It never ceases to amaze me when a child pitches a fit about something that is truly a daily occurrence, sometimes multiple times a day.
In our house, events like this might include the horrible and almost-too-terrible-to-mention tasks of:
- brushing teeth
- going potty before a meal
- washing hands after being outside/at school
- bringing lunch boxes from the backpacks to the counter
- getting hair done
- getting dressed
Oh yes friends – we are mean and awful parents. We actually make our children, even the teeny tiny 2-year-old, do all these things! Every day! You’d think we were throwing them to the lions with the antics we sometimes get in return.
It’s really easy to be swayed by all the complaining sometimes. Really easy to think, "Eh, it won’t kill them to skip brushing their teeth this one morning. I don’t have the energy to be consistent today."
Sure, we know in our heads that parenting success is all about consistency, but we’re human too. We just try not to throw ourselves on the floor and kick our feet while we’re avoiding responsibility.
The story today is not my own, but it made my heart drop and my arm hair stand on end when my friend shared what was going on in their family a few months back. I alluded to it yesterday, and it’s something every parent needs to read – skim it, I don’t care – we all need this reminder that there are some situations where 100% consistency is truly necessary, that there are life-and-death consequences for certain shortcuts. (Missing brushing teeth every so often is not one of them, luckily for me!)
You may have already guessed the topic now that you’ve seen that picture, but you owe it to yourself to read at least a little more. You can’t know the magnitude of the situation until you’ve entered into one mom’s real experience, the confusion, fears, hopes, and hopes dashed…this is my friend’s story. All names are pseudonyms.
What I Did Over Christmas Vacation
Day 1, Sunday Dec 29–We returned from the overnight drive from my in-laws in NC on a Sunday morning. In church, Ben, age 3, asked to go to the bathroom twice, and I almost said no the second time. Good thing I took him; it was mild diarrhea.
I saw a friend’s son after church who said he was alone because his sisters were both sick, there was something going around their neighborhood.
That afternoon he had a fever of 102 and napped for 3 hours. When he awoke, feverish with more diarrhea. An hour later, more.
And so it continued, with a temperature teetering between 101 and 103 along with diarrhea at least every 2 hours. (This ended up being the case for 4 days straight) He had no appetite as well.
Monday Dec 30– Fever down to 100, still almost continuous diarrhea, chills.
No appetite, kept down a few Cheerios and a little Pedialyte but it seemed difficult for him to eat or even drink. Husband and I are perplexed about source, because we just spent a week isolated on a mountain with Nana and Poppa (oh, and a room full of reptiles- seems so obvious now!) and couldn’t see how we were exposed to anything.
Other kids, age 5 and 7, are perfectly healthy, as are we. Late Monday, vomits.
Tuesday Dec 31– at 2 AM Ben had a massive bloody loose stool. I hadn’t ever seen this before with my other kids. I gave him Tylenol and took him back to bed.
When he had more blood in his stool at 7 AM, I showed my husband both diapers and we agreed we should take him in.
Vomits breakfast. Diarrhea after breakfast. Almost vomits snack consumed in car on 11-minute drive to urgent care.
The urgent care doctor didn’t seem to be concerned, said that bloody stool happens in ‘infectious colitis’ and it will take a few days to go away. That did reassure me, even though I tend to be a worrier.
"He looks good, not dehydrated. Keep him drinking, no solid food for 24 hours, he should be good as new in a few days."
I took the handout on childhood diarrhea, along with an anti-nausea med prescription. Sounds normal enough so far. (Incidentally, I don’t fault the doctor, because at this point, his symptoms did match what was on the handout, and we were only days into the illness.)
At home, husband is using his expensive medical-school brain to peruse information on conditions of the stomach and intestines in children. Separately and together, for the next few days, we comb through details on gastroenteritis, appendicitis, salmonella, colitis, Crohn’s, gluten sensitivity, food allergies, ulcers, we rack our brains over his diet on vacation.
I recalled that my cousin, a nurse, had cautioned me about reptiles around young children before. We asked Mary, age 7, if Ben had played with Nana’s turtle:
Did he wash his hands?
Husband calls his parents; they assure us that they change the water frequently.
(Important note! It doesn’t matter how well the animal is cared for. They just carry the disease, more likely than not, and since salmonella doesn’t harm reptiles, there is no reason for their bodies to get rid of it.)
Returning to the trusted-site salmonella info page, Husband notes that salmonella usually requires no treatment and clears itself within 5 to 7 days, so even if it were salmonella, we shouldn’t need to worry. (Usually. There are different kinds of salmonella, and the one associated with reptiles can rapidly mutate, making it more difficult for the host to fight off. I found this out later on microbe-wiki…)
We keep pushing the Pedialyte and follow Dr.’s orders on diet. A little vomiting, temperatures going up and down, a lot of diarrhea, but no more blood. I can only get him to drink a few sips at a time, and even that seems uncomfortable for him.
You Don’t Actually Have to Lick a Turtle to Get Salmonella
(photo source: Michael Law via Stock Exchange)
Day 4, Wednesday Jan 1st- Happy New Year?? Um, no. Boy is miserable. My couch-jumping tumble monkey is a too-warm blob who does nothing but sleep, poop, almost sleep, almost poop, vomit, or almost vomit.
Clings to me constantly.
Like having a newborn, except a healthy newborn brings joy, not just anxiety.
He doesn’t have the strength to sit up or hold his own sippy, and vomits his lunch. Continuing, remember, since Sunday, the pattern of diarrhea at a minimum of every 2 hours, usually more.
I pray for my kids every day, mostly in a shameful, "But of course they are doing great, and thank you God for that fact that I so take for granted," kind of way.
But today, I really prayed for Ben. Like, please don’t let this be something really serious, please just let me find out that I am an unreasonable worry-wart.
Day 5, Thursday, Jan 2– (This is the freakiest day to me, and the one that threw a wrench in my thought processes.) The regular doctor’s office is open, and…
…at noon, instantly, my Ben is back! He eats, he drinks, he plays, he’s tired and has a little diarrhea, but is able to wear underwear again.
But he eats, drinks, and plays! For three-quarters of a day! He has a little dinner, goes to bed early, and then. . ..
Day 6, Friday, Jan 3 - Back downhill, as much diarrhea as ever. No appetite, refusing apple juice; I force it on him, sips at a time.
Temperature is ok. What do we do? Is this something different or a recurrence of the same illness? If it weren’t for yesterday, we would take him right in. Since he doesn’t have a fever and actually did drink enough yesterday, we wait and try to keep him comfortable and resting.
Day 7, Sat Jan 4– Not better. We cancel gift exchange with my side of the family. When we talk to the doc on call, she says keep him hydrated and take to ER if he gets worse.
I start texting my siblings, their spouses, my dad, asking all for prayers.
Day 8, Sunday, Jan 5– I stay home from church, trying to get some fluids in Ben. (We really couldn’t have kept up with the amount that was coming out, and that’s where the danger comes in.)
Not much success, though diarrhea is a little better, possibly because there just isn’t much left in him. When Husband returns and we check his fever after nap at 103.7, we pack a bag for the emergency room.
They are there for 7 hours, getting IV fluids, blood draws, symptom records. Ben was so weak he didn’t even flinch at the IV insertion.
The SNOWSTORM starts, work is closed the next day, my pastor cancels the service for Theophany, a major feast, the next day, which he has never done. ER sends directions to get a stool sample and follow up with our family doc the next day.
Day 9, Mon Jan 6– Shovel snow, continue trying to keep Ben hydrated.
We have an afternoon doctor appointment – they tell us the hospital had tried to catch me on the phone with lab results, and called his regular doctor when they couldn’t reach my (misplaced) cell phone.
Had he played with a turtle recently?
Sigh of relief-horror-relief, we know what it is, and it’s treatable.
So, back to the ER, and they might admit him.
Salmon Ella, Unwelcome Visitor
Day 9 continued – at the ER with Mommy — I knew from medical websites that he would have to be given strong antibiotics. I know how some people have alternative health views, and differing opinions on antibiotics. I’m not the crunchiest one in the bunch, but I myself have had times when I hated doctors, questioned their decisions, delayed vaccinations, deferred seeking treatment if i thought it safe to do so, etc.
Oh, and that whole giving birth to my second child at home because I don’t like hospitals. However, in this case, I was very pro-antibiotic. I’m sure that’s not a word. I wanted to scream, "What the hell is taking so long, just give him an IV and start pumping the stuff in! Help him not evacuate every ounce of fluid from his bowels!"
They drew blood to run more labs and gave him fluids too. The boy was, again, so weak that he could barely whimper when they poked him. He didn’t like it, but I think that besides being powerless to fight it, he knew on some level that Mommy would only let them do it if it was going to help him. I had explained that the water and medicine would help him feel better.
Five hours later, Ben had finished his IV antibiotics, kept down some crackers and juice, and only had two trips to the potty. This would also be the last time we saw a fever in him for this illness. We were given a prescription for at-home oral can’t-buy-this-stuff-everywhere-because-it’s-almost-never-prescribed gastric atomic bomb antibiotic.
On our short drive home, the temperature dropped 5 degrees. 17 below! Not my favorite night for running around the city.
Day 10, Tuesday, January 7– Happy Old Calendar Orthodox Christmas! I gave myself a shower. Yes! We have something to celebrate!
No fever, willing and able to eat and drink, some quiet, calm playtime.
Tired, and still one instance of diarrhea in the morning, but okay, and he took the Gritty Human Body Bleach without complaint. Chased by Pixie Sticks, of course.
We settled down for a nap after lunch (you know, where you sit down and ingest things, and they stay there? amazing!) and. . .ring ring. .. . They want us to come back into the ER because there are complications that can arise from salmonella, and given the amount of time it’s been in his system, his kidneys and liver, etc, should be checked.
Of course I want them checked, but couldn’t they have kept us overnight to avoid dragging a very sick child out in now 31 below zero wind-chill? Oh, and they might admit him. So husband comes home from work, and we spend our would-be naptime driving and checking into the hospital.
At least the bag was still packed from the night before.
They let him stay in his pajamas this time, so he would feel like he had something of his own for comfort. A nurse read him a story while I updated the doctor on his good morning. She explained what they would be checking for, and that we shouldn’t be long if the labs come back ok, given his improvement.
Boy was a zombie and desperately needed to nap, but a hospital is not the place to try to sleep! (That was one benefit of going home for the night.) They put on a cartoon movie for him while they drew blood and put a heart monitor on. He had developed a heart murmur, which the doc said was benign but a sign that his body was working very hard to fight the infection, and should return to normal after recovery.
Labs are clean, we are sent home to collapse after I call my pastor and ask him to bring me Holy Communion at home the next day. My human strength, which all comes from God anyway, ran out a long time ago.
Days 11-13, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday–Diarrhea changes: only one or two per day, not mucous-laden. I think I forgot to say that at first; the stools tend to be very slimy, mucous-y with salmonella, but unless you are looking for it or are in the habit of comparing different kinds of diarrhea, it might not stand out for you.
Our priest steps over the pile of toys in our living room to pray over him and give him holy water.
He continues to start eating more, drinking tons, sleeping quite a bit; checkup goes well on Thursday.
On Friday, Ben hits his big brother (a thing to celebrate when your child has been that sick), a friend brings us dessert, and the world seems a kinder place.
Though I could sleep for a week, given the chance.
On Saturday, he has a normal bowel movement, eats an adult serving of the chicken dinner I make, and sleeps 13 hours. Which brings us to today:
Sunday, Day 15– I keep him home with me to watch church over the internet while feeding him the whole time. Another normal BM. My cousins come over for brunch and would never have guessed how sick he had been.
They all talk and laugh over espresso and biscuits and gravy, and I allow them to play soccer with Ben in our dining room amidst the antique piano and breakables.
I think we’re all right now. Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee. Thank You.
If you’re not tearing up, moms and dads…phew. That story is so hard for me to read, just scary. When you think of the times you missed washing your child’s hands after being outside, sometimes because you just get distracted and the child grabs a carrot from the table and…I always think we’re strong enough to handle a few germs and dirt (and we are!) but it’s so important to have this knowledge, this story, in your toolbox. Because sometimes, our bodies can’t fight it.
Here are the Cliff’s notes if you need to evaluate a child’s diarrhea illness:
Symptoms Summary: Warning Signs of Salmonella in Young Children
- Vomiting/ diarrhea combination, with alarming frequency for one or other or both. If it’s not getting less frequent as time passes, tell your doctor.
- Bloody/slimy/mucous stools
- Abdominal pain. This was nearly constant.
- Persistent or recurring fever.
- Lethargy, a sign of dehydration, but even when hydrated, the child may not be interested in normal activity.
- Loss of appetite.
These symptoms are shared by many tummy bugs in children, at least early on – so stay on guard and evaluate the sliminess of and mucous in the stool if you’re concerned.
Salmonella can also be contracted via raw meat or contaminated eggs, and although my friend misunderstood that it could be fatal, it isn’t very often, at least in the United States. (That makes the whole story all the more horrific though, knowing the mom-on-the-Internet had discovered a fatal symptom!)
The type from reptiles, Typhimurium, is more likely to require hospitalization than the kind from eggs or chicken, and the fatality rate for that is higher, though still low.
The Real Foodie Friend’s Response
I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Share the Gift of Good Health, that I tend to think "probiotics" whenever a friend has a round of strong antibiotics or any other gut-related issue. I’ve been a bit of a "probiotics fairy" if you will, sprinkling around the fruit of my labor here at KS, a wonderful bonus of this mission/ministry/business I have.
This story makes number seven, at least – she told me that her little one had salmonella and I was so surprised, wondering if it was contagious to the rest of the family, and I sort of joked via email, "Unless he licked a turtle?"
I was a bit ignorant and a lot curious about how he had gotten something so nasty.
My brother heard "salmonella" and told me to cook my chicken. I told him to cook his turtles before giving them to children to play with.
It’s the kind that comes from contact with reptiles, of which my mother-in-law has a whole menagerie. Everyone else is fine; children under age 5 are just much more susceptible. He’s finally eating again, drinking really well, and containing what he consumes. I am tremendously grateful just to have him alive, as it was progressing for at least 10 days before the cause was known and is often fatal in the very young. (It looks almost exactly like classic childhood diarrhea to begin with, and is very rare so might not be on a doctor’s radar right away. Stomach bugs are some of the toughest to diagnose.)
She later learned that the fatality statistic she had read was incorrect, but truly – how terrifying. No more joking from me – I went right to being the health fairy:
Would you like me to send some really good probiotics over for him? He will probably need something to support his gut flora after being wiped out by the antibiotics.
They’re powdered, so you’d have to mix it with applesauce or in a smoothie to get him to take it. Hubby and I just mix some in water or juice and take it down – Ben might be able to do it with juice; just depends on his tolerance for gritty juice. Would you be interested in giving it a try/do you think he’d manage to get it down? It’s all I can do to help!
I also wondered if she wanted to share the story with you all, because I felt like it was really an important tale to be told. Her generous spirit was more than willing:
Thank you for your offer of the probiotics. The boy’s intestines have taken quite a beating. If the cost of shipping isn’t prohibitive, let’s give it a try! probably not?)
I would be very happy to help anyone avoid what we went through, so I am working on a draft of the timeline of his symptoms and treatment…
The Happy Ending
I thought it would be appropriate share a happy family photo here for the happy ending, but of course it’s an anonymous story, so that wouldn’t work very well. Photos were pretty tough for this entire post – what do you want to see while reading about sick kids and diarrhea? So this is my son, not much younger than the Ben in the story, hamming it up. In vibrant health. Just the way we all want our kids to be.
It’s an "insert your child here" photograph, really. Insert your child in the whole story just to scare yourself, and hopefully your family will never have to live it.
I heard from my friend recently about how "Ben" is doing now, unsolicited:
I don’t remember if I told you, but I noticed a difference in Ben’s "results" soon after starting the probiotics. He still asks for his ‘medicine juice’ every morning, and the websites said it can take months for the gut to fully recover. Thanks again!
Joy to my heart! I’m just so glad and relieved that the probiotics helped, and it’s probably time to mail another tub her way.
Our family has found good things in a tub or bottle of probiotics – every human being needs to have a proper balance in their gut of the "good guys" and the "bad guys." Or else.
Or else what? The bad guys will take over, and then you are ill.
There are many good brands of probiotics and great ways to get them via food, as well, but for those in gut-compromised situations, I really think a supplement is the way to rebuild fastest. (Plus, it can’t be denied that taking a supplement once a day is easier than making homemade kimchi, water kefir, or kombucha.)
If you want to really dig in and learn about the human microbiome, our relationship with bacteria, and the scientific basis for probiotcs and how this one is made very conscientiously, you can listen in on a free teleseminar on April 9th at 2p EST. It will likely last about an hour and includes time for Q&A at the end. Register here:
If you just want to try a tub, you can get 10% off all Superfoods through April 19 with the code “kitchenstew” – shop here. If you spend $150 you will become a Lifestyle Member and receive 20% off your first and all subsequent orders. Membership remains active with just one order per year.
Who are you going to pass this information on to? Sharing the gift of good health, our Monday Mission for this week, may include passing on information to help catch a serious problem sooner, rather than later! I’m grateful I heard the story…
If you found this post helpful, please pass it along to other using the buttons above. Also, I’d love to visit your inbox just twice a month, no clutter, and share more uber helpful natural health and real food tidbits – only the best of the best! Get a free printable (currently on natural sweeteners) when you sign up HERE.
Other Natural Health Posts:
- Fighting Infection without Antibiotics
- Are Hand Sanitizers Safe?
- Get Rid of Warts Naturally
- Natural Remedies for Ear Infections
- Real Food BRATY Diet
- How We Kicked Whooping Cough
- You Probably Need a Parasite Cleanse
- Natural Pneumonia Treatments For Toddlers
- Natural Remedies for Croup
- 10 Reasons I Drink Bone Broth
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
Disclosure: The Miessence "store" is mine and I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. But it will often to put to good use as the probiotics fairy! See my full disclosure statement here.