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After she caught hand, foot and mouth disease from her son, Glynisia Yeo spent 10 days in hospital and lost her fingernails, toenails and hair. She shares her harrowing experience.
I saw a red spot on my palm. I ignored it. My attention was on my two-year-old, Conran, who was still recovering from hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) and was cranky. A few days ago, he had a few red spots on his feet and palms, as well as mouth ulcers. He lost his appetite for two to three days.
More spots appeared. A visit to the general practitioner confirmed that I had HFMD. By evening, blisters had spread to my fingers and wrist area. I was itching like crazy, and managed to sleep only after applying calamine lotion.
I woke up and discovered that my hands were covered with bulbous, freaky-looking sores. I couldn’t open and clench my fist without wincing in pain. There were red spots on my feet, too.
Every spot was itchy and I couldn’t stop scratching. I cried as I changed Conran’s diaper that afternoon. The diaper’s coarse texture grazed my blistered hands – it was sheer torture!
When my husband, Adrian, arrived home from work, I showed him my hands and grumbled that I had been struggling the whole day, even in the toilet. Perhaps I should go to the hospital, I said. We arrived at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital at 8pm.
I was sent to the isolation ward and put on a drip. Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease physician, told me that it’s very rare for adults to get HFMD.
He warned that throat ulcers would appear the next day and to be prepared that I wouldn’t be able to walk for a few days if I developed sores on my feet.
Read Also: How to cope when your child has HFMD
My hands were so swollen; my skin was stretched taut. I had fluids pumped into me regularly to prevent dehydration, and I needed to relieve myself every hour. But my achy feet made it painful for me to walk to the bathroom (the doctor didn’t want me to use a catheter).
I had no choice but to call the nurse for support every time nature beckoned. For the first time in my life, I also needed a nurse to help bathe me as I couldn’t hold the shower head or flip-open the shampoo bottle cap, much less scrub my hair.
I bathed with assistance for the next six days.
Ulcers had developed at the back of my throat, making swallowing difficult. Even eating cooled porridge was like stuffing a spiky ball down my throat. It hurt like crazy!
And no, ice cream did not help at all because something in that creamy substance made my ulcers sting. Iced water was painful, cold jelly was bad… I stopped eating and drinking altogether. Thank goodness for the drip.
I still couldn’t eat or drink – the pain from swallowing was just unbearable. I distracted myself by watching TV.
I couldn’t carry Conran and showed him my hands, explaining that Mummy was in pain. He seemed to understand.
My feet didn’t develop blisters as initially thought; just painful red sores. But my mouth, cheek and chin area broke out in a red rash.
I discovered a wonderful drink that I could down without wincing: Iced chamomile tea! I drank this like water. I couldn’t hold the cup handle properly because of finger blisters. My tongue developed ulcers today.
Some blisters on my hands had ruptured, so the skin was peeling and very cracked. As my skin had thickened during the outbreak, when it peeled, it was stiff and sharp at the edges.
A dermatologist gave me some solution to soak my hands in, plus creams to apply. They didn’t soothe the hands immediately. My appetite was slowly coming back even though the ulcers persisted.
The medicated gargle caused such a stinging pain each time I used it. By now, I could walk without assistance.
The skin on my hands peeled even more, with cracked skin hanging off my fingertips. Some large blisters on my right hand remained intact.
I was ravenous at this point, having missed eating the last one week. I ate everything on the food tray. The nurse finally took out my drip – hooray!
I still couldn’t do simple tasks with my hands, like opening a box or brushing my hair.
The sores on my hands were drying up and I attempted to bathe by myself, with gloves. It went well, although I took much longer than usual.
The mouth ulcers were almost disappearing, and my food cravings returned. I asked my husband to buy me a curry puff. Another friend indulged my craving for Gong Cha iced milk tea.
My toes were a little swollen from the stretched skin, but walking was no longer painful. The red spots on my hands were lightening. Good sign. I made sure I was able to function without assistance before being discharged.
I said goodbye to the nurses at ward 1132 and I was given a three-week MC by the doctor. I had to be quarantined at home as the blisters on my hands were still not fully healed and contagious.
Back at home…
Back at home: I thought the worst was over – it wasn’t. The skin on the soles of my feet started peeling. Standing and walking became a challenge again, as I hobbled around the house to get things done. My soles felt extremely sensitive because of the raw and exposed skin, which made it difficult for me to stand for long periods of time.
I was frustrated that I couldn’t do anything to accelerate the healing process. Then, HFMD unleashed its ugliest after-effects: I was losing my nails and hair!
I observed that the nails on my right thumb and index finger were turning whiter and separating from the nail bed. I waited two more days before contacting Dr Leong when I realised that it was not getting any better.
“Doctor! My nails seem to be falling off! Is that normal?” “Yes. That happens sometimes,” was all he said.
... the worst was yet to happen
Okay, so I figured that he omitted mentioning this somewhat disturbing phenomenon so as not to cause premature panic attacks. Over time, my toenails and fingernails dislodged. I freaked out.
The discomfort was more pronounced on the fingers, probably because they are more visible to the eye. Without my fingernail, I discovered that any prying action, such as opening a canned drink, was no longer an easy task. Even peeling stickers from my son’s sticker book took time.
The most painful part of this nail-dropping encounter wasn’t the exposed nail bed; it was the period when the nail was peeling off, but still attached to the skin.
Looking forward to a manicure … in September!
Inadvertently, things such as hair and tissue paper got trapped in between and caused sudden pain. I wrapped surgical tape around all my fingernails and it made my life so much better.
Then, there was my hair, which fell out in clumps. When I realised that nothing could be done to prevent it, my heart dropped. I cried for a few days because my hair is thin by nature. I braced myself for the worst and my kind doctor reminded me that it would all come to pass.
As I write this in late May, my nails are now growing back. I am definitely looking forward to a well-deserved manicure and pedicure – hopefully by September. I’m discovering, albeit slowly, that time does indeed heal all wounds.
This article was originally published in Young Parents.