Sunday, March 31, 2013
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Today he's sporting a bruised left forehead, a grazed chin, a grazed right forehead and his very first black eye.
It is very hard to feel like a good parent when his little face is black and blue. And red. And a little yellow.
Friday, March 29, 2013
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Monday, March 25, 2013
Posts have been thin on the ground for the last few weeks. After the grant applications were submitted, illness came knocking. First Dear Boy was hit with Hand, Foot and Mouth (HFM); two weeks later he scored a case of Roseola. Both are considered common and minor childhood illness but they've still managed to make us feel like we're living in a house of pestilence.
Last week I posted about vaccinating our son, the reasons why we are pro-vaccinations and the hope that we'd never have to have, cause or even see preventable and potentially life-threatening childhood illness. Seeing my son covered in Roseola's faint red rash is horrifying enough. Even knowing roseola is a mild viral rash and never fatal, it's scary. Bloody scary. The fact that it could have been much worse, that it could have been measles or rubella, makes me feel sick.
I thought, in the interests of share-and-share-alike and perhaps allaying another new parent's fears, I'd talk about our recent go-round with HFM and Roseola.* If you're already feeling itchy looking at these pictures, perhaps you should stop reading.
HFM: This one started as a few spots that got bigger and redder around Dear Boy's thighs and bum. I thought 'nappy rash'; it was in a bit of a weird spot for him but slathered on a bit of Sudocrem, and off we went to the library for some Baby Rhymes. After a few rounds of 'Wheels on the Bus' and 'Little Green Frog (Galumph)', Dear Boy was getting fractious, grizzling and rubbing at his face and hair. A quick nappy change and that nappy rash wasn't looking so much like nappy rash anymore. A quick check of his hands and feet and we were straight into the car. A completely illegal phone call at the lights and we were in to see our lovely GP. Even though he only had a few spots on his hands and feet, and none that we could see in his mouth (thank goodness), it was definitely HFM. Apparently it's the only thing that can cause spots on the palms of the hands like that. The doc recommended a (low percentage) hydrocortisone cream for the itchy bits and that was it. Nothing else to be done. Dear Boy had a very mild case - no spots around or in his mouth, no real symptoms beforehand (generally showing up like a cold with fever, malaise, loss of appetite or a sore throat), no blisters and not a lot of complaining about the itching. Of course, he still had to be quarantined from childcare, although that was most likely where he scored it from. In our state, kids are excluded from school and care until the blisters have dried out.
So, is HFM contagious? Yep, sure is. Pretty much anything wet coming out of that body is going to spread it around: saliva, sneeze/cough-droplets, snot, blister fluid, poo - you name it.
Is it life-threatening? In very rare cases, yep. I didn't find out until much later that it can cause viral meningitis, encephalitis or polio-like paralysis. But again, that's exceedingly rare. So rare, they call it a mild and common disease.
Can it make your/child's life miserable? Yep, sure can. I imagine blisters anywhere near the mouth are going to be, literally and figuratively, a complete pain. We had this one fairly easy.
ROSEOLA: Dear Boy's bout of Roseola started with a fever in the middle of the night. He woke every 30-40 minutes from 3am, growing hotter and more cranky. We gradually stripped him of bedding and clothing but by 7am he'd hit 39.2 degrees (celcius - 102.5 for those playing in Farenheit). Dear Boy normally runs at around 37. We supplied him with paracetamol and cold wash-clothes until his temp came down to 37.8. We called the child health hotline and they supplied us with the new guidelines for treating fever - which are, apparently, 'don't'. Anything under 39.5, and the new medical professionals are advising to let the kids fight it out themselves - let the body do its thing. The next night, the same thing happened - a temperature spike and multiple wakings. How the hell do you dress a child for bed when it's somewhat cold but their body is on overdrive? By the third day, and a peak of 39.6 (and multiple doses of paracetamol and ibuprofen - because screw the guidelines when it comes to my boy's brain melting), we headed to the doc. 'A virus' - nothing to worry about. But probably don't go and visit the newborn baby if his temp's still up. The next day his temp dropped to 37. 5, then to 36. 9. The day after that: rash. Those photos up there - that's my baby's body as it currently stands, sits, crawls and walks. A faint, red, spotty, almost lacy rash all over my baby's beautiful smooth, soft, olive skin. Not surprisingly, the rash is often mistaken for measles or rubella. And given the fact that these diseases are now making a comeback, it makes me feel ill to see it all over my boy's chest and back. Once the fever came down, there's really not much to be done for Roseola. The rash doesn't appear to be itchy at all.
So, is Roseola contagious? Yep, sure is. Except, and here's the kicker with most things like this, it's contagious before you even know you have it. Once the rash appears, it's no longer contagious. Before then, it's treated like a virus because there are generally no other symptoms apart from a bit of irritability - and hey, what baby doesn't get a little irritable now and then? Again, it's spread through droplets - sneezing, coughing, etc. It's caused by a herpes virus (but won't cause other herpes effects like cold sores) and 90% kids have been exposed to it by the time they're two. So yeah, it's contagious. It's not an excludable illness according to the Australian government (not even listed on the Victorian government site) although I imagine that's because of the reasons above - once you figure out what it is, it's no longer contagious.
Is it life-threatening? Well, it's kinda hard to tell. The major complication with Roseola is the potential for febrile convulsions due to rapid spikes in temperature. These are incredibly scary (I know, I've being holding a child in my arms when he had his first one on his first birthday) but not fatal or damaging to the brain. So, I'm going to say no BUT... I imagine a vulnerable child or someone with a compromised immune system may have other issues.
Can it make your/child's life miserable? Yep, it sure can. Even knowing his body is doing its thing and functioning as it should by raising its temperature to fight off a virus, it was bloody scary. He was also whingey and clingy and we didn't get great sleep for a few days. In the larger scheme of things though, that's not so bad. Once we had our diagnosis, it was a huge relief. Knowing it wasn't going to melt his brain was a huge relief. Not knowing sucks. Majorly.
Neither of these viruses have a vaccination and neither have a 'cure' or even a medical treatment. Do they need one? Maybe science can field that one.
Has your child had something that scared the hell out of you? Did it turn out to be something 'mild'?
* I am by no means a medical expert. This is based on our experience of symptoms as well as the advice given to us by our doctor/medical advisors for our specific case and information provided by the Victorian government health websites/guidelines. If you are at all concerned about your child's health - always seek advice from medical professionals - several, if you have to.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Vaccination is apparently the third-rail of parenting discussions. It can be a sometimes awkward and sometimes downright nasty conversation killer. It can rub up against religious beliefs, parenting philosophies and approaches to life more generally. It can pit science against emotion: evidence against gut feelings. But it also brings up a lot of issues for me about the validity of numerous positions, about how we gain and evaluate knowledge and the difficulty of respecting other people's decisions when, to be frank, you're pretty sure they're just wrong (more on this below). But I figure it needs to be talked about. In Australia, at least, each set of parents has to make a deliberate decision about it: you either do it as prescribed; do it on a different schedule or you fill in all the paperwork for registering as a conscientious objector.
I am pro-vaccine for several reasons:
- I have faith in science (even though they get it wrong occasionally, they're usually capable of admitting that and fixing it, STAT). As a corollary of that, I believe vaccinations work. I know they're not 100% effective for all people, but they do for 90% plus. I know they can have a lot of side-effects, from the subtle to the serious, but I much prefer those odds than coping with the effects of the disease. The numbers are on my side (like my faith in science I have faith in statistics too). Science has effectively eradicated the worst of the preventable diseases where immunization rates are high. That's hundreds of thousands of lives saved in Australia alone and millions of cases prevented. (I think people who continue to preach about vaccinations causing autism are dangerous. They're among that breed of people who don't care about things like evidence, who listen to a charismatic preacher and take their word as gospel without bothering to check whether their ideas, their beliefs, their myths have any grounding in fact. The man who claimed he had proof lied. He made it up. It took a while but science got to the heart of it in the end.). As an academic I am torn between the positions of knowing how to research and accessing information in an objective sense and recognising that I am completely unqualified to make a truly informed decision about medical matters and need to rely on people who have trained extensively in these areas. In my area, which is the study of creativity, the same ideas apply. How do we really know something is creative? The answer is usually because the experts tell us it is. How many people truly understand that E=MC2? I don't and I'm a smart cookie. I read a book about it and everything. But I still don't really understand it, not in the way a physicist does. So I have to trust that when they say it's a fundamental principle, that it's right. I trust the 95% of medical professionals/organisations that say vaccinations work, vaccinations are good, vaccinations are necessary, even with the corollary problems and potential side-effects. I understand people will think that naive, but I believe it's naive to assume you can make a truly informed decision on this issue without any kind of medical training.
- My grandfather had polio and hasn't been able to use his right arm for most of his life. More than the physical impairment, there was also a social cost. Living at the time in rural Queensland, my grandfather was sent to a city hospital hours away to be quarantined in a disease ward with dozens of other children. He tells stories of rascally capers, but it was hardly ideal. He spent a long time away from his parents, from his family; he even picked up a smoking habit before he was ten; his schooling was interrupted. A friend we made recently at the library has watched the ongoing consequences of polio in her mum, in near constant pain now like so many polio sufferers with a post-polio syndrome.
- Vaccinations for kids are free in Australia. If they weren't, we'd pay.
- Vaccinating is the socially responsible thing to do. I pay taxes to help the government help those who can't help themselves and I follow the road rules so I don't injure myself and other people. I vaccinate because some people can't and need the services of the herd immunity. I think it's incredibly selfish to rely on others to take risks with their children's health and draw on all the benefits while at the same time putting the herd at greater risk. I don't understand why parents who are willing to protest against nuclear proliferation or gas-mining or whaling aren't also doing their part or putting their bodies on the line to protect their social/health environment. Not sure how conscientious the objectors are when non-vaccinated children and adults can create holes in the herd immunity and infect those who are either too young or too sick to have the required immunity to fight disease.
So my dear, Dear Boy is fully immunised. We were a little late with the 12-month shots but only because the first clinic after the Christmas holidays was full by the time I booked in. We received a letter from Centrelink warning us about the withdrawal of benefits and potentially having to pay money back if we didn't keep up to date. Now, I am all for encouraging vaccination (which the government used to do financially with a vaccination bonus but this changed last year) as well as exclusion policies for non-vaccinated kids in childcare centres and schools when diseases are present, but having it tied to financial support is pretty rude. Punatively forcing parents to give back money already received is beyond the scope.
Here's how vaccinations have worked out for us:
Birth: Dear Boy was given Hep B (as well as the Vitamin K). I wasn't entirely sure the Hep B was necessary but Lovely Husband felt pretty strongly about it. Lovely Husband and I were both given Whooping Cough injections for free by a nurse who came around the wards, checking to see if anyone wanted them. My parents and brothers all paid to get them so they could visit. Our tiny newborn screwed up his face but that was about it. At that stage, it probably wasn't that much more of a shock to his system than lights, air, noise, etc.
Two Months - Dear Boy was given the Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hep B, Poliomyelitis, HiB and Pneumococcal vaccines in two injections (one in each chunky thigh) and an oral Rotavirus dose. He squawked briefly then fell asleep for almost the whole day. I spent the day on the couch with him in my arms, freaking out (belief in science doesn't equate to being anxiety free, obviously).
Four Months - Same deal as the two-month ones: two needles and an oral dose. Dear Boy squawked loudly when he got the injections then squalled for about five minutes. No reactions, no temp.
Six months - Same again. Dear Boy let loose a howl of rage with the second needle but was distracted by toys. He was grisly most of the day, with a slight temp.* I had to do these ones on my own. Not fun.
Twelve months - Dear Boy didn't even make a noise for the first two needles (Measles, Mumps & Rubella and the HiB), in the arms for the first time because he'd started walking. He raged after the third, stingy Meningococcal C one but was fine after five minutes of cuddles and rough housing with Lovely Husband. I made sure Dear Boy couldn't see my face with these ones after reading about kids feeling more pain if they see their parent's anxiety. He had a mild fever that day, and then again about a week or so later, which is apparently quite common with the MMR.
So that's where we're up to so far. Next up is Chicken Pox at 18 months (unless he's already had it), then the pre-school boosters at 4 years old, and the high school boosters in Year 7 and 10. At the moment they're contemplating making it compulsory for boys to also have the Human Papilomavirus needle in Year 7 (currently only for girls). I am all for this for much the same reasons as above. Even though it won't prevent my own child from getting cervical cancer (because, well, der), it might save a girl/woman's life somewhere down the line.**
*Where he's had a fever, we'd given him doses of panadol. We never gave pain relief before the needles as some medical practitioners advise to do. Our healthcare nurse gave us a good argument for why it was essentially unnecessary for us, but may be necessary for other kids with complicated medical issues.
** The argument that girls shouldn't be given the HPV vaccine because it may encourage promiscuity is stupid. And factually incorrect. Sure, you may have religious grounds for not wanting to prevent (or even eradicate) the most common sexually transmitted disease, but cervical cancer kills approximately 5000 women each year in the US, some of whom are straight and married and Christian. It's men's promiscuity you need to do something about given they're more likely to be carriers and disseminate the disease.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Monday, March 11, 2013
7. I saw Shane Koyzcan perform his poetry at the Sydney Writers Festival several years ago, and the poem 'Visiting Hours' still reverberates around my mind sometimes. Now he's done a TED talk, with his beautiful and animated poem on bullying and survival and beauty. If his voice seems weird and high-pitched in that official video, try this one. Share either amongst your people.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
581. David Bowie - 'The Stars (Are Out Tonight)' - Self-referential and gently mocking video feat. Tilda Swinton.
582. McFly - 'Love is Easy'
583. Impossible Odds feat. Georgia Corowa - 'Everything' - Australian hip hop vocal in this gets me.
584. Cub Scouts - 'Pool' - Fun in the sun. Silly but so, so catchy.
585. Delilah - 'Breathe'
586. The Staves - 'Winter Trees' - Lovely folky ladies.
588. The Staves - 'Mexico' - More loveliness.
589. The Staves - 'Motherlode'
590. The Staves - 'Tongue Behind My Teeth'
Friday, March 8, 2013
The first is the Global Soap Project, which collects used bars of soaps from hotels, which would have otherwise been thrown away, and recycles them into new bars that are then distributed to people and places that need them: disaster victims, refugees, people in extreme poverty. The stats (from their website): 2 million bars of soap are discarded from hotels in the US alone every day; 2.4 million children die each year from hygiene-related illnesses; washing hands can reduce morbidity rates by as much as 47% (around 1.1 million children); GSP collects soap from 1000 US hotels and produces 30,000 new bars of soap each week. Simple idea: taking used soap and making new soap. World changing idea: distributing that soap wherever hygiene-related illnesses like diarrhea are prevalent. Recycled soap = reduction in preventable deaths. It's not a glamorous idea, by any means, but what a difference a bar of soap can make.
The other project I came across recently is Who Made Your Pants? They're essentially a lingerie company or in their words a 'campaigning brand'. So it's undies with a twist. They make their cute knickers with fabrics left over from major factories at the end of the season, which might have otherwise been chucked away, in a little factory in Southampton in the UK whose workers are all women who've struggled to find a job, who are refugees or who've just generally having a rough time. Rather than spending a fortune or fancy-pants that are often made in sweatshops in third world countries, spending your hard earning money on these lovelies helps empower these women. All the profits are churned back into the business, into training and support and advice as well as a decent wage for a decent day's work in a decent factory environment.
The are a few others as well, including Jessica Alba's The Honest Company, which seems to pop up in everything I read these days, although that's a regular old company with a nice premise rather than a charity. I feel inspired when I see these types of projects underway in the world. But inspiration is a funny beast - it's not specific ideas magically appearing in my head, just an urge, a desire, an impulse to do 'something'. It'll sit there, with so many other unspecific urges to do 'something', until the right confluence of events and people and former ideas and whatever else makes a 'new' idea, and 'something' becomes one thing. One small thing that I can do to make big things happen.
Have you come across any little/big ideas lately?