Fresh on the heels of poison ivy has come another rash — this time in the form of scarlet fever. I don’t have it, the little one does. He is covered from head to toe in a red rash, has been running a fever for days, and wakes up in the middle of the night moaning about tummy pain. Neither India nor I have had a decent night sleep since Friday. We’ve been to the doctor’s office twice, the emergency room once. He’s on Amoxicillin and Zofran, a drug they give to cancer patients who are experiencing severe nausea from the chemo.
Scarlet fever isn’t something you hear about that often any more. When I told Sacha’s piano teacher he wouldn’t be coming to his lesson because he had scarlet fever, she was shocked. “I thought that was something people only got in books,” she said. I thought the same thing, and the disease does feature prominently in classic children’s literature.
Scarlet fever is caused by a Group A streptococcal infection, and most often presents with a sore throat. He doesn’t have a sore throat, which somehow makes the situation seem more dire. I’ve had strep throat, and remember it fondly as a week spent eating mint chocolate chip ice cream three times a day and getting lots of attention. There are no found memories in seeing your child moaning in pain, clutching their stomach, unable to keep even an ounce of ginger ale down, and covered in an angry red rash.
India thinks it could be appendicitis. Then she worries he’s having an adverse reaction to the antibiotics. She panics and worries and can’t relax. She gives him vitamins and acidophillus, tiny slices of apple, and lukewarm hibiscus tea. I feel paralyzed at this moments, flashing back to those days in the ICU, when our little two pound baby’s life seemed to hang in the balance. Driving to the same hospital where he spent four weeks as an inpatient makes my heart race and I can feel myself shutting down.
“He will be okay,” says the doctor, giving us more prescriptions. “He will be okay,” I tell India, rubbing his back and giving him tiny sips of ginger ale.
And I really believe it. The picture above is of Mary Wilder, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sister. She went blind from scarlet fever (or maybe she didn’t) at a time when the disease was life-threatening. Scarlet fever used to be a major childhood killer. Children who had the disease were quarantined. There was no treatment, and throughout the 1700s and 1800s, there were many scarlet fever epidemics.
I am often so skeptical of Western medicine, that strange branch of science that so conveniently categorizes the unruly behavior of human bodies into neat little boxes, which treats unusual behavior as pathology, which treats the side effect of a drug with another drug, which almost always focuses on disease and not on wellness.
But today I am worshiping at its alter. Thank goodness for penicillin, and children’s Tylenol, and yes, thank goodness for Zofran. Right now my son is sleeping soundly, and I feel confident that he will wake up soon and want a lime popsicle. I feel confident that he won’t go blind, and that he won’t die from a fever, and although the rash looks, dramatic and scary, it doesn’t threaten his life. For that, I am very grateful.