enjoys his Birthday and you enjoy him. Summer would be better! Let me know how things continue.

  3. If this helps, my daughter has been on the 4th ear infection in 4 months and she just turned one. She is home with me and does not go to daycare. Her sister does got to preschool though and you can’t keep them away from everyone.
    I hope it does improve. My daughter is going to an ent next week and around here she’s likely to have her tonsils and adnoids removed and/or tubes in her ears.
    Summer is soon and that will help a lot!

  4. It’s hard to be so close to you in terms of distance but not be able to help at all. You’ve had a rough couple of months, THAT’s for sure. My heart goes out to you. I hope you had a marvelous time at the zoo, being as silly as you could… and I hope that we can get together soon so that our boys can play together again! Let me know as soon as he’s up for it! Hugs to you all… and Happy Birthday to the handsome Wesley!

  5. I forgot to ask you if you have tested him for allergies. Like environmental allergies, if he has some, his immune system would be low and weak to fight other issues. Right now with spring going on, polination, and perhaps food or animal allergies, it might be a good time to have that checked. There is a blood test for environmental allergies that does not require the pricking on the back. You may want to check it out. Hope the house deal goes through today my love. Kisses.

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