The following is a log of a mother’s experience with hand, foot, and mouth disease or HFMD. The entries were shared after the family’s survival from this rampant, inconvenient, and unpleasant outbreak. This brave woman is sharing her harrowing tale with us.
Day 1 – Wednesday
The eldest child, 5 years old, wakes with several pinprick-sized red bumps on his chin. Do preschoolers get acne? I do a mental scan of all he’s eaten in the last 24 hours. Could he be developing a strawberry allergy? Nah. He looks okay. I make a note to be more hands-on at bathtime this evening.
Day 2 – Thursday
Now the eldest child isn’t eating his lunch at school, and teachers are concerned he “is trying to go outside early for recess.” The nerve! I inform them that I am, in fact, okay with him not eating his lunch if he is not hungry, and I promise to chat with him about staying at the lunch table until the agreed-upon recess time.
At bedtime, he tells me he had “itchy feet” all day. I learn that after lunchtime when he refused to eat, he decided to run around in freshly cut grass (made sense). I grab some Benadryl, in case this is some kind of hay fever, which he, of course, refuses to take.
Around 2am he screams and then whimpers about his duvet, saying he is too hot! His room is stuffy so I let him sleep with me. He wakes again, and his pillow is damp. He cries “I can’t go back to sleep, I have THE SLEEP SWEATS!” To be fair this child is fairly dramatic so I roll my eyes and pat him on the head and sing him back to sleep.
Day 3 – Friday
Eldest child complains of a sore throat. I chalk it up to a postnasal drip. He doesn’t feel warm, and otherwise seems fine, so off he goes to school. (Edited to add: probably not the wisest decision.)
He once again refuses to eat his lunch, and IT IS PIZZA DAY. Curiouser and curiouser.
Later our nanny texts me: “He is covered in bug bites and he seems pretty out of it.” Bug bites? “They have pus in them.” Pus?! I ask her if they are like ant bites and she responds, “More like bed bugs or fleas.”
Great. I Google “bed bugs” and learn I will need to go home and set the house on fire.
Tonight, he shows me his big toe and says “What is THAT?” Our nanny peers down. “It looks like a wart.”
So now my child has acne, the night sweats, a sore throat, bed bug bites, and a wart.
Did someone put a pox on this house?
I mean, my husband is away at training for five weeks. Of course, this is all happening right now.
“It’s just weird,” our nanny says before she leaves that night, “that the bugs would bite him in all those places – his feet and hands and butt and even his chin!”
Aaaaannnnnd that’s when the puzzle pieces fall into place. I Google “hand, foot, and mouth disease,” and surprisingly, I am relieved. Not because we are now on quarantine, but because at least I know our family isn’t cursed.
Day 4 – Saturday
The pinprick bumps on the eldest child’s face are now blisters. The toe wart has disappeared—it looks less like a wart and, wouldn’t you know it, more like a popped blister—and now there are also blisters on all of his knuckles. He is feverish and grumpy.
I was supposed to run a 5k this morning. The boys are too big for a stroller but I was going to push them anyway. It’s what you do when your husband is away.
Youngest child, age 3, climbs into my lap and breathes into my face, “My throat hurts.”
HFMD is a childhood disease, right?
I hop down an internet rabbit hole and read the stories of adults who have contracted HFMD and have barely lived to tell the tale.
“My husband couldn’t walk!” one woman claims. And another: “Worst pain of my life! Worse than childbirth!” And the ever so cheery “WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LET YOUR CHILDREN INFECT YOU!!!”
Perhaps sensing my discomfort, my youngest child leans over and sweetly plants a slobbery wet kiss on my lips.
Day 5 – Sunday
Both kids are whiny and snotty and irritable. Our nanny is a saint. She comes over to watch movies with the kids and wash sheets and scrub surfaces while I go to a massage I booked weeks ago.
I spend the afternoon at the spa, trying not to worry about the quarantined children stuck at home. I remind myself I need to refuel to face the week ahead, and if there was ever a time to get a massage, it is now.
When I return, they’ve barely moved from the couch. They are listless and tired and frustrated.
Day 6 – Monday/Discoverer’s Day
The kids are awake at 5am so I take them to the beach for the sunrise and a little saltwater therapy. They’ve got snotty noses, and who needs a saline rinse when you have the beach? Also: no school because of Discoverer’s Day.
As I watch them frolic in the waves, I think about how Columbus did not, in fact, discover America, but did, in fact, bring a scourge of diseases to the indigenous population.
Oh no: Have I made a mistake, bringing these infected kids to a public place? Am I like Columbus, poisoning the local environment with every mom’s worst nightmare virus?
We steer clear of the early beachgoers and keep our visit brief.
The sea air does them good. The youngest is clear of rashes and the oldest is on the mend and I begin to wonder if I can get away with sending them to school tomorrow.
I know the answer, but still, I allow myself to dream.
Midnight, Day 7
Turns out I should have burned the house down.
Youngest child wakes and screams into my ear like a banshee whose foot has just been run over by a car. I keep asking, “What can I do to make you feel better?” His response: “EVERYTHING!” which I have learned, actually means NOTHING, though that is hardly less discouraging.
Oldest child wakes and cries “MOMMY, WHY is he so looouuuuuddd….I’m so TIRED!”
This cacophony rings on for twenty minutes as I practice deep breathing techniques. No one wants Tylenol, no one wants Motrin, no one wants anything except for Mom to be a mind reader and magician and to make his brother shut up already so he can sleep.
Eventually, the eldest child passes out again, and the youngest child is soothed by a frozen waffle. Hours later, he agrees to lie down again once more.
When all is quiet, my foot begins to itch.
Day 7 -Tuesday
Youngest child has spots on his chin and one of his toes. He cries and asks for band-aids, devastated that he, too will suffer the woeful fate of his older brother.
Truthfully, I was not prepared for a 3-year-old’s existential crisis, but I hold him as he weeps.
The eldest child has new blisters on his legs, arms, and belly. He insists he feels fine though. He says, “Can’t I go back to school?” But he is diseased and must stay locked away inside, with me, all day. Every day. ALL OF THE DAYS.
Day 8 – Wednesday
It’s been a week since the first symptoms. I wake expectantly, half-believing some kind of magic will have cured the eldest boy, and I’ll be able to send him back to school. But NO. These blisters just keep multiplying. I’m flooded with memories of my week of chickenpox in third grade, and I struggle to keep a smile on my face.
My throat begins to hurt.
Day 9 – Thursday
They ask if we can have ice cream for breakfast and I just laugh. Of course! Why wouldn’t we have ice cream for breakfast?
Both boys are still covered in blisters, and I am coming down with a cold—or perhaps this is just the beginning of the adult version of the virus from hell?
I imagine my feet burning, and crying to myself at night—silently, so as not to wake the slumbering sickos on either side of me—trying to resist the urge to scratch. I will likely fall ill by tomorrow and will have to scoot down the stairs on my bum to assist my children in the making of their breakfast.
I text my husband: will you please video chat with these kiddos?
I wonder: can one make pancakes when her feet are on fire?
Day 10 – Friday
The TV breaks. So does my sanity. My throat is throbbing and my nose is running, yet no blisters to speak of thus far.
By nightfall, the kids are addicted to the iPad and I am addicted to Milano cookies, which I shove into my mouth secretly and with gusto (sore throat be damned). I haven’t run in over a week. I’ve barely left the house. There’s no way I’m losing those 10lbs I dreamed of losing while hubby was away.
Oh well. At least we still have some ice cream.
Day 11 – Saturday
Backup arrives! Nana and Grandad fly in from the mainland. You’d think the kids were never sick, to look at their cherubic, smiling faces.
I am another story: haggard, sleep-deprived, the steward of a messy house. But hey—still no blisters and no burning feet! Perhaps I’ve been spared the worst of it.
Later, I see the eldest son peeling the dead skin off his toes. Ahh yes. The final stage of HFMD: molting. I’ll consider the boys lucky if they’re able to keep all their toenails.
I watch as the world suddenly slows, my son’s movements like molasses as he lifts his fingers up to his mouth…and puts his dead toe skin….in his mouth. ?
Next thing you know, he’ll have pinworms.
From the Mayo Clinic: Hand, foot, and mouth disease — a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children — is characterized by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is most commonly caused by a coxsackievirus.
There’s no specific treatment for hand, foot, and mouth disease. Frequent hand-washing and avoiding close contact with people who are infected with hand-foot-and-mouth disease may help reduce your child’s risk of infection.