Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Mom's Simple Guide to Childhood Illness

Before I had children, I rarely got sick. I didn't know much about infectious diseases. I got the occasional cold, but preachers' children aren't allowed to get sick. They always go to church so staying home isn't an option. If you are a PK and you feel like you're going to lose your breakfast, you sit in the bathroom of the church and call "Unclean! Unclean!" when anyone comes in. The only time I remember staying home from church was when I got chickenpox. My grandma stayed with me, and I was very miserable. Not because my grandma was with me but because my brother and sister got a few spots, got time off school and played while I got a case of "itch-so-bad-I-can't-stand-it-so-sick-all-I-want-to-do-is-lie-on-the-couch-don't-even-mention-Easter-candy-to-me" chickenpox. (Yeah, it was Easter Sunday and spring break!) My sicknesses, though few, always came at the wrong time--like laryngitis on the day I gave my valedictory address at my high school graduation. I still cringe when I hear the tape!

Anyway, experience is a good teacher and when my first child was 3 months old, I began the series of doctor's visits and antibiotics in which the average parent is well-versed. Ear infection, antibiotic, symptoms better, a few good weeks, ear infection, antibiotic, symptoms better, repeat. This went on until we started a new routine. Specialist, all kinds of unimaginable procedures, scary videos about ear surgery, warnings about one more infection and something must be done. We had a rough two years, then they stopped, miraculously, before we had to do surgery. Later, I found out it wasn't a miracle after all. After all the co-pays and the Lexuses I provided for Amoxicillin's pharmaceutical company, I found out why she had ear infections every month.

1. Cold medicines caused the fluid to dry up in her ear causing infections.
2. The "colds" I was treating were actually allergy reactions to cow's milk.
3. Antibiotics broke down her resistance to fighting off infections so she got more infections.

Simple solution: Quit giving her milk (which she hates anyway).

Well, I was wiser with my son. No milk, no cold medicines, no antibiotics. Great, and he lasted a bit longer before visiting the doctor for illness. Sure enough, the doctor looked in his ears--all clear. I beamed with pride at my maternal nursing skills. However, his throat was the color of a Christmas bow and he needed an antibiotic. I put on my hard hat and explained that we don't do antibiotics. They cause more infections. I have such a wonderful, patient doctor. He explained that without antibiotics, strep infection never goes away and can, in rare cases, cause heart damage and a potentially fatal fever weeks after the sore throat goes away. Yikes! I plunk down more offerings at the shrine of the bubble-gum, pink goo.

Simple diagnosis: Fever; "strawberry tongue"; bright red, sore throat=strep throat

So, my son gets strep throat about once a year, but I know what it looks like! He gets all the symptoms, I take him to the doctor, he gets his pink goo. A few days later, Lady-in-Waiting is feeling rough, fever, strawberry tongue. Classic strep case. Off I trudge to the doctor. He enters the room and says, "What's going on? I stop short of repeating the procedure code and diagnosis of my son and simply say, "I think she has strep throat." So, he looks in her ears. I roll my eyes--behind his back, of course. "Her ear is bright red, and so is this one. See?" I look through his otoscope. The ear is red. "It is supposed to be gray," the doctor explains. It is definitely not gray. He finally gets around to looking in her throat (which I had somehow forgotten to do). It is not red at all and the strawberry tongue he waxed eloquently about when my son sat in his office means nothing now. Well, ear infections don't need antibiotics, however he has stories of rare cases of some horrible disease caused by bacterial infections that go bad, and I run like a crazy woman to offer some more of my money to the Idol of the Pink Goo.

Simple conclusion: My son gets strep throat, my daughter gets ear infections. Same pink goo treats both.

Simple question: Can I buy stock in this company?

So, I'm still learning through experience. I don't take a kid to the emergency room for a fever until after I've given them Tylenol and Motrin (not at the same time). The ER charges a lot more for Motrin than CVS does.

I don't take a kid to the doctor for croup--that's one thing I don't have to buy pink goo for. This is something I learned after I suffered through a night of struggling to breathe (not to mention my son) and feelings of guilt about not taking him to ER.

They won't arrest you for child abuse if your child's elbow comes out of a socket while an over-zealous sibling plays with him. (Whew!)

Eye infections are highly contagious but are only passed when wet material from one eye touches another eye (yeah, it's gross, but my kids don't get that close to each other!). Meaning it is over-kill to stay home from church for pink eye especially since everyone in the church looks at your child as if they have the plague and steer clear accordingly.

I still don't know how to predict when a kid is going to upchuck. Some things just take time.

Do you have any childhood illness adventures or wisdom to share?


  1. LOL! I love your humor. By the way - I've heard that breastmilk does wonders for ear infections. Thankfully I've never had to try it - my kids haven't ever gotten ear infections *knock on wood*

    My tip is NEVER us prescription Nystatin for Thrush. My middle child got thrush after I had my gallbladder taken out and I felt like I paid for a few lexus's of my own with prescriptions for Nystatin that never worked (a little over a $100 in co-pays alone, not including the copays to the doc). I fired that doctor b/c he was being stupid - he recommended against the one thing that eventually did work in 2 days. I went to a walgreens pharmacy and bought this stuff called gentian violet. Its a strong anti-septic/anti-fungal and though its messy, I only had to treat him 3 times by swabbing it on the insides of his cheeks and tongue. It worked like a charm.
    The bummer was that since the poor guy had had it for a month, it screwed up his nursing latch and I had to quit nursing...whole 'nother saga with that.

  2. In my case, my children probably wouldn't have gotten ear infections if I had been feeding them breast milk. I haven't been able to breast feed any of mine, so we had to settle for milk-based formula.

    I'll certainly keep that in mind for thrush, although I haven't had to deal with that yet either (joining you knocking on wood).

  3. When my firstborn was small, we had our first experiences with ear infections. My SIL told me to put garlic oil (from those soft capsules) into the ear and cover with cotton. Works so well, I usually only have to do one treatment, if I caught it early.

    Eye infections are easy to care for if you are breastfeeding. Just gently clean the infected eye with warm wet washcloth and baby wash, then squirt a little breastmilk into the eye. I do this a few times a day, and the infection clears up within a couple of days.

  4. I have heard that same thing about eye infections. My son's problem is they clear up nicely, but he gets them easily because his lacrimal duct is blocked from birth. I'm hoping it clears up on its own without surgery.