Twice a week I have a Medical Microbiology class, which entails learning about micro-organisms, what diseases they cause, how the replicate, how to treat them, and complications. Some of it is tedious and boring, most of it is fascinating. Even more fascinating is the fact that as a child I picked up an extraordinary number of these viruses and bacteria. So many that I’m beginning to think my mom stood in a mall and passed me around to thousands of strangers or something. Yet, my sister who is three years younger, almost never got sick and never caught anything from me. My mom wanted her to catch the chicken pox. She went out of her way to make us play together when I had it, and forced her on play dates with other infected children, and she never got it. Yes, we both had the typical strep throats, ear infections (which is also called by strep), pink eye. But that’s where the normal ends.
#1 MYSTERY ILLNESS OF BIRTH I’ve mentioned this already but I started out right out of the gate with the weird illnesses. As a newborn (and I mean straight from the cooter, still in the hospital) I contracted some kind of mystery infection. I lost two pounds, (from 7lbs 9 ounces to 5lbs 9 ounces) and had a 103 fever. The antibiotics they gave me didn’t work. They gave me a spinal tap to see if there was anything in my spinal fluid. Then they gave me an IV in the foot of Gentamicin (an antibiotic that can cause kidney damage and hearing loss) which then burnt a hole in my foot, and I had to get a skin graft at a week old, which then also got infected. I should get a medal or something.
#2 THRUSH. Caused by the organism candida albicans, this is basically a yeast infection in your mouth. All I know is that I had it as an infant and I really don’t want to think about it.
#3 IMPETIGO. Caused by staph or strep, this is a rash that causes skin lesions and blisters. I had this as well as an infant.
#4 COXSACKIE VIRUS. Causes painful lesions on the face, hands, and feet. Also known as hand, foot, and mouth disease. I had this when I was so young that I never sucked my thumb because I had so many lesions around my mouth that doing so was too painful. I guess I have coxsackievirus to thank for my straight teeth.
[Also around this time, I'm told I had a little accident. This would be my second time in the hospital before age 2. My dad made himself a cup of hot tea and was holding me on his lap. Of course I stuck my entire hand in the cup of boiling water and burned my hand so badly that I had to have a cast on my arm with only my little thumb sticking out. There are no photos of this event, probably because I just found out that Child Protective Services had to investigate my parents for child abuse because of this little mishap and it's not something they really want to reminisce about.]
#5 ROSEOLA INFANTUM- Caused by human herpes virus 6, this gives you a high fever and a non-painful rash all over the body. Finally! A non-painful event. I guess I got lucky.
#6 VARICELLA ZOSTER VIRUS- or as we like to call it, Chickenpox. I got chickenpox in 1st grade. It was not that bad, just a little itchy. I remember taking oatmeal baths with my sister, despite the fact that she didn’t have it, nor did she contract it from me. Being a chiropractor my mom didn’t believe in vaccines, so instead of opting for the vaccines she preferred my sister contract it from me naturally. The really amazing thing is that I never contracted Measels, Mumps, or Rubella (considering I picked up almost everything else) because my mom chose to not vaccinate me until high school when it was either vaccines or bust.
#7 FIFTHS DISEASE- Caused by Human Parvovirus B19, this is also called slapped cheek disease. I remember having this several times, mainly because it meant I got to get out of school. It causes a very bright red rash on the face. See ridiculous photo below (of random child from the internet)
#8 SCARLET FEVER- Remember that thing that killed Beth in Little Women? Yeah, I had that. I was ten, so it was 1997. Who gets Scarlet Frickin Fever in 1997? I did. And it was awesome because I got out of school for two full weeks in a row (one week for sickness, one week for Disney). This was the first time I had to take pills. I had to take two different medications several times a day for ten days. I do not remember what they were. All I remember is taking pills with my Grandma while at our condo in Disney. It was like the cool thing to do several times a day. Scarlet fever is caused by streptococcus pyrogenes, which is a bacteria that has a virus component that secretes an exotoxin. Exotoxins are bad news. Scarlet Fever can cause death. Luckily, I made it, because I am obviously invincible having had every single sickness in the world by the age of 10. This guy has Scarlet Fever, it’s not pretty:
Things got a little calmer during the next few years. I only contracted your standard pink eye several times, sinus infections, the flu, and one particular ear infection so bad that not only my inner and middle ear were infected, my actual visible outer ear was also infected. It was pretty narsty. I remember this because we went on vacation to Washington DC and I was banned from putting my head under the water in the pool. It was essentially torture being the little fish that I was. Also during these years I had a perpetual case of plantar warts that I caught from my dear friend of now 20 years. We spent a lot of time at the pool. Being the budding surgeon I was, I tried to take care of them myself, which only spread them to the extent that I had 20 of them on both feet at one time and had the worst case my dermatologist had ever seen. I had to get them burned off. During this time, I also remember going to Disney and my feet being very sore. I was never that lucky kid with the broken leg in the wheelchair who got to skip the lines at the rides. Nay, I was the kid with the gross wart feet. I’m very pleased to report that I haven’t had those things in more than 10 years, and if I ever get them again I will probably just amputate.
#9 MYCOPLASMA PNEUMONAE- This is a great story. When I was 16 we took a family vacation to St. Maarten along with another family. I was fine for four days. Literally the second I saw my friend’s plane take off to return to the states, I felt feverish. By the next day I had a raging fever. My parents had planned to go to the other side of the island that day, to Orient Beach, the most famous nude beach in the world (we were clothed). Instead of letting me stay alone in the air conditioned hotel room with some tylenol, my dad was his typical overprotected self and refused to leave me alone. So they dragged me to the beach. With a fever. It gets better. Then, they left me for two hours to go para-sailing. LEFT ME IN THE SUN. I was so delirious and feverish that I spent $40 on friendship bracelets from some french chick. By the end of the trip I couldn’t even walk. We had to get a wheelchair in the airport and I literally had to be carted to the plane early via golf cart. The airport personnel were very concerned that I might have SARS, but since my mom is a doctor she assured them I didn’t, even though she had no earthly clue what was wrong with me. I still remember her saying, “You better not be faking!” because she was so pissed I had to have a wheelchair. I even had to get patted down by security since obviously when you’re in a wheelchair you set off the metal detector. When we got back home, I went to the doctor and I had the Nurse Practitioner and two Pediatricians conferring about what was wrong with me, since my illness didn’t really fit with your typical walking pneumonia. They thought I might have tuberculosis, but I tested negative. Well, I had this mystery pneumonia for a full three months. None of the antibiotics I took worked and eventually I had to go to a pulmonologist to get a nebulizer. I think toward the end everyone assumed I just had walking pneumonia due to the duration. Walking pneumonia is hard to kill with antibiotics.
Since then, I’ve been pretty healthy (albeit not mentally). Only minor skin infections and some sore throats. Enough sore throats and low fevers that I got my tonsils out but since then I’ve not had even one fever. The one curious thing about all of this is that in 25 years, even though I contracted basically every childhood weirdo virus, I remain one of the few people who has NOT contracted Cytomegalovirus (CMV) (human herpes virus 5) which 80% of people under 40 have. CMV is mostly only dangerous to immunosuppressed patients and babies, for other people it’s like the common cold, but because I’m still CMV- my blood can be given to AIDS patients, cancer patients, and babies. How the hell did I get Scarlet Fever but not the viral equivalent of the common cold? What the hell did my mom do with me? Did she let me lick floors and toilets? Did she even teach me to wash my hands? I think this is maybe how I became a germaphobe.
Also, I would just like to note that I also threw up like all the time. Now I know it’s because I had acid reflux and used to eat whole logs of pepperoni by myself. We threw a lot of parties. It was always around. Whereas I don’t think my sister threw up until college. Ever. And even then she was only throwing up from drinking and not from microorganism sickness.
Thank god I am so smart. Can you imagine how much school I’d missed by the time I was 10?
Lastly, my future children are going to be so lucky. They’re going to get half a million anti-bodies to every childhood virus thanks to the fact that I’ve already had them all and they’ll never be sick. That’s right, they’ll never get a day off from school. Ever.
Oh. I forgot to mention I’m allergic to penicillin, which by the way is the bubblegum medicine when you’re a kid. Yeah. So all of this sickness was really easy to deal with. /NOT.