Monday, January 9, 2012

Why I think McDonalds is okay

I don't think McDonalds food is healthy, certainly not.  And as I began my mothering journey, and continue it, I aspired to be totally organic and healthy and eco-friendly and...well...perfect.  And McDonalds is none of those things.  Except that sometimes on a road trip, McD's gets the job done.  (Perfect mother means happy kids in the car, right?)

Then Wolfie ended up in the hospital.

I've told my story (his story) to family and friends, and I wrote it in a journal with a pen to keep for my family forever.  But I'd like to share it here, since I now think McDonalds is okay and even though we never have pop cans in our house (because those are so un-organic, -healthy and -eco-friendly), I know all about the pop tab thing.  And I'm very grateful for it, and appreciative for any of you who ever saved a pop tab.

A year ago, Wolfie woke up on a Thursday and said, "Why do I have this weird rash on my hand?"  His hand, wrist and a bit of his forearm was very discolored.  It was like a mottled purplish color.  But it wasn't inflamed, and his skin was smooth - no bumps, and I asked him if it itched or anything and he said no.  By the way, he had no, absolutely no symptoms of any kind of being sick.  Not even the sniffles.  He had tons of energy, big appetite, and was happy.  No emotional outbreaks, which with 5-year olds usually indicates they are not feeling well.

So I thought to myself, "Well if this is what his eczema looks like now, then that's what it looks like."  We sent him to school.  Fifteen minutes after school began both Gabe and I got a call.  His teacher saw his hand and sent him to the nurse and she called us and said to bring him home because he might have strep.  Strep?  She took his temperature (99) and asked him if his throat hurt and of course he said "yes" (Mom-teacher here: you aks, "What hurts?" so the child can give you a specific answer instead of asking, "Does your throat hurt?  Does your tummy hurt?" therefore providing them with a fixation.), and of course he had that rash.

Gabe called our pediatrician and spoke to the triage nurse who said if he had strep he would 1) have a high fever (much higher than 99), 2) have a sandpaper like rash on his chest, and 3) his throat would hurt - a lot.

We didn't send him to school on Friday because he was absolutely fine other than that weirdo rash.

But a funny thing happened.  He started to get reddish purple polka dots on his belly.  Tiny ones.  We called the triage nurse again.  "It's hard to identify a rash over the phone," said the nurse.  Plus he had no other symptoms.  The nurse said he could have come into contact with any type of irritant - something he ate, something in the air, something in his clothes.  This, again, made sense to us because we've heard it all before when looking for an explanation for the cause of his eczema.

Irritant.  Irritant.  Irritant.  Ah ha!  The kids had gotten a craft kit.  Scratch paper.  You know, paper that appears to be gray but if you scratch it with a little scraping tool, you reveal rainbow colored designs underneath.  Wolfie had been obsessively scratching that stuff, creating piles of filament.  Who knows what that stuff is made of.  And it was all over his hand and his belly.  Why of course, that must be the irritant.

But a funny thing happened.  He took a bath Saturday night and he was covered in bruises.  His polka dots were all over his abdomen and his arms and legs were bruised.  He had a bruise on his forearm that was the unmistakable pattern of a little sister's grip.  Four fingerprint shaped bruises with a thumb shaped one on the opposite side.  Tulip was three; how could she bruise him that easily by grasping his arm?

It got worse.  Sunday morning he had a fresh, and by fresh I mean bluish-purple and lumpy, bruise on his neck.  I remember Saturday night I was at the computer and Wolfie was balancing on the foot of the rolling chair, stumbled, and clipped his chin on the edge of the desk.  He said "umph" or something.  Rubbed it real quick.  That was it.  Nothing that should have produced a bruise like this one.

Gabe had been planning to visit Grandma (retired nurse) with all the kids because Aunt Julie was going to be there (current nurse).  I was staying home to nurse myself.  I had a sinus infection or something.  But instead of taking a nap I searched for a identify-your-symptoms-and-name-your-illness website.  Found it.  It was a good one - it was set up like a flow chart where it would take your initial description, ask you questions, offer pictures, and after a few clicks there it was.


Go ahead and look it up or just read the definition here: a minute reddish or purplish spot containing blood that appears in skin or mucous membrane as a result of localized hemorrhage.


So of course I do some searches on what causes petecheia.

Lack of platelets.  Serious infection.  Leukemia.

That's when I decided to stop looking at the computer and take a nap.  Julie called from Grandma's house.  She said, "Wolfie has petecheia.  I don't want to scare you but that usually means there's something wrong with his hemoglobin...I think you should call your pediatrician." 

Of course.  It's Sunday.

I call the doctor on emergency duty and tell her, "My son's records for the past three days will say that he had a rash.  He actually has petecheia.  My sister-in-law is a nurse and she just looked him over."

"Okay," the doctor says.  "I want you to take him to the emergency room."  Actually, she said it like that after we talked about it for a bit and she said that I could bring him to her office first thing Monday morning but he'd have to be in a bubble until then; couldn't run the risk of him bumping any part of his body and causing any internal bleeding, head trauma, etc.  I pointed out that he is five and has two little sisters and none of them know the game called "stay in a bubble".  She finally said, as a mom, don't wait.  Take him to the emergency room now and find out what it is.  I was grateful for that.

We go to the emergency room.  PS - Wolfie is totally fine.  Covered in bruises and spots from head to toe but totally happy like he always is.  He is excited to go to the hospital.  It's going to be an adventure; he loves adventure.  He and I eat a quick very early dinner, I grab my purse, he grabs a Star Wars coloring book and a bag of markers.  We are off on our adventure.

The triage nurse (loved her) tells me that something scary is going on here.  I need to be prepared.  I might end up somewhere else - another hospital.  A hospital that specializes in children.  It was nice she said that.  I knew it - that something scary was going on - but it was nice that she said it in a caring manner.  I knew that she was totally ready to deal with me, a hysterical mother, but I wasn't hysterical.  I was in my mama zone.  Mama warrior.  Optimist mama.  All those types of mamas I am when something scary is going on and I refuse to let it hurt my children.  Besides, how helpful would it have been for Wolfie to see me lose it.  So that nurse measured me up just as I measured her up and we went to work.  Wolfie colored.

Wolfie got to wear a hospital gown!  It had tigers on it!  Awesome.
Wolfie got a needle poked into his arm.  Ouch.  That was all.  He was brave.  He got to see his very own blood leave his body through a tube and fill up two little vials.  That's part of the adventure.  Wow.

Then we wait.  We wait for the doctor to analyze his blood and tell us the diagnosis.  I begin my optimistic mantra chanting (in my head, of course, because how helpful would it be for Wolfie to see his mother chanting while rocking back and forth?).  I think back to the brief bit of research I did on petecheia and what kind of problem it could represent.  It seemed that there was a list, from mild to serious.  The most mild indication for petecheia is low platelets and the treatment for this is medicine.  It's treatable.  Curable.

It's what Wolfie had.

Big.  Sigh.  Of.  Relief.  (But I knew it.)

The doctor told me that Wolfie had low platelets.  Typically you have 150,000 per unit of blood and Wolfie had 10,000.  He suffered a onset of ITP - idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.  Out of all the things on that spectrum of problems represented by petecheia - this was small potatoes.  This was treatable with a dose of medicine.  Done.  Never to be experienced again.  (I mean, the percentage of a child having recurring ITP is extremely rare, but possible, so said the doctor.)  Why did he have ITP?  Who knows?  That's the idiopathic part of it.  For whatever reason his body was producing antibodies but there were no foreign invaders in his system so the antibodies just started gobbling up white blood cells.  Sometimes this happens when a child had a virus a few weeks prior, sort of like the antibodies are a bit late to the party but decide to party hard when they arrive.  We all had the stomach flu about three weeks earlier.  Weird, right?

The doctor also said that he would feel better if Wolfie were treated at a university children's hospital (which I really appreciated, I mean, he could've done the treatment there but he wanted my little boy to be surrounded by pediatric and asked if I would prefer Riley in Indianapolis or Comer in Chicago.  I chose Comer.  He said, "Okay, I'll arrange for transport, you should be ready in about 30-45 minutes."

I think my head was spinning so much as the good news (the good news being that Wolfie only had ITP), that I needed a little clarification as to what was about to happen.  I turned to the nurse and asked, "What does he mean by transport?" and she replied, "Oh, I'm sure it will be a ground as opposed to an air."

Transport = ambulance.  An ambulance ride to Chicago.  Right now.  

Holy cow can you say excited boy.  Our adventure just kicked up about 100 notches.  An ambulance ride!  Wolfie was so excited that every time he heard wheels rolling down the hall (and believe me, in the ER you hear that noise often), he'd say, "Is that my cart?"  When his "cart" did arrive, the technicians had to operate it's hydrolic lever.  Wolfie had leaped out of his hospital cot and was dancing with anticipatory delight at the idea of being strapped into an ambulance gurney.  By now the boy was somewhat of a Sunday evening ER celebrity and a whole committee of nurses and doctors had stopped by to wave him off.  Wolfie, the smiling boy with polka dots and a thirst for adventure.

The way the ambulance transport worked is the child is in the back with a technician, the one and only parent rides in the front with the driver.  Throughout my contact with Gabe at home, we decided that I would do this with Wolfie.  Gabe would bring the girls the next morning.  Wolfie and I were on a Wolfie-Mama adventure date.  But I figured he would just pass out in the ambulance; it was already close to 10:00.  He totally stayed awake.  He and his new friend Jessica played 85 games of tic-tac-toe and he talked her ear off.

We arrived at Comer - the most wonderful place for a sick child to spend time.  The staff was amazing.  The "amenities" were amazing.  Considering that my boy felt fine, it was like being at a children's resort.  Movies on demand.  Rather kid-fabulous 24 hour room service.  "Would he like anything else?  Perhaps a milkshake or smoothie?"  "Why yes, yes he would."  There was an awesome play room, video game room, art studio, more play areas, family kitchen lounge, and specialists galore.  Art therapists, play therapists, very fine doctors and nurses, and volunteers whose soul purpose in life was to play with my child and make him happy, happy, happy.  Which, I have to say, was an easy job for them.  In fact, I was trying to be a mother and tell Wolfie it was time to wrap it up and leave the playroom because Grandpa Bob was coming soon and we were all going to eat dinner together in the room and we had to get up there and order room service...inhale...and during that inhale the play room volunteers just jumped right in and offered Wolfie more toys, more video game time, more art supplies, more play.  She certainly didn't shoosh me away but I think she was considering it.

Wolfie's medical treatment at Comer was pretty simple.  Depending on his blood type, he would receive a dose of medicine called IV-IG in either one four hour dose or two, slowed down four hour doses.  Of course his blood type called for the latter and those two doses needed to be 24 hours apart.  He received the first dose shortly after midnight once he finally fell asleep.  That's why we got to spend a whole day in play land.  We had to hang around for 24 hours so he could get his second dose.

And that, my devoted readers, is where McDonald's comes in.  Have you heard of the Ronald McDonald house?  I admit, prior to this I had heard of it but didn't really understand it's purpose or services.  I thought it was a place where children lived but it is where parents stay when their children have to live in a hospital.  Since we were being treated on the Oncology/Hematology floor of the hospital, it became pretty clear to me that the other children were living at the hospital.  We were going to leave after the inconvenience of having to wait 24 hours for that second dose of IV-IG.  That was sobering.

The second night we were at the hospital, I took the girls to the Ronald McDonald house so Gabe could spend the night with his son, something he had never had to miss until the night before.  And I was so glad to be reunited with my girls, both of whom I've never spent a night apart.  The Ronald McDonald house allowed us to be together as a family, just a 10 minute shuttle ride apart.  I can't imagine what a life saver that house is for the families that spend weeks and weeks or months and months at the hospital.  This beautiful Victorian home offered three floors and about 12 bedrooms.  My room phone was a direct line to the hospital.  The kitchen was stocked with donated food, or food people bring themselves and mark with their names.  Our room was luxurious, and I didn't mind at all that I was expected to launder my sheets the following morning.  I was so grateful for the yogurt and granola and chocolate chip cookies for breakfast that had been donated the evening before.  The girls played in the Ronald McDonald play room while I washed our dishes.  I suppose I could have lounged in front of the fire place in the parlor overlooking the veranda and garden.  The girls could have watched TV in one of the common rooms upstairs near the bedrooms.  Instead we looked at the beautiful winter wonderland miniatures set up in the parlor before heading out to rejoin our boys at the hospital.

All I was asked for was a $10 donation.

Did you know that every Happy Meal purchased at McDonald's donates one penny to Ronald McDonald house?  So now, I don't cringe at the thought of McDonald's being our only recourse of road food.  We often pack a lunch ahead of time when we head out on the road.  The kids call it Papa's Happy Lunch.  Sometimes we put a little toy in their carton of food.  But that once in a while, when we lapse in our planning, I enjoy the fact that I'm given the opportunity to donate a little tiny bit more to the Ronald McDonald house.  And when I look in the back seat and see how beautifully perfect my children are, I think that a little un-organic, un-healthy, un-eco-friendly is a small small price to pay in comparison.



  1. Thank you for sharing this. You & wolfie were so brave.

  2. OH MY! What a painfully great story. And now I fill slightly guilty that my radio piece last Friday was anti fast food! LOL.

  3. Momma warrior mode, I love that. Wonderul story. Wolfie is such an awesome,spirited little guy.

  4. June, I heard your and Wolfie's story before, but not in such detail. Thanks for this wonderful update!

  5. Beautiful. And so happy that this got to be an adventure for Wolfie instead of something frightening. Go, Mama Warrior!

  6. So many chills. I have stayed there- it's amazing. They are amazing. I am SO glad you were in such good care. And so funny Donya and I had a convo today about McDonald's - it went something like "you should totally watch Food, Inc because it's so informative and I really liked it but we totally still get McDonald's sometimes."

    Love you and that Wolfie.