I am a stay at home dad to my 15 month-old daughter. Although she attends childcare for two days a week, I am quite happy to be a part of her life for as much time as I possibly can.
I never knew how big a part I could play in her life as I am currently experiencing.
You see, we are both currently going through a bout of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. Although it is uncommon for adults to contract this virus, it happens on occasion. I have decided to use this opportunity to try and shed some light on the symptoms and what it feels like, so that other parents might understand what their little ones are going through.
For anyone who has not heard of this virus, it is rather common in places where young children gather. Childcare centres, play centres, that sort of thing. It is usually first noticed as a few red spots on the hands or feet of the child, and quickly progresses into many spots on hands, feet, lips and inside the mouth and throat.
In official terms, it is known as the Coxsackie Virus, which I thought was a rather humourous name.
Let me assure you, this is no picnic. I can honestly say that my little one is an absolute trooper! I would like to describe each of the symptoms to you, so that you can understand why your child might be more clingy than usual.
The first indication that I had contracted anything at all was when I suddenly broke into a fever. Lets call this Day #1. The fever escalated from absolutely nothing to profuse sweating and shivering in about 30 minutes. Then came the throbbing headache and sinus pressure. I was actually rocking baby to sleep at the time, and had to slink to bed immediately afterward. I am usually a night owl, but this had me in bed by 9pm. I slept with my electric blanket on its highest setting for 11 hours. I have suffered migraines in the past. This was on a par, if not worse than that.
I woke with a strange, furry taste in my mouth. It was like I had not brushed my teeth for a few days after having greasy takeaway food at the end of a long night out on the town (I remember those days!). I then noticed my tongue seemed numb. I looked in the mirror and saw the reddest throat I think I have ever had. And plenty of white spots on my tonsils, too.
At this point, I didn’t realise what I had, as the little one had not shown any spots or noticeable symptoms. As she is also teething, I assumed her clingyness was due to this, and nothing else.
Then we saw a spot on her hand. Another on her lip, so small you could miss it. A few hours later, I had an itch in the palm of my hand. I looked, and there was a spot. A visit to the doctor confirmed the worst.
Now, as the spots are the most obvious sign of this virus, I should probably tell you what they feel like.
The spots are mildly itchy to start with. No big deal. But they hurt to touch. Even just a little bit.
Imagine an ingrown hair, or a paper cut. Now imagine a few hundred on the palm of your hand, between your fingers and on the pads of your fingers. Now imagine crawling with your entire body weight on them. This is what baby is currently going through.
I have felt this sort of pain only once before. When I was younger and stupid, some friends and I would jump from a local pier into the water below during summer. We would climb the ladder on the side of the pier and repeat all day. The next day we would realise what pain was when remembering the barnacles on the lower rungs of the ladder, and how they had sliced our feet to ribbons.
These small spots are currently on my palms, between my fingers, pads of my fingers, soles of my feet, between my toes and all over my face.
It hurts to put on my shoes, it hurts to walk, even barefoot, opening doors or even a milk carton is agony. I have never thought about how often I use my fingertips in my daily life until now. (Answer: it’s lots!)
The spots are also not friends with warm water, as I discovered. Although you might think that a nice warm bath would help to soothe the discomfort, they are sensitive to temperature. For example, I was giving little one a bath earlier. The elbow test said it was a safe temperature, so reached in for the washcloth and… YEOWWWW!!! Every spot sent a message to my brain “this water is a billion degrees too hot!!!” I placed a thermometer in the water, and it confirmed it was only 34 Celsius, and NOT 34 Kelvin (Incredibly hot!)… this sensitivity is only for hot temperatures, as cold water and even the freezer has been a welcome sanctuary for my hands all day.
The spots on my face seem different. As a long time sufferer of psoriasis, I have learned to care for my facial skin differently to many guys. I have also seen it in terrible states at times. My face currently resembles a chemical burn I once received from a product with false claims of ingredients. (That’s an entirely different story!) It feels incredibly dry, cracked and tight, like I have left a mud mask on for a few hours. Smiling, blinking and even chewing hurts to some extent. For my face, I have been treating the spots with tea tree oil and cold water. So far so good!
As for the throat, this has to be the toughest part in the early stages. I’ve had my share of tonsillitis and other ailments, but this is next level.
Swallowing anything at all is painful. Bread, water, soup. It all feels like razor blades. I made a peanut butter sandwich on multigrain and was close to tears by the end. Plain old tap water had similar results. If you needed to understand why your child had lost their appetite, this should explain it. On the positive side, the severe pain of this will only last a day or so. After that, there is still discomfort, but only in the form of lumps in the throat. By the end of Day #2, my throat was feeling much better.
Today began when I moved my feet under the covers. The lumps on my feet were so sensitive that this woke me up. I then tried to yawn, and realised my face was so tight with the facial sores that I could only open my mouth about 3-5cm before things started to crack and cause pain. Swinging my legs off the side of the bed, I tried to stand. Feet super-sensitive, I forgot!! Socks and moccasins on, this will help alleviate the sensitivity, effectively wrapping my feet in cotton-wool (or actual wool, in the case of my moccasins!)
Looking in the mirror, my heart dropped. My face was worse than the day before. Covered in spots, lumps and legions, I resembled some sort of beast from the underworld, banished from society and forced to live in catacombs beneath the city. Some of my grossness had seemingly burst through the night, causing it to crust onto my face and make my skin feel even tighter. A thorough but gentle wash with lukewarm water helped to remove this, followed by a tea tree soaping in the shower. My hands feel even more sensitive today, almost like they have suffered severe sunburn with a touch of pins and needles. Its frustrating that I still cannot get a lid off a peanut butter jar, or use my key in the front door. Fine motor skills are a luxury that are often overlooked until you can no longer enjoy them, it seems.
Toward the end of Day #3, I noticed that my hands seemed less sensitive than earlier. I think I have finally reached the peak of this epic mountain, and I am finally starting on the road to wellness again. Those pesky spots are still there, and there are even a few new ones on my feet, but they seem to be hurting less than they were.
very late last night (so I will count it as today!) I finally got the lid off the peanut butter jar! my hands and feet are suddenly not as sensitive anymore. Strangely, they now have more spots, although the new ones are much smaller, or in some cases, fainter than the original ones. Perhaps this is the death-rattle, or the final wave of these spots? I really feel that I am starting to heal now. The legions on my face are visibly dried, and some are able to be gently peeled (gross, I know… but so satisfying!)
My throat still looks like a war zone, but oddly, does not hurt. I have a slight cough, but most of the discomfort from all of the symptoms seem to have passed now. The only thing that needs to happen now for me to claim a full recovery, is for these pesky spots on my hands to go away, and the spots and legions on my face to do the same.
I think the hardest part throughout it all though, is the self-imposed quarantine. Not being able to get out into the fresh air or to the park, and to entertain a grumpy 1 year-old indoors for 5-7 days! No friends to play with, no visitors to socialise with. Although it gives us both more time for cuddles to console each other. I do agree with childcare not allowing the child back for a week, though. The less people to be subjected to this, the better!
EDIT: Over a week after things had subsided, my fingers and toes were still feeling numb or tingly. Later that day, one finger got itchy, then another. The skin practically fell off each of my fingers, mostly from the pads, but basically everywhere that the spots appeared in clusters. In the space of two days, all ten fingers were raw, making things difficult in regards to typing (which is why this is a late update!) My feet decided to join in the fun a few days later, making walking very painful. Every single step hurt, and I could feel every little pebble under my shoes with painful accuracy. I am hoping that this is the last of it all!!