TB or not TB (Part I)

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Bouncy toddler

Just before the school holidays our nanny was not well. She had lost weight, was complaining of tiredness and she had a terrible pain in her back. She was cold during the day and wore a thick jacket indoors. We thought it might be TB so we took her for a chest x-ray, which came back negative. Our doctor eventually diagnosed her with arthritis in her thoracic spine and she went off on her annual three-week holiday with some strong painkillers.

On the last weekend of the school holidays we were on holiday in Betty’s Bay and L got a text message from Grace* (our child’s nanny) to say that she couldn’t come to work anymore because she was sick with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDRTB) and she had to go to the clinic every day for treatment. It was a fairly short message and it ended with Grace sending love to the girls and saying that she missed them.

That was five weeks ago and to say we have been shell-shocked ever since is an understatement. We suspected that Grace could possibly have been HIV-positive and we had tried to reassure her that this would not affect her employment but that she needed to stay well. Both for the sake of her own children and for ours. But Grace denied being HIV-positive and we didn’t feel that we could press the issue. The one thing we were keen to prevent was that Grace would get sick with TB and then pass it on to the girls.

Cue worst case scenario. Apart from the trauma of trying to find a new nanny (just at the time when L’s mom, who is our main backup child-carer) will be overseas for six weeks, we have also had the drama of trying to assess whether the girls have been infected with TB. And then working out how to prevent them from getting sick.

After a considerable amount of tests and palaver, L assessed that they had been infected and bought a whole armload of preventive medicine which we tried to get the girls to take. Both of them vomited – the first one in the first five minutes. The second one in her sleep (all over the bed). Those drugs are revolting.

What to do? L is already sick of me repeating the old psychology cliché of “one step at a time”. At least I didn’t add in “Let Go and Let God”.

Since then we have stalled for time. L had a presentation, I had other work demands. Tessie was sick with bronchialitis. Both of the girls had winter colds. We couldn’t face doing endless cleaning without a domestic worker. So we decided to wait. I tried to convince L that Grace only got sick because her immune system was compromised and that the girls were both ostensibly healthy. Most people infected with TB never get sick. Yes, T is already showing signs of early asthma and children under the age of three have compromised immunity anyway. But to all intents and purposes she is a bouncy toddler. A clingy little one who falls down a lot and cries broken-heartedly when momma leaves for work. But a healthy little girl nevertheless.

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5 Responses to TB or not TB (Part I)

  1. litlove says:

    Oh my goodness! What a terrible thing to happen for all concerned. And how worrying for you. I struggle a lot with the sort of Western medicine that makes you sicker to take it than you were in the first place. It seems so brutal to me when the body is really very adept at healing itself. Of course you worry desperately with small children, who go up and down very quickly, but I’m a strong believer that if a child appears well, the likelihood is that she IS well. Though I say this knowing full well how panicky parenting small children makes you. I am so very sorry you ended up in a worst case scenario – I just hate that myself. Sending (germ-free) hugs.

  2. Pete says:

    Thanks for the support, Litlove! I wasn’t sure whether to write about this (or post about it) but I think it does help to share it. I’m also not a great fan of taking strong meds unless the girls have to. Parenting is difficult at the best of times but now we have the added issue of TB to factor in when they get sick as kids invariably do.

  3. smithereens says:

    Oh Pete, I’m so sorry to hear of this ordeal, you must be quite stressed out! Maybe waiting a bit more will help you have a clearer picture of the situation, or perhaps get another opinion. I hope the winter colds will end soon enough for you all and the spring will help.

  4. Pete! This is so scary – I’m so sorry you have had to go through this. These drug-resistant bugs are so scary. Are the doctors giving you any medical advice that is at all helpful? I think you are right – most people infected with TB never become sick…my husband and I are tested regularly because we are (or well, I was) in healthcare and but it’s scary how quickly it can crop up. Take care of yourselves – and don’t go looking for zebras when its only horses you see :-). The fact your nanny was negative when you took her to get her tested lessens the likelihood the girls were exposed.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks C! It is very scary but at the moment we are more focused on getting through the last of the winter bugs combined with teething and some separation anxiety thrown in for good measure. All told … a lot of crying on the part of the girls. We’ll cross the TB bridge when we get there. I hope your move is going well. 🙂

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