Down Home: Medical malady morphs into mystery

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Joanna and I love mysteries. We’re forever tantalized by stories that reflect Winston Churchill’s description of Russia: “… a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

We might not place “Lost” in the same spot, but both of us would rank the sci-fi island adventure on our Top 10 list of all-time favorite TV shows. Each episode provided a whodunit/whatwasit/howcouldit tour de force. And the entire series proved even more complicated and fascinating and wonderful than all that.

Our current fave is “The Blacklist,” starring the always-terrific James Spader. We both want to know what happened to Raymond Reddington’s family on “that night” and how he knows nearly every bad guy on the planet. We wonder how Elizabeth Keen got “that scar” on her wrist and if her husband, Tom, is a pawn or a player.

Working on our own mystery

But lately, we worked out our own mystery.

All things considered, we’d rather watch ’em on the tube.

Jo started running a fever in the middle of the night between a Monday and a Tuesday. For a while there, we thought she might be coming down the flu, but a swab test proved otherwise. Still, her temperature rose and fell and twisted and curved like the Runaway Mine Train.

Then came the rash. Oh, the rash. It started mild and only annoying. But eventually, her scarlet calves and ankles perplexed—in order—an emergency room nurse and doc (five and a half hours on a fun-filled Saturday night), a rheumatologist and a dermatologist.

Swollen, achy joints

Swollen, achy joints followed up fever and the rash. They delivered the greatest pain. Jo said she felt like an old lady. Moved like one, too.

Her doctors drew blood and shared lab tests and tried to figure out what was wrong with her. They traded guesses like a medical version of Twenty Questions—in a foreign language.

Occasionally, they used scary words and phrases. Like “lupus” and “rheumatoid arthritis.” And when they didn’t know what else to think, they said something that has simultaneously comforted and worried parents for generations. “Maybe it’s a virus.”

Anybody who can read vocal inflection and body language could guess the specialists feared some of the bad outcomes. But since I’m a medical optimist, I wanted to believe the least-horrific diagnosis, which would be “Maybe it’s a virus.” Better a disease that turns the love of your life inside out for a few days than a chronic illness that dishes up agony every livelong day, not to mention livelong night.

Prayer and hope

The first whiff of hope wafted in Sunday in Bible study. When I added Jo’s name to our class prayer list, Elaine said, “That sounds like what happened to Amy … .” After church, I tracked down Amy, and the symptoms sounded similar. Amy is our children’s pastor, and her doctor said she contracted a childhood virus. “This is rare, but when an adult gets it, all the symptoms are worse,” Amy reported.

This is rare, but when an adult gets it, all the symptoms are worse.

On Monday, we ping-ponged between specialists and scary outcomes and flat-out bemusement. Nobody knew what was going on.

And then Jo started to get better. Her fever broke one night. The next day, swelling subsided in her joints. She didn’t feel so achy. And the steroids made her rash recede.

That was about the time our older daughter Lindsay reported her recent fever morphed into a rash.

Coincidence? We thought not.

Then Lindsay’s fingers swelled, and she felt achy. Just like her mama.

The final clue

The final clue clicked into place when Lindsay’s 3-year-old son, Ezra, (our grandson, of course) woke up with a rash on his little face.

“Fifth Disease,” Ezra’s pediatrician reported.

Lindsay relayed the story of Ezra’s mother and grandmother as the doc nodded and explained: “This is rare, but when an adult gets it, all the symptoms are worse.”

Mystery solved. Ta-da!

Since Ezra’s dad, Aaron, and I haven’t come down with Fifth Disease, we’re thanking God we didn’t have to endure a rerun.

All this reminds me of the angst and agony of actually raising children. As their brains develop, their bodies grow and their souls mature, we walk with them through all kinds of social and spiritual maladies. We hope and pray and cry and hope some more to relieve them of basic human maladies—selfishness, greed, self-importance, hyper-sensitivity, vengeance and anger.

Instinctively, we realize these traits present a challenge to children, “but when an adult gets it, all the symptoms are worse.”

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