Two weeks ago, my sixteen year old son mumbled, “I feel like I am getting sick.”
I heard him. I didn’t acknowledge it any further. Didn’t seem like such a big deal. I thought, “Ok. What else is new?”
A few days later I could hear the nasal stuffiness in his voice. I was still unalarmed. Typically before my kids come down with something of significance their asthma will kick in. I heard nothing.
Sunday, March 13th, Son #1 accompanied me to a dance competition for his sister. We sat in a theater shoulder to shoulder for nearly 8 hours. Nothing seemed unusual.
We got into the car on that wonderfully yet surprisingly warm afternoon to return home. Son #1 commented that his eyes were stinging. A few minutes later he grumbled about a headache. We had not eaten, so I figured he needed food. The trip home was a short 40 minutes.
By the time we got home, my usually hot-blooded son was shivering and complaining of being cold during a 70 degree sunny afternoon. I knew this could not be a good sign. He took his temperature and sure enough it was 101. Over the course of the following hour, it climbed to 103.5. He took to his bed right away complaining of a significant headache and terrible body aches.
Before going to bed I gave him ibuprofen and told him to sleep in and I would see him in the morning. But early the next morning he was up with his 103.5 fever complaining of an extremely sore throat and much nasal congestion. His body aches continued, and he felt drained. No appetite at all. He retreated to his room to his bed.
On Monday, I called school to inform them of his absence and heard there was quite a bit of influenza and strep going around. As I watched his symptoms and progression of illness, I felt confident this illness showed the ugly signs of influenza and he was sequestered to the family room in the finished basement near his bedroom.
On Tuesday, his body aches continued and his fever continued to climb to over 104 even on a constant dispensing of Advil. His congestion seemed to be worsening and finally I was hearing some significant asthma coughing. I phoned the doctor to relay his symptoms and we talked about where to move from there. We agreed that it seemed to be the flu. She offered an appointment to check him over but I declined feeling that I could handle what we had happening. He had not eaten since Sunday, but was continuing to take in a good quantity of fluids.
On Wednesday Son #1 continued in much the same manner. He complained that his throat was very sore so I went out to get popsicles and such, knowing that his throat was bothering him. I know that I should have considered “strep” but Son #1 has never had strep throat in his life so it didn’t seem to fit the profile. His temperature began to climb Wednesday evening well beyond the 104 we had seen the past couple of days. Once he hit 105.1, I’ll admit I felt a bit more concerned. It was then that I began using cool compresses on him and alternating the Advil with acetaminophen. We finally managed to get the fever to the 103.5 range again.
During all of these days, he was pretty much in and out of sleep. Much like a dishrag, complaining very little, but obviously feeling terrible. My husband and I were concerned about this flu hitting either one of us and the path of destruction it would leave in its wake. We washed our hands like crazy.
Thursday morning, Son #1 greeted me with a new complaint. An earache. Our doctor’s office is closed on Thursday’s so I asked him if he wanted to go to a “quick” clinic. He was not interested. His fever climbed to 104 again. He presented with another symptom- a swollen and sore tongue. I immediately “Googled” this and was unable to come to any conclusions. We continued to feed him Advil, acetaminophen, popsicles, ginger ale with crushed ice while praying it was almost over. After all it had been 5 days now – the next day just HAD to be better, right? On Thursday evening, prior to him going to bed, I told him that I would call the doctor in the morning to have his ear checked out for an ear infection.
On Friday morning, Son #1 called me from the basement. I went downstairs – and he stood there looking at me. “Something is wrong. My neck really hurts.” I immediately had a flashback to Son #2 and his meningitis days. But this seemed clearly different – it couldn’t be.
I went over to feel his head and he had no fever. But the glands in his neck were very swollen. I called the doctor and made the appointment.
She did a complete examination. As she looked at him thoroughly. He was completely intolerant of any palpitation of the glands in his neck but the doctor pointed out that if he had “mumps” he would not have the outline of his jaw. He would be too swollen. I laughed at the thought of mumps as he had received both of his vaccinations. So we moved on…Mononucleosis. This was not an unthinkable prospect.
She sent us to the lab at the hospital for a battery of blood tests including the “Monospot”. I wasn’t sure what the chances of him having it would be – as he had mononucleosis when he was in the 3rd grade. But the doctor had explained there were 3 different strains – perhaps this was one he didn’t have before.
Off to the lab we went. They drew the blood and we headed home. Son #1 was feeling pretty exhausted by this point and had begun to run a low grade fever again. While it was still under 100 – running a fever of that magnitude for that length of time had been draining – not to mention the fact that he had not eaten any food since the previous Sunday. My son retreated to his basement couch and napped.
Just a couple of hours later he awoke and was very concerned with the amount of swelling that continued to build in his neck. He was having trouble swallowing and had no mobility in his neck without severe pain. The doctor phoned me shortly to inform me that the Monospot had been negative. I told her about his neck – how incredibly swollen it was. She was concerned that he had an infected tonsil that perhaps she had not been able to see due to the limited mobility that my son had in opening his mouth. She sent us to the ER.
Once in the ER they put in an IV and took several tubes of blood again. They performed a strep test that was nearly impossible due to the fact that my son’s neck was so swollen he could not open his mouth or stick out his tongue. The pain in his neck as they pressed into his throat for the strep was obvious. But the test came back negative. (Our doctor had just looked at this throat a few hours ago and told me she could see that it was not strep.) The ER doctor said she was confident it was not a tonsil issue but that his glands were extremely enlarged – one more than the other. They then performed an influenza test on him – that my Son #1 swears they “touched his brain”. Then they told us they were sending him for a cat scan to look for an abscess in the gland. So we waited.
Finally he was taken for his cat scan. Afterwards while we were waiting for the results, there was a shift change. New doctor. New nurses. But before our nurse left, she poked her head in the door and told us that even if my son’s cat scan came back normal, she had overheard the doctor say she was considering keeping him for observation overnight. So we prepared to stay.
After the shift change, the new doctor came in and told us that his cat scan did not show an abscess but had showed there was cellulitis around the glands. She would release us with antibiotics and we were to see our doctor right away on Monday morning. Before she left and called our doctor, she told us that she didn’t believe that this was bacterial. She believed that what he had was viral. She then said, “We are seeing a lot of instances in kids his age where their inoculations have worn off and this could be Mumps. Anyhow – if the swelling gets worse or he has trouble breathing, come back to the ER.”
Now the red flag went up in my brain. Two doctors examined my son and used the word Mumps. But it is easy to dismiss one of those childhood illnesses knowing they had been vaccinated properly.
We returned home late that night. I stopped to get him a milkshake to push those antibiotic horse pills down. We pumped him up with his meds and off to bed he went.
Now meanwhile, my daughter was preparing to dance in a competition on Saturday afternoon. We had registered her weeks ago and she was planning to dance two solos that afternoon. We had much to attend to before the next day. Juggling the excitement for my daughter with the worry for my son was so tiring.
The next morning while I was preparing my daughter’s costumes, Son #1 appeared in my room. I could not believe my eyes. I looked up and he said, “I think it is worse.” As I stared at him I heard our doctor words,
“… if he had “mumps” he would not have the outline of his jaw.”
His ears, neck, jaw and chin had disappeared. It was all one mass of swelling. He could not open his mouth, turn his head and was in a great deal of pain. I immediately “Googled” the “MUMPS”. I read the symptoms…the timeline…there was no doubt in my mind.
I paged the doctor right away and told her everything. We agreed that if it was Mumps there would be nothing they could do for him since it was viral. She said that if he became dehydrated, had a fever of 106 or over or couldn’t breathe to return to the ER. Otherwise he would have to wait it out.
Thankfully, though his glands were absolutely enormous, he was only running a low grade fever at this point. He seemed to be in better spirits as his siblings came into the room to look at him and one by one were astounded by his appearance. Son #2 bounded in and became hysterical with laughter pointing out that he looked like he was wearing a fat suit. After trying not to laugh because it hurt his neck, Son #1 retreated to his basement refuge – too much excitement had made him tired.
The doctor and I agreed to continue the antibiotics until we saw her again Monday morning – just in case the cellulitis thing was an issue. I felt hugely relieved that we had an answer. Well sort of…
I decided that Son #1 would be on hold for a few more hours. Besides if it was Mumps – it wasn’t going to matter. We spent the next few hours at the dance competition while Son #1 held down the fort at home.
When we returned his swelling did not get worse. But it had not decreased either. I devoured website after website reading about all of the tests for Mumps. I learned that there are blood tests to “prove” the virus but it is VERY difficult to do it. Seems all of the planets need to align in a certain order on a certain day of the year before you can achieve a positive reading. Obviously, I am joking but it is nearly the same level of impossibility.
On Sunday morning, Son #1 awoke and we had reached day 8 of the illness. Still a low grade fever of 99.5, but certainly the best reading we had had in many, many days. We were pleased to note that the swelling was decreasing. We did take a picture of him. He wasn’t happy with us at all for that. But we felt we needed to mark the moment for posterity when our 16 year old son came down with the MUMPS after being vaccinated.
Today, Monday morning – we revisited the doctor. His swelling has continued to diminish. He is left with swelling right under the chin now – a bit of a turkey neck if you will. We took the pictures from this weekend to show the doctor and she was impressed with the significance of the swelling. She pulled out 3 of her journals and “doctor” books – The Red Book, Gray’s Anatomy and The Book of Infectious Disease…according to all three he followed the timeline and appears to be a classic case of Mumps.
The doctor has ordered the blood test for the Mumps titer, hoping that we will catch a positive reading in that very narrow window of opportunity that presents itself with the appropriate and necessary antibodies present. Then even if that test manages to produce a positive result, Son #1 will have to be poked again for another blood test 3 weeks later for comparison for a final result. It is almost like looking for a needle in a haystack.
I am writing this to tell you that sometimes vaccinations don’t always work for whatever reason. They aren't an automatic. Not just that, but my son is not some great galavanter out in the world. He is pretty much a homebody. So somehow a weekend trip to the movies a couple of weeks ago introduced the Mumps virus to him. Don’t think that those things don’t exist anymore – just because we vaccinated against them doesn’t mean they are extinct. They still exist – they are out there and even my 16 year old son with 2 MMR inoculations managed to contract Mumps. Now the medical community may frown upon us calling it that without the magical blood test results confirmed – but I don’t need that to confirm what I saw with my own eyes. But make no mistake, if the tests DO manage to come back positive, I guess we have to notify the Center for Disease Control that there was a case of Mumps in a vaccinated teenage boy in a specific location.
So the incubation period for Mumps is 16-25 days after exposure. The highest point of contagiousness is between 2 days prior to the onset of the swelling and 5 days afterward. So right now as I type this our family continues to be in the highest cesspool of disease and germs until this Wednesday. I could fall back on the thought that all of the kids have been vaccinated against the Mumps – but we already know how that worked out for us. My husband is desperately hoping that he already had them as a child – but he cannot remember. I already got the scoop from my parents – I also got the vaccination as a child – but then also proceeded to turn around and contract the Mumps too. (Guess I am doubly safe?) I’ll let you all know what happens!
By the way, I “Googled” childhood diseases and right now there is an outbreak of the Measles in Boston…so since we get our vaccinations with (MMR - Measles, Mumps and Rubella) – I won’t be travelling to Boston anytime soon with Son #1.
Mumps and Dance Titles – all in a day’s work for this mom and My Real Life Parenting.
…And in case you were wondering, my daughter took First Place Overall High Score in the Junior Division for 10-12 year olds. She also won the Title of Regional Junior Miss…