Category Archives: Illness

Q&A: no, really, the swine flu

Sorry for getting this up late. I had it mostly written but then got distracted writing a song for next year's American Idol. If anyone can come up with a rhyme for "made it through the storm," I'll give you cowriter credit and 5% of the royalties.

We talked about the swine flu (or H1N1 or whatever the actual name is) a few weeks ago, and I kind of thought the fear was going to die down. But over the past few days I've gotten a couple of emails that basically said, "Aren't you terrified, living in NYC?" or "I was chill before, but there's one case in my town now and I'm finding that I'm lying awake at night worrying about it."

The short answer is, yes I'm terrified living in NYC. But not of the swine flu. There's so much else for me to be scared of, from being run over by a taxi to not being able to pay my rent to having a child get sick from possible mold in the walls of my crumbling apartment to having the tsunami we're due for hit to another terrorist attack to having the entire infrastructure collapse because of the recession and having riots in the streets to never finding the love of my life and living in noble loneliness for the rest of my days. Honestly, swine flu seems pretty tame in comparison.

(Hey, after I wrote that paragraph, they announced on the news that the first public elementary school in Manhattan is being closed today. Maybe this is going to be more extensive than I thought?)

OTOH, I don't blame anyone who's scared of it. Especially if you live in a place in which you have what I'd consider the "normal" set of worries. (Meaning not terrorism and taxis and other anomalous events.) It could stay at the level it's at, or something really weird could happen and it could get far more dangerous.

It's the unpredictability of it that makes it scary. If you knew what the path was going to be, or how serious it was going to be, you could stop worrying so much. If we knew H1N1 was going to be less lethal than the regular flu (100 deaths a day!) we could all just ride it out. But we don't know.

As a parent, it's your job to worry. We're hard-wired for it. Not worrying meant a dingo would have stolen your baby. And not worrying now means any number of things could happen to your child. The trick is to try to keep it in perspective so you don't become consumed with it. (If you find that you're having repetitive thoughts that are serious and make you feel out of control, tell your doctor immediately. If you find you're having repetitive thoughts that are annoying you but don't feel like a crisis, up your magnesium supplementation, because lack of magnesium causes anxiety and that repetitive thought/insomnia loop.)

So take the precautions you should take (wash your hands; eat, sleep, and exercise well; call your doctor if you develop flu symptoms). And then just do the best you can do to stay relaxed but alert.


(I was at the burrito store the other day waiting for my order, and readin one of the Spanish-language newspapers (and I didn't bother to note
which one, which is unfortunate because I can't find the article again
online to cite) that in Mexico City, 98% of the relatives of those who
died from H1N1–the people who had been living closely with them during
the incubation period–did NOT develop any symptoms of flu. Which I
thought was really strange. And makes me wonder even more what's going
to happen with this disease.)

Q&A: rash on face of preschooler

You know, it's really difficult to write an internet advice column when your computer won't connect to your wireless connection. Gah. I'm up to here with Vista. I'm coming to you from the cafe near my apartment with the post that was supposed to go up yesterday.

Robin writes:

"Because of my work schedule, my daughter spends the weekend at her grandparents' once a month. Whenever I pick her up, she has a red rash on her cheeks. She doesn't get this rash at home, and after a day or two of putting my regular face lotion on her cheeks it fades away. I've been wracking my brain to figure out what could be causing it, but can't figure it out. (I don't want to say anything to my parents since the rash isn't painful to my daughter and I don't want to hurt their feelings because they seriously overreact to stuff like that.) They have cats, but so do I. She doesn't have environmental allergies. I don't think they're feeding her anything strange.

Do you or your readers have any ideas about what this could be? It's just red and kind of flaky, but not oozy and not really raised. and it doesn't hurt or make her itch."

Hmm. I wish we had a photo of this, as that would make it lots easier to diagnose.

I used to work in test prep, so my instinct is to use process of elimination to narrow down what it could be. I'm going to say that it's not anything fungal because it's not oozy and it goes away so quickly just with regular facial lotion.

I'm also going to say it's not a bacterial infection for the same reason.

It kind of sounds like the rash both of my kids have gotten (my older one grew out of it when he was around 5) from being out in the cold. A red, flaky rash that was helped by putting on lotion but would also go away on its own if I kept him out of the cold for a couple of days. So that may be worth thinking about, especially if she goes outside to play a lot at her grandparents and doesn't so much at your place.

You could take another look at food stuff. You say she doesn't eat anything "strange," but anything with artificial colors or flavors or additives could do it. And individual people are sensitive to all kinds of things (there are even people who are allergic to plain white rice), so it could be something healthy that your daughter's system just has a problem with.

The other thing I'm thinking is detergent or fabric softener on the pillows she sleeps on. That could definitely cause contact rashes. And if her skin gets a breather at your place, plus the lotion, that could explain it.

Readers, do you have any other ideas? Has anyone been through this?

Q&A: banking cord blood

Angie writes:

"What's the deal with banking cord blood?? It seems like crazy money for something there's only a minute chance of ever needing. But then the brochures guilt you into it. Did you bank your kids' blood? What did your readers do?"

I did not bank either of my sons' cord blood. It seemed like too great an expense to me for something that had such a small chance of being needed. But that was just for us. If you have risk factors that make cord blood banking make sense for you, it might be worth looking into. With absolutely no family history of childhood diseases or any of the other things cord blood is used for, it just didn't make sense for us.

One thing that may have made more sense but wasn't possible for us* was cord blood donation. with donation, your child's cord blood is drawn and then sent to a bank where anyone who is a match and needs cord blood can receive it. It's a way of using the cord blood for good even if you personally don't need it. If our situation had been different I'd have strongly considered it.

Did anyone do cord blood banking? If so, why? If not, why not? What about cord blood donation?

* Things were too rushed in the hospital with the birth of my first son so cord blood was not on anyone's mind,and I had my second son in my bathroom as a planned homebirth so there was no way to collect the cord blood.

Q&A: grandmother with compromised immune system

This post seems to be gone, even though I wrote and autoposted it to go up yesterday, I thought. And now I can't even find the original question. So here's a paraphrase of the question, and a reconstruction of my original answer:

"My mother has cancer that's spread to her liver, and is undergoing an extremely aggressive chemo protocol that will go on for basically the rest of her life. Because of this, her immune system is compromised and she's in danger of getting sick and dying of things that the rest of us shake off easily.

How do we deal with this? My three-year-old loves his grandma, and doesn't understand why he can't see Nonnie anymore. And she misses him. Is there anything we can do, or are they never going to be able to see each other again? That would break my heart, as well as both of theirs."

Oh, this is breaking *my* heart. I'm so sorry about your mother.

I don't know if there is any way your son can see his grandmother. There must be a patient coordinator or social worker who can investigate this for you, to find out if there are ways your son can see your mom without endangering her life.

In the meantime, you can use a lot of the ways people have suggested for grandparents to keep in touch with grandchildren when they're living far away. There are many suggestions here, and most of them consist of talking by phone or videophone or Skype (free!), video or audiorecording your mom reading books to your son so you can play the files for him, and recording your son talking to her so she can see/hear him.

Has anyone been in this situation? I'm guessing some of us may have been unable to see someone for a short period of time, but this is a permanent situation for them, it sounds like. Any ideas how to help them cope?

Q&A: virus-caused hives

Amy writes:

"My 23 month old son has been battling hives for the last 2.5 weeks.  Ata bad day, he'll have hives starting from his scalp all the way to the
bottom of his feet and everywhere in between.  On a good day, he will
have 3-4 patches on his stomach and groin area.  The doctor thinks this
is due to a viral infection and put him on oral steroids and Benadryl –
the steroids worked for a few days, but now the hives are back full
force.  Because it's viral, there's not much we can do except just wait
it out.  The doctor says it may take up to 6 weeks for it to completely
subside!  (If it doesn't subside at that point, they'll start running
some tests.)  Needless to say, the poor little guy is miserable and
itchy and clingy, and I feel terrible about giving him Benadryl over
and over again. 

Have you or any of your readers dealt with this?  Any home remedies to relieve the itching?"

I've got exactly nothing, except oatmeal baths. I might also try some kind of elimination diet to make it easier for his system to cycle through the virus and hives. (I'd cut wheat, and maybe dairy.) Readers?

Diagnose my malady, please

Please consider doing one of the Service Projects for this year if you missed yesterday's post!

So last night I started feeling an ache in my left pinky. And first it felt like my anxiety ache, but I did a full system check and had nothing to be anxious about (I was at book club drinking wine and talking about a fun project for a friend that I'll let you guys in one in a few weeks when I'm doing it). I did a little yoga breathing and forgot about it for about ten minutes, but then noticed the pain was still there and getting worse.

This morning, the pain is still there. Let me describe it, and then you can tell me what's wrong with me.

It feels like pain in the bone, but also in the soft tissue and skin of my pinky. It starts right about from the last knuckle (the one at the end of my finger) and extends about two inches down into my hand on that side. My other fingers are fine. It's a sharp, constant ache, not hot, but kind of round and smooth, if that makes any sense. When I've touched that finger with cold water it's like having a nerve drilled.

I should also mention that the night before I got chicken pox when I was 12 I got a backache that then spread to my entire body and felt exactly the same –skin pain and sensitivity to touch and cold. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning covered in pox. Since then, every 9-15 months I get an all-over body ache and sensitivity that goes away the next morning. This feels like that, only way more painful and concentrated in my left pinky.

So what's wrong with me? Knowing my history of carrying emotional stuff in my body part of me wonders if this is fear of the future. Another part of me thinks I'm just getting arthritis like all the women in my family have (it's the Scandinavian heritage, I think).

Do you think this is something I can cure by eating a ton of turkey and green bean casserole on Thursday?

Special needs of all sorts and the school year

I had a great time at the Phila area meetup yesterday. What an interesting, thoughtful, funny, snarky bunch of people.

One theme that came up a lot was that parents seem to be dealing with all kinds of issues with their kids and a variety of special needs, and things seem to be extra amped up now that school's in session.

Food allergies. ADHD. IEPs. Therapy. Learning disabilities. Movement issues. Autism/Asperger's. All kinds of stuff. I just think about these parents standing at the bottom of the cliff, looking up, knowing they're going to have to do such an incredible haul to get up to the top to make sure their kids are OK. It's exhausting just thinking about it.

And if you're thinking, "This doesn't affect me," well, it might, and you just aren't aware of it. I found out last week that the "nut-free and dairy-free classroom" notice for my son's class didn't just mean that one of the kids, A., wasn't allowed to ingest dairy. It means that if A. touches dairy or touches a kid who's touched dairy and hasn't washed hands in between, he puffs up like a big red itchy wheezing balloon. It would have been nice to know how serious it was, so that I'd avoid all dairy things in my son's lunch. I'd been putting cheese inside his sandwich on the logic that my son knew not to give bites to other kids in the lunchroom (bonus of my short-lived gluten intolerance–my son accepts food issues). But once I told my son about the other kid's allergy *he* said, "Oh, so I shouldn't bring cheese in my sandwich anymore in case I accidentally touch A. after I eat it!" Woulda been nice to know–for us *and* for A. and his mom–three weeks ago…

So, anyway, until I get the message boards up and running, could those of you who've been there (enu, hedra, etc.) provide some emotional support for the parents who are in the middle of a long process of advocating for their kids? Also, is there anywhere online a printable list of commercial snacks that comply to food allergy specifications? (Like a list of snacks that are GF, one that's dairy-free, one that's soy-free, etc.)

Q&A: Drunk Daddy

This is the post that's been stopping me from posting this week. I couldn't get past it, but still don't know exactly what to say.

Amy writes:

"I have been searching your siteand could not find advice or feedback on how to deal with Alcoholism in the
home. My spouse is an alcoholic. I, as a first time mom, am finding the stress
of juggling the sucking vortex of sleep disturbances/teething while watching the
clock from 4:30 till 5:00pm(is he coming home from work or is he stopping
for a "quickie" at the usual watering hole?) with the vigilance of a death
row inmate wating for a stay/phone call from the governor before the lethal
injection to be altogether too much for me. I am attending a weekly Al-anon
meeting, and thank God I can bring the baby along. I stay at home and have been
unable to get a sitter, let alone pay for one. We are living on one income
and it is just not making it.  Also, I have a weekly family therapy
session, and I have been taking the baby there too. It's a blessing that
our insurance for mental heath care does not require a co-pay! And I can go up
to 52 sessions a year! Whoo-hoo, cause I need 'em, I really do. Not only is
motherhood kicking my ass, but feeling something like a single parent was
something I hadn't bargained for.

    I say SOMETHING LIKE, because I
am not faced with leaving my baby with a childcare provider or family member
while going to work/school. Ugh. Hats off to you ladies and gents who are
doing this alone! My mom did it with five kids and when I ask her for advice,
she simply states, "honey, I can't even remember the Vietnam War. How am I
supposed to remember how I fed/dressed/diapered 5 kids on a police cadet's
salary in the sixities?

    So what to do, what to do. I
feel like I cannot leave the baby in his care and get out of the house alone for
a spell, which I need to do DESPARATELY-even if it is running errands on
the Mommy Clock. That's if he even makes it home at a reasonable hour. By
reasonable, I mean 7:30pm, for the whole bedtime routine. If he does make it
home, he usually is pretty buzzed or completely innebriated, so much so that I
cringe when he picks up the baby and walks around the house with him. Not like
he's ever dropped him, but it still makes me nervous. So husband might spend 1/2
hour with baby a day, sometimes, and then he generally passes out in front of
the TV. Husbands says he fell asleep, but I know better. Anyway, he's gonna do
what he's gonna do, while I am concentrating on everything else that needs to be
done, with safety first on my mind.

    I sent a few questions your way
this week regarding sleep and routine, etc., etc., and I feel my husband's
behavior (not spending time with our child, walking funny, talking funny when he
is home) is contributing to Grumpy's overall development, bar none the
loosey-gooseyness of our ever deteriorating schedule.

I am trying to get husband involved, with bath time
and feeding (we are in our first week of cereal 2x a day) but he can't be here
at any given time after work hours.

Should I give up, or will pressing the importance
of the routine issue become a routine in itself? He won't change diapers sober,
but he dotes on the baby after a few beers, let me tell you. Help! I feel like I
am searching for the tv remote in the bedcovers at night without waking the baby
in bed with me, and all I have to search with is a single foot and a dim
light at the end of the hall.

    How can a girl find a free
sitter? What are sitters charging nowadays? Who can you trust? My son, 6 months
old, is going through that clingy,teething,no-sleep stage; so in a way, I
feel the idea of handing him over to someone else is an impossible
dream, and therefore a moot point.What options do I have? My sanity is
involved here. I am nursing him round the clock, and daddy won't give a the
baby a bottle, unless he's been drinking, and even that
takes timing. Shit. This truely sucks.  

    If you choose to consider
posting this, please, you have my thanks. However, once I send this email, I
will delete it from my sent messages. I just don't want any more confrontation
from husband. It's hard enough getting to a weekly meeting; he's so defensive
and in denial."

Oh, girl. I'm just so sorry. This email is sucking the fight out of me just reading it, so I can't imagine how it must be to be living it.

First, get a free web-based email address from or or that's just yours. Don't let him know  you have it, and clear the browsing history of your browser before he comes home. Then email me back.

Now, here's what I want you to know, even if you can't do anything about it right now: This is not your fault, and you are built for something better than living in fear of someone in the throes of a disease he can't control and is denying. You are meant for something more, Something far better, and something that makes use of who you are and what you can be. And your son deserves far better than he's getting right now, too. You're going to have to leave. Even if you can't do it now, you know it. When you're ready to, you will. Thousands of women have done it and are doing it, so you can, too. And we'll be right here to help you.

And it's not safe for him to be in charge of your baby. When he's sober he might be a wonderful guy. But alcoholism changes people and makes them behave in ways that are not rational. Until he gets into recovery, you cannot trust him with your son. And there is nothing you can do to get him out of denial and into recovery. Your job is to protect your son and yourself. You are the family unit at this point, because your husband is allowing himself to be absent and dangerous. Asking for or trying to get help and responsibility from him is simply not an option, because he's deep into this illness and just can't be trusted.

It sounds like what you need right now is a friend with a child who can trade some babysitting with you. You can leave your child with her for a few hours and then she can leave her child with you for a few hours. (But please please don't take her child while your husband is home–his active alcoholism makes it an unsafe situation.)

I don't have personal experience with Al-Anon or AA, but from my outsider's perspective I wonder if you could approach anyone in your group to ask for some help. It sounds like the alcoholism is making *you* feel ashamed and is limiting your social contacts, and that's tragic. You need all the support you can get right now. Can someone who's been (or is in) either Al-Anon or AA comment about whether she could approach other people in the group, or if that's not something that's done? It just seems to me like those are people with whom Amy wouldn't have to pretend that everything is OK.

This post is dedicated to the memory of D.E., who died yesterday at the age of 37 from complications of alcoholism.

Does anyone have any words of support or advice for Amy? Any women who've gotten out of alcoholic situations? Any people who grew up in alcoholic homes? Any women who are crying reading this like I'm crying typing it?

Message boards for kids’ medical issues

Two emails in the same morning on this topic. Erin writes:

"My question is about my sweet pea, he's 15 weeks old and the poor thinghas 2 problems, He's been diagnosed with torticollis and we're going to
therapy for that, which is super frustrating. He also has recently had
x-rays that indicate he might have craniofacial dysostosis. I don't
know a whole lot about either problem but what i've read about it
freaks me out. Have you or the readers possibly had experience with
either of these?"

Then Danielle writes:

"My son (fourteen months) has a ton of medical issues. Do you have any
advice about where to find message boards for support that don't suck?
Would you consider starting some message boards on Ask Moxie? I'd
really like to be in touch with other moms going through similar
circumstances but don't know where to start."

To answer the last question, I do think about AskMoxie message boards often, and know there's no way I can do them now, but hope to have them up around this time next year. I hadn't even thought about having a medical issues support board, but will definitely add one when it's time.

The immediate question, though, is what other sites do people use now (the important word) that are good, solid sources for information and support? If you've got suggestions for good sites on different medical topics, please post them. And if you have specific info on torticollis and/or craniofacial dystosis, please clue us in to that.