Health anxiety, transplants, and childhood illnesses
One day last week, Terry and I were both at our desks, powering through our respective ‘to do’ lists, when the phone rang.
It was Max’s nursery. He had a slight temperature, they said, and wasn’t quite himself: they weren’t actually asking us to go and pick him up at that point, but I decided to go and get him anyway, and I was really glad I did, because, by the time I arrived, he’d broken out in spots, and was obviously feeling pretty sorry for himself, poor soul.
The nursery staff told me there’d been a few cases of Hand, Foot and Mouth (Which, no, is NOT the same disease that cows get, apparently…) there lately: sure enough, Max’s spots all seemed to be concentrated on his hands, feet and face, but while I was pretty sure that’s what it was, I’m a first time mum – and, well, a long-time hypochondriac – so I only took him home for long enough to call the doctor’s surgery, and then we were on our way there to have him checked out.
Thankfully, the doctor was able to confirm our suspicions, so we left with a bottle of Calpol, some calamine lotion for the spots, and a diagnosis of a disease I hadn’t even heard of until a couple of years ago, but which I’ve since become very, very familiar with indeed.
I say ‘thankfully’: I obviously wasn’t happy to know that Max had Hand, Foot & Mouth. I was, however, relieved it wasn’t something more serious: because, while HF&M is undoubtedly unpleasant (For those of you who can’t be bothered clicking on the link above, it’s a viral infection that causes spots/blisters on the hands, feet, and – worst of all – inside the mouth, and, as it doesn’t respond to antibiotics, it’s basically just a case of “keep it until it gets better,” really…), it’s nowhere near as bad as any of the far more serious scenarios that had been running through my mind as I watched the doctor examine him. And when you think about all of the things that could go wrong with a little person, I guess a mild dose of a relatively common childhood disease is the least of your worries, right?
My relief, however, lasted for approximately two minutes: right up to the moment Terry started asking the doctor how concerned he should be about catching it himself, and I realised that I might not have to worry too much about Max… but I did have to worry about Terry.
Terry, you see, is a kidney transplant recipient : and while he’s currently 14 years out from his transplant, and still doing well, he has to take immunosuppresants every day in order to stay that way – and will have to do so for the rest of his life.
The immunosuppresants stop Terry’s immune system from attacking the transplanted kidney… but they do it at the expense of his general health, which suffers from the fact that his weakened immune system leaves him vulnerable to every bug and illness out there.
This is why flu season is terrifying for us. (Well, for me, anyway: Terry claims not to give it a second thought…) It’s why we’ve chosen to have Max immunised against everything there’s a vaccine for, including things like chicken pox and flu, which aren’t given as standard to children of his age in the UK. It’s why all of those Daily Fail reports about mystery viruses which are apparently about to wipe out most of the population will literally keep me up at night with worry… and it’s also why I’ve spent most of the last week absolutely terrified that one or both of us is about to catch Max’s virus.
I’m probably worrying about nothing, of course. When Terry asked about it, the doctor told us it was unlikely we’d catch it: it’s not, however, impossible, and, as with many childhood illnesses, when adults do get it, it can be much more serious for them… a fact which pretty much guarantees I won’t be getting much sleep for the next couple of weeks.
The thing is, because of the immuosuppresants Terry’s on, pretty much ANY illness he gets is guaranteed to last longer, and be much more severe, than it would be in someone with a normal immune system. This winter, for instance, has been a pretty bad one for us all, health-wise: I’m not sure if there’s been a lot more bugs around than usual, or if we’re just more exposed to them via Max, but I’m honestly not exaggerating when I say I don’t think there’s been more than a few days in total this winter when all three of us have been well. Instead, we’ve gone from one cold/stomach bug/mystery virus to the next, and, at any given time, at least one of us seems to be ill. In related news, I have NO idea why some people love winter so much. None at all.
The latest illness (The one before the Hand, Foot and Mouth, I mean…) was a cold/strep throat extravaganza which arrived back at the start of December. This was actually a weirdly long-drawn-out illness in general: both my mum and I had it for over two weeks, and I remember feeling like it was just NEVER going to get better. In Terry’s case, though, it never did: or not so far, anyway. Yup, he’s still suffering from that freaking cold – which has come with some really debilitating headaches, too, just for fun – and that’s not even remotely unusual for him, either. So, getting Hand, Foot and Mouth right now might not kill him – but it has the potential to be really, really unpleasant… hence my fear.
And it’s not just H,F&M I’m worried about either. When Max started nursery, a few people joked about how we’d better prepare ourselves for all of the various bugs that would be coming our way soon. Nurseries – and anywhere else frequented by lots of children, it woudl seem – are hotbeds for germs, and not only am I sure that’s where Max picked up his virus, I’m also sure it won’t be the last one he brings home with him. And I’m terrified by that, seriously: not just for his sake, obviously, but also for mine, and particularly Terry’s. I know, of of course, that it’s good for Max to be exposed to these things, and that they’ll ultimately help build his immunity to them: but they definitely won’t help Terry… and they’re not doing a whole lot for my anxiety levels either, to be honest.
Still, at the time of writing, Terry and I are both still spot-free (Fingers crossed I didn’t just jinx us both by writing that: especially given that I’m writing this a few days before it’s due to be published, so, you know, there’s still time…), and Max seems to be on the mend, too, thankfully. Our first brush with childhood illness, however (Until now, Max hasn’t had anything more serious than a cold, so this was his first ‘real’ illness…) has been pretty brutal, really: by day three, the sores in his mouth/throat were so painful that the only thing he’d eat was ice lollies, and even that was a struggle… he spent the entire day saying, “Mummy, my tongue’s sore!” over and over, and it was SO hard to listen to that and not be able to do anything to help him.
(Also a valuable lesson to us NOT to continue with the ‘mummy will kiss it better’ thing any time he hurts himself: he just couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t kiss his tongue – not that it would ACTUALLY have made him feel any better if I had!)
So, January has come in like a lion, in other words (Which is odd, because that’s supposed to be March’s job, isn’t it?): let’s just hope it’s not going to go out like one, too…