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Everything seemed normal. Our 9-month-old was teething, and, as any parent knows, that means a slight fever and a lot of extra drool.

He also had what looked like a diaper rash. A tiny patch of little red bumps on his butt. But it went away in a day.

No worries, right?

Well… the next day we got a note from the school that “Some children in the infant class had been diagnosed with ‘Hand, Food, Mouth Disease,’ or Coxsackievirus…” and to “be on the lookout for symptoms.”

Oh no!

But a quick Google informed us that the symptoms were pox-like blisters on (you guessed it) hands, feet, and mouths. And (foreshadowing here) “…not common in adults.”

Pshew! Thanks Google!

Our kid had none of that stuff. He was just teething, and had a little diaper rash. Very normal stuff. Right?

“I now remember, vividly, the exact moment the little bugger drooled right in my face.”

Gross Face Kid

HFM is super grodey.

Around that time I was lifting him over my head, he was giggling, it was awesome, and… plop! He got me. Yes, it was gross, but it comes with the territory as a parent. And I thought nothing of it at the time. Well, besides “ewww!”

Turns out, that was all it took.

Ironically I was almost over being sick with a chest cold (that the baby gave me a week prior, the little petri dish) so when I woke up a few mornings later feeling very, very icky I assumed it was a relapse of the same cold.

But then the headache crept in. And, wow, what a headache it was. A ballooning, deep, dull pressure behind my eyes that Advil (and later Tylenol) couldn’t really touch.

The added bummer was I was on a business trip, and scheduled to fly back home at noon that day (landing at 3). So I was counting the hours until I was tucked safely, and warmly into bed.

Well, of course, the flight was delayed, and with each passing minute I grew sicker and sicker. My throat started hurting. Fever, rising. And once I managed to get on the plane the compression/decompression in my ears was simply insane. I had never been this sick on a plane before.

*For the record, I don’t think I infected anyone on the flight. I kept to myself, tried to sleep, and was not “sneezy” or otherwise leaking fluids.

But I was not well. Not at all.

I had managed to call my doctor before takeoff, at that point thinking it was Strep, an ear infection, or a bacterial chest infection from the cold, and had a Z-Pack waiting at my pharmacy for me when I arrived. When finally I got home I greedily took the first day’s allotment of the antibiotic regimen.

But that night, even though I was chocked-full of OTC medications (Robotussin, Advil, Benadryl, the whole aisle, really) I descended into total misery. Sicker and sicker. I couldn’t sleep, and I emailed-in sick for work in the middle of the night, because I knew something was wrong. Bad-wrong.

“Then I noticed the first tiny bump on my finger.”

The next morning, under blankets on the couch, trying to pay attention to a movie, I saw it. Red. Tiny. Slightly puffy.

If you’ve ever had a small splinter from, say, doing yard work, you’ll know what this is like. Some miniscule prickle has lodged under your skin. Too small to really bother you… until it becomes infected. Not bad, not painful, but just enough of an irritation for your body to attack it with it’s built-in defense mechanisms, creating a little, raised, red bump.

So there I was: thinking I had a tiny splinter, poking at this thing, convinced there was a sliver of something under there. Itching, tingling, pulsating.

I decided to leave it alone, (me is smart) and, my plan was, if it got worse, I’d deal with it after the antibiotics did their thing. After all, if it was a splinter, they’d probably help with the infection.

But then it started to itch. Which is not uncommon, either, for a splinter. But it really itched, and by by the evening I noticed I had another tiny red bump, on an adjacent finger. And it itched like crazy too.

By this point my fever had subsided a bit, but my throat was still on fire, and I had zero appetite. So I went to sleep with some more Advil and some throat lozenges, thinking “Fever’s going down, I’ll be out of the woods by the morning.”

Nope.

I only managed to sleep for an hour or two before I woke up with a start: both of my hands were itching uncontrollably. And when I say itching, I mean ITCHING. Intense and unavoidable. It was unlike any itch I’ve ever felt before. It was simply un-scratchable.

“It felt like I had poison ivy, deep underneath my skin… on my bones.”

Hand with bumps

Seriously, WTF?

Needless to say I couldn’t sleep much. For hours I just kept tossing and turning, and itching and scratching. Rinse, repeat, times infinity (and woke my wife up several times).

The next morning (day 3) I had more red bumps on my hands, and they all felt like they were on fire. So that’s when I decided to consult Dr Google again.

“Red bumps hands itchy” gave me a lot “eczema” results. Also a lot of “dermatitis,” “rash” and “allergic reaction” came up, too.

“Phew!” I thought. Just a little rash. All good.

(We’ve all been there. You just want to believe.)

But then I clicked on “images” (because ‘images’ is often times the best way to get the answers we seek, weirdly). And there I was! Or, rather, someone who’s hands looked exactly like mine; and I clicked the image.

“Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.”

And…boom!

Immediately my brain did one of those “waka waka” back-in-time things like you see in the movies, where the all the instances that lead up to the present situation flash before your eyes. I could literally see the email from the school in my mind. I pictured those little red bumps on my kid’s butt when I was changing his diaper. I saw that drop of drool falling from his mouth and hitting me in the face. Slow-mo. Plop.

“This is some 3rd World sh$¡t right here.”

So, suddenly, my search term was much more specific.

Here’s the aggregate of what’s out there:

  1. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease / Coxsackievirus
    • is not the same as “Foot and Mouth Disease” aka “Mad Cow Disease”
    • Children under age 10 are most often affected.
    • Usually occurs in the summer and early fall.
    • You can catch hand-foot-and-mouth disease if:
    • A person with the infection sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose near you
    • You touch your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by the virus, such as a toy or doorknob
    • You touch the stools or the fluid from blisters of an infected person
    • Complete recovery occurs in 5 to 7 days. *
  2. Symptoms include:
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Loss of appetite
    • Rash with very small blisters on the hands, feet, and diaper area that may be tender or painful when pressed
    • Sore throat
    • Ulcers in the throat (including tonsils), mouth, and tongue
    • Hand foot and mouth disease usually is mild and over within a week. Treatment is directly toward relief of symptoms (fever and sore throat). *

* At least TWO of these points are complete BS, at least for myself and the many other adults who’ve posted about it recently.

“Complete recovery occurs in 5 to 7 days.”
Nope. Try 10-14 days, with scabs remaining long after, and peeling up to 2 months after.

“Hand foot and mouth disease usually is mild…”
Try again internet. The “usually” here is simply misused. At the very least it should be caveated with a “…but severe cases have been documented, so be prepared for a possibly rough ride.”

“Most of the information on HFM on the internet is for parents, treating their kids.”

Why is this the net-net on HFM? Probably because most of the information on HFM on the internet is for parents, treating their kids. Which makes sense because kids are historically the ones that usually get the Coxsackie virus. Small kids crawl around on the floor; they drool, cough and sneeze on each other; and put the same toys in their disgusting little mouths.

The problem is that most of the information available, from all the prominent medical websites, echoed the “adults don’t usually get it” refrain. Which simply isn’t helpful, in the grand scheme of things. Because it lets you put your guard down.

My wife and I would have certainly been more careful if, instead of “…adults usually don’t get it…” was amended with “…is extremely contagious, and children often don’t exhibit symptoms…” If it were written like that things might have been a tad different for me.

But, oh well. It’s ultimately my responsibility and my fault. Such is life as a grown up.

As a result of this fairly blasé attitude by the larger medical sites, the second page of search results nets a lot of articles written by parents (like this one) essentially saying “HFM ‘Affects Just Kids?’… really?! Ha! Look at my hands!”

“What most “official” sites also gloss over is how incredibly painful HFM can be.”

Here are some of the more helpful “personal” blog articles I found. And big props and thanks to those “normal people” who took the time to document their experiences.

http://unsupermomma.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/hand-foot-and-mouth-disease-sucks/

http://imgur.com/a/h8jfU

http://www.kentucky.com/2014/06/15/3293253/tips-on-coping-with-hand-foot.html

It’s important to point out that, most of the time, children tend to breeze through a lot of illnesses that adults struggle with (case in point: my 9-month-old barely got any symptoms). It happens with colds and flu all the time.

Of course, sometimes kids get walloped by illnesses that adults breeze through. So there is really no hard and fast “rule.” But with this particular strain of HFM the parents seem to be bearing the brunt of the pain and suffering.

Is this a different strain? Who knows. But over the last year-or-so there certainly seems to be a ton of adults suddenly getting bad cases of this “kids’ disease.”

Add to that doctors’ current reluctance to prescribe true pain relief medication, in general, (thank you pill poppers!), the wide-held belief that HFM “…isn’t a big deal in adults” is counterproductive. After all, if you follow the advice on WebMd, CDC, etc, you’d think you easily can treat HFM with Tylenol or Advil.

“Make no mistake: HFM really, really sucks.”

Combine that misinformation with the fact that this probably is a new strain (or at least a new varietal), doctors nationwide are being caught offguard.

This is a real shame, because HFM is a hell of a thing.

So back to my personal saga:

At the end of the 3rd day of this super fun magical journey, my hands had way more bumps on them, and it literally felt like they were on fire. The itching and burning had increased exponentially, and I found myself loosing my sanity a little bit: I literally could not get comfortable. I was inhaling OTC medications, and none of it was doing anything to help.

I tried all of the over-the-counter anti-itch medications (literally, all of them), and there was no change at all. No help. Not even a hint of relief.

So, getting a tad panicky, I called my doctor, and he seemed generally amazed that I actually had HFM: “Wait, the “kids’ disease?”

Like most doctors, he doesn’t trust google-self-diagnosis, but after I gave him a rundown of the facts, and sent him snaps of my hands, he agreed that I was right-on.

He went on and on about how surprised he was that an adult “actually got this disease!”

Apparently he’d been Googling, too.

This is where I thank my lucky stars that I was prescribed some actual, bona fide pain killers. I was getting really worried about making it through the rest of that day, and night. But I did, thanks to the meds.

“Hallelujah, thanks be to the Gods for opiates!”

Opium Poppies

The only thing that remotely helps.

Look. I don’t drink, or do drugs of any kind… but those heavy-duty painkillers were that important to me getting through this. I really can’t imagine what I would’ve done without them.

They really didn’t “numb” the pain, but rather separated me from it. And they allowed me to sit gingerly on the couch, and sort of watch TV, with my tongue hanging out, and drooling a little bit. Otherwise I would’ve probably jumped out the window or something.

A lot of people describe the pain and itching of Hand, Foot & Mouth as being similar to Shingles. I’ve never had Shingles (thankfully) but it’s apparently the same kind of “nerve pain” that’s incredibly intense and all encompassing. Based on this experience I really, really don’t want to get Shingles, either.

Day 5 it had spread to my feet.

I have “guy feet.” They’re tough and calloused. So not as many bumps this time, as tiny red splotches underneath the skin. They were just as painful and itchy as the blotches on my hands, but now I couldn’t walk, either. Yay.

I noticed that I was starting to have problems with my face, too. My nose had started leaking yellow fluid (yes, gross, I know), and I had random patches on my face that were obviously part of the overall program. I even had icky scabs in my earlobe, from that stupid decision to pierce my left ear, back in 11th grade. Even my forehead, and chest had a blister or two.

“Lesions.”

Wow. Just, wow.

Thinking about the overall placement of the lesions, they seemed to crop up in places that I had previous injuries; even decades old. Places I had had a cut, or a burn, or (on my face) where I usually get a pimple. I’m not sure if that means anything, but it was curious placement to me. Almost as if it was attacking my weakest points.

Which brings me to the word: LESIONS. And OMG what lesions they were.

You know you’re in trouble when you not only have one “lesion” (a foreboding word by itself), but instead having plural “lesions” on your body. Any time you have “lesions” you’re pretty much screwed.

Lesions: quite a mental picture that one little word conjures up.

I’m not going to post any pictures of my specific “lesions,” but it was all pretty gross. And when my HR person was curious why I was insisting on working from home on days 8-12, I threatened to send her instagrams of my “lesions.” She took my word for it.

Day 6 saw the blisters begin to scab over, most everywhere. The pain was reduced a tad in my hands, but still quite present in my feet. Even walking to the kitchen or bathroom was a “thing.” I was getting tired of being on the pain killers, too, so I was thankfully able to stop taking them. I was still in pain, and very uncomfortable, but at least not at the levels I was.

Day 7 my hands started to become numb.

How do I describe this? Okay. Have you ever gotten dried Super Glue on one of your fingertips? Well, that’s what my hands felt like, but with a little dash of lingering nerve pain thrown in for kicks.

Day 8 my hands were even more numb, but now my feet felt like they had been dipped in Super Glue, too. But the pain was still making its presence known in the background, now appearing more in “waves” than before. Which is better, for sure, but still there.

And now I’m stircrazy because I’ve been in the house for pretty much a week straight (half because I’m still contagious, and half because it hurts to move).

It’s taken 8 days for my appetite to return, but I was finally hungry again (very hungry) but for the most part I can only eat really bland foods. Which is boring and annoying.

“Day 8…still working from home: typing with hot dog fingers, and monitoring the “ooziness–to–scabiness ratio” of my many, many lesions.”

By this point I was really getting sick of this sick. I was still sequestered away from my family, and things were just barely, slowly starting to clear up.

But I was definitely on the upswing from Day 8 – onward.

In the end it took me 10 days to get to a point where I was able to mingle with my family again. And 14 days – 2 full weeks – to go back to work. Now, maybe I could’ve returned to civilization sooner? Maybe I wasn’t officially contagious past, say, Day 9 (when I was relatively pain free, and more “scabby” than “oozie?”) Who knows for sure. I was dropping disgusting scabs all the way up until the 2 week mark… so are those scabs contagious? Dunno. But they’re disgusting. And if I can do my work from home (I can) I will.

Infect the office with this terrible thing? Nope. I’m not gong to be “that guy.” No sir. No way.

“The last thing I want to do is be known as “Patient Zero” for a workplace outbreak.”

Old trial photo

An image of me, after giving my entire office this disease

Days 14 my hands started peeling like crazy. Huge, white flaps of skin with pink, tender flesh revealed underneath (so playing guitar was not an option). This meant I still had to wear gloves.

Day 20 my feet finally stared peeling.

And here we are, now: Day 30. My feet are almost done peeling, but there are still some residual white “callouses” on my hands and feet, which I’m assuming will peel off at some point due to normal skin replacement cycles.

The odd thing is I still get occasional bouts of minor itching in my hands and feet. I really, really hope that eventually goes away, too.

“Day 30: WTF?”

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease can be a hideous, horrible thing. It certainly was for me, and I’m a very healthy dude. I don’t get sick much. I’ve had chicken pox, and all my vaccinations. Etc.

But this came out of nowhere, and rocked my world for almost a month.

HFM is insidious, and probably more contagious than we’d like to admit: especially kid-to-adult.

It doesn’t take a kid to drool on your face, either. It could be a sneeze. Changing a diaper without surgical gloves on. Touching the same doorknob, or even drinking (by mistake) out of the same glass.

It’s not smallpox-contagious. But it’s certainly really-damn-crazy-contagious.

“Is this actually a new strain?”

There’s a noted spike in recent cases, in kids and adults, around the country, right now, as of this posting. So is this a new variation of HFMD? Is it due to the huge influx of immigrant kids, and our overwhelmed intake/screening procedures? Or does it have something to do with the idiotic “anti vaccine” movement? Who knows. But those are the leading theories for the recent uptick in reported cases. But it’s certainly happening, and it’s caught the attention of several news sites recently; so something is up lately:

http://www.kctv5.com/story/25960774/doctors-warn-of-spike-of-hand-foot-mouth-disease

http://abc13.com/health/more-kids-getting-hand-foot-and-mouth-disease/148632/

http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2014/07/09/doctors-seeing-more-cases-of-hand-foot-mouth-disease-in-kids-this-summer/

http://www.kake.com/home/headlines/Hand-foot-and-mouth-disease-on-the-rise-266818881.html

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-08-24/health/bs-hs-handfootandmouth-disease-outbreak-has-parents-worried-20120823_1_hopkins-doctors-hand-foot-and-mouth-disease-outbreak

As always, the best defense is always education. But, if you’re unlucky enough to contract HFM, your only real options are pain management, and physical seclusion. To that point:

“Drugs are good, Mmkay?”

Remember: do not think that over-the-counter medications will help you. This is about condition management. There is no “cure.” Go to your doctor and demand proper pain relief, and do not let them talk you out of it. Demand good drugs! Do not leave your Doctor’s office without them! Doctors have been trained in recent years to avoid prescribing decent painkillers (a modern mistake). But decent painkillers are really the only thing that will get you through this.

That, and time.

So, anyways. I hope this helps somebody out there. Hand, Foot, Mouth came out of nowhere, and knocked me on my ass for over a month. It’s one of the worst things I’ve experienced in my life. And I really wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Okay, maybe I’d wish on my worst enemy… because, honestly, HFM would be a great way to torture someone.

UPDATE:

Coxsackievirus is the gift that just keeps on giving. Wow. Now my fingernails are falling off.

It’s more than 3 months after I was baptized in Coxackie, and a week ago I first started noticing some “patches” under the base of my fingernails. Didn’t think much of it. Until they started to grow out a bit, and the flaky part of the nail started catching on my clothes, and sheets. Really weak, “broken” patches on several of my fingernails and both of my thumbnails. I finally put two and two together and realized that this was a remnant of the lesions that were under my nails! Way under, below the cuticle. The lesions had harmed the nail from underneath.

So now I have a collection of clear fingernail polish that I have to keep dousing my nails in, and I already have one of them wrapped in bandages to keep the nail from being ripped off. Because it’s coming up from the bottom, it’s a bit tricky, because the top half of the nail is 100% healthy, and properly attached to the nail bed. So if I’m in for a treat if I catch this on something and rip the nail off by accident. I DO NOT want that to happen.

My feet are still peeling too, and I’m starting to think a couple of my toenails are going to start getting funky (they grow a lot slower than fingernails).

Yay.

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