A Tale of 3 Rashes

Recovering from what can only be described as the “family holiday from hell,” I have yet to write about our latest adventure largely because I’m still suffering from a bold case of PTSD. Spring break is supposed to be about warm weather, beach balls and bonfires. In our case it was about sleet, wind-storms, pneumonia, diarrhea, fever and processed meats. You might ask why a woman would drag 3 small children on an airplane heading to Germany when she is alternately popping handfuls of ibuprofen and Imodium. Yes, you might. But we had a trip to Germany planned and darn it, who am I to keep my children from their grandparents? So onward we slogged.

Of course when one member of a family is ill, it’s only a matter of time before the others begin to crumble. First to go was Zoe. Runny nose. Fever. Extremely well-behaved. Obviously not herself. Chucking her into the bathtub, I found something that is known around our house as “Zoe’s Bumps.” Since infancy she has a tendency to break out in an urticarial rash (that’s doctor talk for hives) at the slightest provocation. Extreme weather, a monstrous hissy fit, a viral illness. Any and all can give us a pretty startling explosion of red bumps that look like this:

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Please note the evil grin and cheeky pose. I wasn’t worried. On one occasion I was out of town teaching on a trauma course and got about 57 phone calls and texts from her father asking if I was really certain that this was not a problem. 57 times I said, “No, it’s not a problem. Put her shirt back on, stop looking at it and call me if she stops breathing.” Alright, maybe that was a little harsh, but true. Hives are classically associated with allergies but in little kids, viral illnesses are probably a more common cause. Stress and temperature changes can also cause them. They can look like bumps, blisters or little bulls-eyes but the way you know they are hives is that they migrate. Not south for the winter but around the body. A bump is there and then it isn’t. But look, there’s a new bump. And another. And so on. So long as there is no swelling of the lips or tongue or difficulty breathing (all signs of a severe allergic reaction), there is nothing to do. A little antihistamine will help with itching. Creams and lotions do nothing. And don’t be alarmed if they come and go for several days, even a couple of weeks. Do what I do and stick a shirt over it. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.

Then went little Otto. I honestly don’t know how one little boy can produce so much snot. If I didn’t know better I would think his insides were dissolving and pouring out his nose. And what is it with little kids just sitting there, a stream of green pouring down their faces, covering their mouths, dripping off their chins? Don’t they have any sense? Good God. Anyway, stripped that kid off at bath time to find him completely covered in fine red spots. I didn’t have my phone on me and you know I wouldn’t leave him unattended in the bath, so there is no photo but it was basically a suit of tiny red bumps.

Classic viral. I don’t know what else to say about this except I put a shirt on him. (Do you see a pattern?) He was smiling (through the snot river). His fever was somewhere between “pretty warm” and “geez you’re hot.” I don’t actually carry a thermometer on vacation since it doesn’t matter. Fever is fever. But that’s another topic for another day. Anyway, he survived.

By this time I need to mention that my febrile gastrointestinal illness had morphed into the kids’ cold, which then turned into a proper lobar pneumonia. Mommy was sick in the way that children love: “What? Okay, you can eat all the cookies for breakfast…hack hack snort.” Somewhere between the trees blowing across the Autobahn and blocking the roads and the 4 inches of snow we got (!!!), I made it to a nice German doctor who gently counseled me that 9 days of fever was too much for anybody and while he appreciated my reluctance to “jump to antibiotics,” it really was time. Here’s a photo of me coming in from a monsoon, febrile and no longer with any shame. Disclaimer: it ain’t pretty:


Which meant that when Eva finally crumbled, I didn’t have much left to give. But when I pulled her clothes off, this is what I found:

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What the heck is that? Small blisters on a red base stretching from a Band-aid on her wrist, down her arm, and onto her belly but only on one side. Not chicken pox (which she is immunized for anyway) but it looked a lot like it. Shingles? No because the distribution was wrong. An allergic reaction to the Band-aid? Possible but weird. A spreading skin infection? I suppose, but it didn’t look terribly bacterial. To be honest, I still have no idea what the kid had. Let’s go with “viral,” shall we? That covers 99% of childhood rashes. But I pulled the Band-aid off just in case. She had a fever and runny nose like the others but was otherwise happy and playful. (Except when I asked her to pose for the photo. Wow.) Basically, a rash on a kid who is otherwise “pretty okay” is usually nothing to worry about it. And in my state, I really didn’t have the energy for unnecessary worry.

So I stuck a shirt on it.

Were you expecting me to say something else? Now back to meditating in a dark room…