Hospitals, herpes, and douches

It started with a small sore on my five year old’s mouth. He wasn’t complaining, but it looked like it might be painful, and definitely was not very cosmetically appealing. So, my husband took him to the doctor and received an ointment to put on his lip. That night, my son kept getting up, complaining about being itchy. I gave him some medicine, and noted in the morning that the lip looked a little better. I took him to the preschool and let the assistant know why he hadn’t been there yesterday. After pointing to his mouth, she nodded sagely.

“Ah… herpes…”

“No! Not herpes!!” I responded immediately. In America, preschool teachers didn’t bust out with herpes accusations quite so readily.

By that night, my son was looking pretty miserable. The lower part of his face was reddening, and it was spreading down his neck. And he couldn’t sleep, getting up every few hours, crying. I didn’t realize until then that crying has different regional variants. Israeli kids cry “ayuh, ayuh, ayuh”. It’s certainly inspires pity.

The next day, I took my son back to the pediatrician. By then, the blisters had started. The pediatrician thought it was an allergy to the medication for his sore, gave me an antihistamine to try to bring down the rash, and said my son should stay out of preschool for a couple of days. Thinking everything was well in hand, I returned to work. My co-workers were curious why I had been gone, so I told them it was an allergic reaction to the medication for a sore on his mouth.

“Oh!” they said in a chorus. “Herpes!”


By the next day it was obvious that my son was not getting better. After a visit to the emergency clinic, my son was admitted to the hospital. This had to be some kind of a record: two kids from the same family admitted within four months. I was waiting for the social worker to interview us to rule out Munchausen’s by proxy.

I came to the hospital the next morning, as soon as I got the other kids off to school. A doctor who looked remarkably like Dr. Cox from Scrubs (except for generally affable) came to put in a line for IV antibiotics and antihistamines. When he undressed my son, he got a little excited, and spoke rapidly to the nurse in Hebrew. I only heard a couple of words in English, which after some Google-fu, I learned referred to a rare allergic reaction touched off by medication which causes skin to blister and then peel off. Ugh. The condition is so painful, that they actually gave him a mix of acetaminophen and oxycodone.  I’m hoping it’s not the first step towards an A&E TV series “Kindercontin – The youngest addicts”.

Another treatment the doctors tried was frequent showers to help the itching. I spend a lot of time at the nurses’ station, begging for towels and pajamas. Once I went up to let them know that my son’s IV was finished. The nurse looked at me out of the corner of her eye and said, “Douche.”

Um. Okay? I know I’m a little annoying, but no need to get  so mean!

She saw I didn’t understand, so she tried again. “Do you need to douche?”

My mind went back to countless summer days spent watching soap operas with my mom. In between scenes of men cheating on their secretaries with their brothers’ wives, and demon possession, there had been endless commercials featuring two c’s in a k, talking about their freshness levels. Is that why this nurse would think I am in need of a feminine hygiene product right now, to make me feel more at home?

It took a couple of moments of personal inventory to convince myself that I was not in critical need of a douche at that moment, by which time the nurse recalled that the word she was looking for was shower. I thanked her for her concern, and advised drily, that should I be in want of a douche, she’d be the first to know.



About the Author
Malynnda Littky made aliyah to Israel with her family in 2007 from Oak Park, Michigan. Her recent stay in Paris, enjoying both medical tourism and her new status as the trophy wife of a research economist, has renewed her love for Israel, despite arriving just in time to enjoy several weeks of lockdown.