Sunday, October 12, 2008

my children, the leper and the mutant

Six year-old Lucy had a spot on her leg last week which we all believed to be a bug bite. Lucy herself was quite indignant, accosting me to shout about fleas, which are always considered my responsibility given that I am the one who brought feline Americans into our home (earlier this year we had a stubborn flea issue which was not responding to Advantage -- I was dosing poor old Al weekly, when it's supposed to be once a month. Then I happened to read a column by the always magnificent Bug Guy, who recommended rubbing fleazy pets with food-grade diatomaceous earth. This worked like a charm, and coincidentally saved me considerable amounts of money, as I was dropping cash on Advantage at a scary rate. One afternoon of pure cat hell, as they were all rolled about in diatomaceous earth like biscuits in flour, and no more fleas were seen). Lucy showed me her leg on Wednesday afternoon, and I realized it wasn't a bug bite. Already I'd known it wasn't a flea bite, as the fleas were long gone, but I'd suspected a mosquito. But it was a staph infection.

We're all too familiar with staph infections here. The Sober Husband had a recurring staph infection for much of the year, which was thankfully vanquished with antibiotics. Poor Iris Uber Alles sported a staph lesion herself over the summer, which broke her perfect record of never having needed prescription medication (oh, how I used to posit Iris as the definitive proof of the health of a vegetarian diet. "I never ate meat when I was pregnant with her, and she's never had any except a mouthful by accident. And look at her! She's in the 99th percentile for height, and she's never been on antibiotics in her life!") Iris is quite bitter at the loss of her streak of perfect health and has taken to rather competitively asking sundry adults when they had their first antibiotics.

The Sober Husband, as he likes to do with every bad thing, attributed his staph issues to my fostering kittens. "It stands to reason that since I live in an environment where you're always administering antibiotics, I'd come down with something." I felt it was more likely that he'd picked up the staph at Johns Hopkins, where he spent quite a bit of time earlier at his dying friend's bedside. Hospitals are hotbeds of staph. The Sober Husband scored against me when he got our physician to decree that I should cease fostering kittens for six months. However, I felt I won that round when I discovered that the veterinary opthalmologist treating my poor blind kittens, Helen Keller and Ray Charles, had had actual MRSA. This vet was astonished to hear that any physician would blame this on cats. This entertaining and erudite doctor explained his own treatment in most satisfyingly gory detail (raising his arm, he indicated where some flesh had been actually excised from his armpit), vehemently and articulately denied any link between his MRSA and any cats or cat medicines, and gave me the name of a researcher who has studied the issues of staph in animals.

Thereafter when the Sober Husband bitched about cats, I contended that he should have the more strenuous treatment my dear veterinary opthalmologist had endured, excision of the staph-ridden flesh. After all, my vet had not only recovered from MRSA but restored Helen Keller and Ray Charles's vision, which our regular vet had given up on, so obviously he was a genius. (I did, however, in the interests of marital harmony not take in any more kittens and agreed to take a break after Helen and Ray, whom I felt should be grandfathered in. Helen and Ray are scheduled to be turned in to the shelter for adoption this Tuesday).

In any event, we were fast becoming experts on staph infections. We'd read a lengthy article in the New Yorker about drug-resistant infections; we'd discussed staph with various doctors; the Sober Husband and Iris Uber Alles had lived through staph infections. So recognizing Lucy's spot as a staph infection seemed rather unnewsworthy to me. I arranged for the Sober Husband to take Lucy to the pediatrician the next day, as he would be better able to explain which medications he'd taken.

After the appointment, I was shocked to hear that he'd authorized having a culture taken from poor Lucy's leg, and he described the pediatrician as being very aggressive in draining the wound, (Lucy was unable to bring herself to describe this other than to say that it was the worst pain she'd ever experienced).

"But I was just channeling you," he said defensively. "I was thinking about how you wanted me to have mine excised."

"But that was YOU, not Lucy. Poor Lucy."

The next morning I kept Lucy home from school on the basis that she'd had a slight fever the day before and that I didn't know the school's position on staph. The Sober Husband disagreed with me strongly. "Look at her, she's fine." He wanted to take her to school and go in to inquire about the policy and then bring her home only if she were not allowed. Lucy, who is not yet adjusted to kindergarten, panicked at hearing that. "No, MOMMY'S IDEA!! MOMMY'S IDEA!"

I called the school and told the receptionist that Lucy was home with a staph infection and that I felt the school should be informed. Later that morning I got a rather dramatic call from one of the school's administrators, who told me that she'd spoken to the parent who, as a doctor, advised the school on health issues. "That parent says this could be MRSA and we need to start treating all the kindergarten children immediately." The woman was obviously frazzled. "What is it? Can you prove it isn't MRSA?"

I pointed out that as Lucy's culture had been taken at 4:00 PM the prior day, I couldn't prove a thing. I was left with the distinct feeling that my child had become a leper. Indeed, the school appeared to go through considerable agita before issuing a cautious statement to the parents later in the day. I went through a volte-face, becoming retrospectively grateful that the Sober Husband had consented to the culture.

I called the Sober Husband to vent, but he blamed me. "You shouldn't have called the school. You should have kept your mouth shut. How do we even know it's staph anyway, before we have the culture? No one said it was staph."

"We KNOW it's staph," I said. "And we have a DUTY to the other parents to inform them."

Once again he was a thoroughly unsatisfying conversational partner. A friend who is actually a teacher did better, remarking incredulously, "What a bunch of drama queens!" and reassuringly, "Of course you had to call and tell them."

Then it was time for another volte-face, as the pediatrician took time to phone us on Sunday afternoon to inform us that Lucy has MRSA. Lucy's school had, in retrospect, not been unduly alarmist. But! In the pediatrician's expert opinion, Lucy was ready to go back to school. "So long as she has a bandaid on, it's fine. MRSA responds to the antibiotic she is taking." Lucy's fever had gone away, her lesion had shrunk immensely, and she was extremely energetic. It was hard to think of her as a MRSA victim.

Lucy wanted to see what a staph bug looked like. An internet search on staph yielded hit after hit with scary headlines about "killer infections" and "deadly skin disease." I couldn't stand to read more than a few.

The pediatrician's cheery opinion notwithstanding, I don't have the nerve to take Little Leprous Lucy back to kindergarten before the school gives its consent. Given that there was such alarm before at the mere possibility of MRSA, now that there is an actual MRSA diagnosis, I quail to think of the response.

Of course with any trouble, there is someone with schadenfreude, and that person is nine year-old Iris Uber Alles. Iris is positively giddy over Lucy's troubles (although quite angry that Lucy was allowed to stay home from school and spend a quiet day with Mommy). I had a quiet conversation with the Sober Husband about Lucy's infection while Iris basked in a tub behind closed doors. "And I just KNOW Iris is going to run around saying, 'Lucy has MRSA! Lucy has MRSA!' so happily." I paused. "And I know she's listening. Hass, are you listening?"

"Yes," came a muted voice from behind doors.

It's become clear over the past few days that Iris has bizarrely acute hearing. Once I was whispering to Lucy, herself a child with especially good hearing, in the kitchen, and Iris shouted from across the house, "I CAN HEAR YOU!" I was frankly astonished and incredulous until she repeated the text of my whisper (which had been about the fact that Iris was unusually crabby and Lucy should avoid being in the same room with her for some time). "Iris, you can hear THAT? That's just wrong. It's superhuman."

It had already been established that Iris had freakishly good eyesight. Earlier in her life Iris lusted for glasses, given that a friend of hers and her mother wear them. She complained and complained about needingn glasses until I took her to have her eyes tested, where we learned that her vision was far better than 20-20. "If anyone asks," said the cheery opthalmologist, "You can tell them you have the closest thing to x-ray vision there is!"

Additionally, Iris's birth proved a special point, that the Sober Husband -- and Iris herself-- are mutants. The Sober Husband has one strange ankle, where the little bone bump present on most ankles is doubled, with one above the other. This was always considered to be a mere bone spur, of no particular interest, until Iris was born with the same double ankle on the same side. As Iris's pediatrician admitted, this shows that it's a genetic mutation she inherited from her father. Iris is quite rightfully proud of her mutant nature, to which I've taken to ascribing her freakishly good hearing and vision. "Use your powers for good, not evil!" I exhort her regularly, which only seems to set her to pondering how best one could use super hearing for evil.

My poor little leper and my mischievous mutant, what will become of them? And who will prevail in their mighty battles? And will the valiant Lucy be allowed back to kindergarten?


kaila said...

We dealt with a bit of the MRSA ourselves this year. The Oilybeauhunk had it on his waistline. It had to be lanced, drained and stuffed with cotton. 6 weeks of varying antibiotics and me following him everywhere with the Lysol can and hand sanitizer, later, his scar is still highly visible - but no one else got sick. Not even the cats. ;) Good luck!

Amy said...

This is awesome. You could totally be making money from this.

(Sorry I've been involved in a teleclass lately where the teacher makes oodles of money from her blog and it seems to have warped my thinking)

Captain Steve said...

Staphylococcus aureus is a Gram-positive cocci that forms clusters, which means that on a Gram stained slide, it looks like little clusters of purple grapes. Poor Lucy, that sucks.

Maryn McKenna said...

There's a fair amount of research now on MRSA in humans and their pets (OK, our pets; me = cat-owner; umm, custodian; umm slave). The consensus is that we give it to them, not v.v. The bug can live on them long enough to give it back to us after a course of antibiotics is finished, though - so if you see any recurrences, it's not a bad idea to get your animals nasal swab cultures just to be sure.

Anonymous said...

"...The bug can live on them long enough to give it back to us..."

And since cats often roam, they could get it from someone / somewhere else and then give it to you when they return. This makes them a transmission vector.

Stick with dogs! They're too smart to get MRSA and they only get fleas when they're around cats.

Dread Pirate Davi said...

Your kids should have their own comic book.

Anonymous said...

Cool kids! Wow, I wish I have superpowers too.

Missy said...

Poor Lucy! The school totally overreacted. I had a child come to me saying he felt "puny" last week (his mother and I both find he's a little grandpa soul in an 8 year old body) and going to the nurse, she saw the staph infection on his knee.

The custodians disinfected the room with some Clorox, and everyone's been just fine.

I know what you mean about super hearing, though. We can holler for children to come to supper and no response. We can stand in the same kitchen and discuss moving to another city for job reasons and the kitchen is immediately full of hysterical teens.

Go figure. :-0

Anonymous said...

only one thing to say. Go here They're offerin free samples. It's a life saver.

Amy said...

I wonder if one of those cool little heat guns they use for pimples would work on staph.