The Disgusting Aftermath Of Catching My Son’s Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease

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Mom-taking-temperature-sick-kidOne of the crazy things about having a baby, from my perspective, is the experience of getting sick. You just have to give in and not care that you feel like crap. It’s partly a result of mommy martyrdom (“I’d rather be sick than have my child suffer”), partly selfish (“I’d rather be sick than deal with a screaming, sick baby all night”) and partly a complete inability to remain free and clear of a tiny person’s bodily fluids. You might as well just accept that you’re going to catch whatever disgusting fecal-born illness your kid brought home from day care because you’ve spent the day elbow-deep in it. That’s how I caught the Coxsackie virus, better known as Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. (And jokingly referred to in my house as hoof and mouth disease, mainly because it’s what all your childless friends will think you mean when you tell them you have it.)

People will tell you that adults can’t or don’t often catch it but that’s not true (much to the horror of the day care workers caring for my son, who had been told they were immune after the most recent outbreak). We can catch it and it hurts and itches and in my case, has caused some of my fingernails to fall off two months after all my other symptoms have cleared up.

If you’re lucky enough not to have experienced it, Coxsackie virus affects mainly your mouth, throat, hands and feet. You might get itchy bumps or sores. In my son’s case, he got a fever and what looked like a bunch of mosquito bites on his hands and feet that disappeared after a few days and left a few patchy, peely remnants of dead skin. In my case, I also had a fever and similar sores on my hands and feet as well as on my face close to my lips, nostrils and ears. They itched and, even grosser, wept fluid for a couple days. To paint a more succinct picture, I was crusty. Old Crusty Face is what they (er, I) called me. I have never felt more self conscious in my adult life. Once the sores cleared up I noticed that they too got peely and scabby like my son’s. Because I’m the worst type of person, a scab picker, I derived pleasure from peeling these painless little dots of dried skin off my fingers and hands. But I noticed something else, days after all my scabs healed over: I had pale dots beneath several of my fingernails. Residual hives from the virus made themselves known. And day by day it seemed like they were eating at my nails, and holes were forming.

I generally don’t overdo it on my beauty regimen, but I’ve always liked my nails and a nice manicure. My hands are now something I’ve become incredibly self conscious of lately, mostly because nails don’t grow that fast and some of them still look…disfigured. I hoped, even assumed, that the sores would have loosened the nail plate and they’d fall off completely (“Maybe I can paint the skin where the nail was so it blends in!”) but no. I have deformed half-moon nails that are sort of on and sort of off. It feels deceptive to say they “fell off” because I’m still waiting for that to happen, but they are definitely peeling away from the skin ever so slowly. Fall off or don’t, but stop snagging my sweaters, you jerks!

To the outside world my deformity may not be that obvious. In fact, the public (e.g. the people I stand in close proximity to on the R train) haven’t taken much notice – they have no reason to. I’m suffering from what is essentially a cousin to the common hangnail, from the looks of it. My husband has asked politely that I not taunt him with “those things” however, but even that reaction is because I pick away at the nail and taunt him with it. It has become an obsession. The cliche about knowing something like the back of your hand is not a cliche to me. I track the progress of nail growth and how the holes have progressed. Since this all started in early August, one of the holes has caused the top third of my thumbnail to peel off crookedly, leaving it jagged and short, like a stock market graph that took a steep dip. The hole affecting my middle finger initially was just a hollow in the half moon where nail meets cuticle. Now, it looks like a mangled second layer growing in on top of a thinner, newer nail.

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