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When a Little Infection Turns Ugly

Pills pouring from a medication bottleA couple weeks ago, Lexi complained that her finger hurt. It looked like she had a hangnail that had caused the irritation. I got out the Epsom salt and told her to soak it, then I dabbed on some Neosporin before bandaging it. We repeated this for a few days and then I forgot about it because that’s what I do. Single mom, six kids, two jobs, super-busy. I just didn’t think to ask her about her finger because it was just an irritated cuticle. No big deal, right?

Fast forward two weeks. Yesterday morning, Lexi nonchalantly showed me her finger and said, “I don’t think it’s getting better.”

I looked at her hand and gasped! “Ohmygosh! That’s horrible! Is that the same finger?” I asked incredulously as I cringed at the sight of her red, swollen finger that was oozing nastiness. The skin was peeling up like layers of phyllo dough on a baklava. Sorry for that visual, but you’re welcome for not putting an actual picture on here. I asked, “Why didn’t you tell me it was getting worse? Oh my gosh, doesn’t it hurt?”

She shrugged and said, “Not really. It’s pretty much numb. I don’t feel anything.”

My eyes widened. “Um honey, that’s not normal. I think we need to call the doctor tomorrow.”

The other kids took a look at her finger and started squealing, “Ew! Lexi has MRSA! Don’t touch me with your MRSA germs!” I know that antibiotic-resistant infections are no laughing matter and can get very serious, very quickly. But apparently making fun of your siblings no matter what is wrong with them is in the Brother and Sister Handbook.

I called the doctor this morning. “Hello. My daughter had a hangnail. I think she needs to be seen. I know it sounds silly. But her finger looks like a kielbasa; it’s pretty swollen. And the skin is flaky like a Greek pastry. I don’t know why I’m comparing it to food. I think I’m hungry. But back to her finger – it’s been two weeks and it’s looking worse instead of better. Plus, she says she can’t even feel it because her finger is numb. I guess it’s good that it’s not hurting her, but that’s probably a bad sign, huh?”

So we went to the doctor this afternoon. She swabbed some of the nastiness from Lexi’s nail bed and sent it for a culture. In the meantime, she prescribed strong oral antibiotics and prescription strength antibiotic ointment. Lexi happens to be one of those kids who refuses to swallow a pill. I try explaining that she swallows bigger bites of food than the tiny pills. She knows it’s true. It doesn’t make any difference. She flat-out refuses to swallow a pill. I have her practice swallowing little candies. No dice. I have her practice swallowing small pieces of cereal mixed in yogurt. After a minute of making faces and vehemently shaking her head, she manages to work the yogurt down, but the Cocoa Puff remains on her tongue. So, Lexi gets to drink like a cup and a half of medicine 3 times a day. Fun for her. When I picked up the medicine from the pharmacy, I needed 2 carts to carry all of it. I don’t know what she’s going to do as she gets older and the medicine she needs doesn’t come in liquid form. I guess I’ll have to sit on her, give her a chunk of liverwurst (gag!) with the pill hidden in it, and rub her throat until she swallows it like we used to have to do for our dog.

We’ll find out later this week just what kind of bacteria we’re dealing with, but hopefully the medicine will take care of it in the meantime. Anyway, my point here is if your child has a seemingly innocuous infection, make sure you keep your eye on it until it’s completely gone. Sometimes those little, no-big-deal infections can turn into something much nastier and more difficult to treat. And don’t assume that it’s better because your child has stopped complaining because kids are weird and sometimes they don’t think to mention their ailment until their finger is swollen to the size of a cigar.

*added* The culture confirmed that it was a nasty staph infection, but the antibiotics are taking care of it, thankfully.

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