“Hmm,” says the doctor. “Hmm,” I agree, wanting to seem compliant for some reason. My toddler son frowns in mock seriousness, reaching out a clammy finger to try and boop both the doctor and me on the nose.
But there is no time for booping, not today. The doctor and I are examining three red spots on my toddler’s cheek, trying to determine how ominous they are.
You wouldn’t know it from his demeanour – the boy has yanked off his socks in one fluid motion and is now draping them over his face, cackling uproariously to himself – but my younger son is ill.
We’ve had a week of hacking coughs, low-grade fevers, and night-time skin that’s occasionally felt as hot as a just-boiled kettle. To be honest, this sort of thing – which, more often than not, hits my husband and me in a wave of headachey shivers and fatigue just as the kids recover – has been a monthly occurrence since my son started nursery.
Hopefully he’s working his way through the germs common to childcare and will start school with a strong constitution – the way he’ll presumably work his way through a series of unflattering teenage haircuts before settling on something stylish (but employable) in his 20s.
But then The Spots appeared – a triangle of small red pimples next to my son’s (cute, but snot-encrusted) nose. They don’t seem itchy, and they disappear under glass, so they’re not meningitis.
We are a family of atypical viral spots. Eighteen months ago I was sitting in a GP’s surgery with my older son, who was woozy with fever and had two spots on his arm. We were told it was eczema. A week later, my son was no better so we returned to learn that it was, at least, not chickenpox. The following week we were back again – with no further spots, but continued malaise – and chickenpox was diagnosed.
Meanwhile, the doctor right now is scrolling through Google. Not even, as far as I can tell, some secret doctor’s Google, just regular Google. He’s Googling “measles rash” and harrumphing into his fist. My son is watching him with wide eyes. “Man angry,” he tells me, in hushed tones.
The doctor rides his swivel chair back over to my son to palpate his glands and check his limbs and torso for spots. But there are none. “I mean, it might be measles,” he sighs. “The MMR vaccine is given in two parts – during babyhood and just before school age – so being so young, your son isn’t fully immunised against measles, mumps and rubella.”
“No nursery, no school, no playgrounds or friends’ houses, or even parks. Please just keep him at home...”
“Normally that isn’t a problem as the UK used to be measles-free…,” the doctor trails off, waving his arms around in exasperation. “And now I have to notify the government.” He turns back to his computer, tapping away.
“I’m afraid this young man is under quarantine now,” he tells me. “No nursery, no school, no playgrounds or friends’ houses, or even parks. Please just keep him home where, if he does have it, he can’t infect anyone else.”
I look at my son, who has removed his socks again and placed them on his head like a hat, and wonder how I’m going to keep him occupied when it’s summer and there’s a man digging up our patio so he can’t go in the garden. Or how I’m going to work when no childminders will watch a quarantined child.
“Well, thanks for your time,” I say, and start wrestling my son back into his buggy.
The doctor looks startled. “In all likelihood, it’s not measles,” he stutters. “And in any case there’s no treatment for it because it’s a virus, so just Calpol and –”
“Hydration and Ibuprofen if he needs it,” I say. “I know, I know.”
“Right,” replies the doctor. “And, I’m sorry to ask this, but when you leave, if you could –”
“It’s okay, I know where the back exit is,” I tell him.
I know all this, because I went through it last year with my older son. Six months after the chickenpox episode, measles was on the rise again. More and more signs – handwritten, hurried-looking – were popping up on the doors of doctors’ surgeries, schools, hospitals, church halls and nurseries, warning of new cases of measles. Which is when my older son developed three red spots on his face. And I brought him in and had an almost identical appointment.
“Lolly?” My younger son asks hopefully – but fruitlessly – as we manoeuvre down the back corridors of the surgery and leave through the fire exit, safely away from the uninfected in the waiting room.
Bloody measles. Neither of my sons actually had it in the end. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’m just sorry – and by ‘sorry’ I mean impotently furious – that ending up sorry rather than safe is even a reality in this day and age.
For More Information:
The MMR vaccine is given on the NHS as a single injection to babies as part of their routine vaccination schedule, usually within a month of their first birthday. They’ll have a second injection of the vaccine before starting school, usually at 3 years and 4 months.
The vaccine can sometimes be given to babies from 6 months of age if they may have been exposed to the measles virus, or during a measles outbreak. Babies under 6 months old are not routinely given the MMR vaccine.
Source: NHS Choices.