How shall we ever survive this one? One of my sons has molluscum contagiosum, plain as the dozen little red blotches on his chest and underarm and plain as the sheaf of single spaced computer printouts handed to me by the elementary school nurse.
It’s a virus, the nurse tells me, and it’s contagious. And the boy might have to be . . . There’s a slight pause here and you sense that the word "quarantine" might be in play. But then it comes out: . . . the boy might have to be "excluded" from school.
My eyes race through the 11 pages of Internet postings. It’s from emedicine.com, a research paper prepared by Dr. C. Lisa Kauffman MD, chief of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Medical Association, and the Society for — get this — Investigative Dermatology. If investigative dermatology is anything like investigative journalism — I shudder to think.
I keep plowing on through the mound of information. Molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV, for short, I discover) is "a cutaneous infection caused by a large DNA poxvirus that affects both children and adults. Transmission has been reported by direct skin contact and has occurred in children sharing baths, towels, gymnasium equipment, and benches. Autoinoculation also occurs as evidenced by linear arrays of lesions."
The dire medical language continues. Links are provided to "related" articles on basal cell carcinoma, dermatitis herpetiformis, keratoacanthoma, and warts, nongenital.
Some familiar initials begin to jump out: In patients with AIDS the lesions that otherwise might be 2 to 6 millimeters in diameter can be 15 millimeters or more. A close-up photo is shown of an HIV-positive male, and the lesions have spread to his face. Elsewhere I see that AZT can be sometimes be effective in treating it — good lord how will we survive this one?
Of course, we do. Thanks to good, old-fashioned 8 and a half by 11 paper and a laser printer, the nurse gives me my own hard copy of the Internet findings. Fueled by the belief that a little information is a dangerous thing, and knowing that the Internet can produce a mind-numbing amounts of little information, I force myself to read the print-out slowly and carefully. There in the middle of page 5 is this statement: "Molluscum contagiosum generally is self limited and heals after several months or years. Any one lesion is present for about 2 months; however, to prevent autoinoculation or transmission to close contacts, therapy may be beneficial." On page 8 is another glimmer of hope: Molluscum contagiosum is a benign self-limited disease. Treatments are effective. Overall prognosis is excellent."
As the physician’s assistant in the dermatologist’s office later says, "this isn’t a threat to his health; it’s just a nuisance."
I think back to the warts I had on my hands — right there, for everyone to see! — when I was 9 or 10. What kind of alarms would the Internet have sounded for me and my parents if there had been an Internet. And how — in that dark, pre-Information Age — did I ever manage to survive those warts?
A few months ago a friend forwarded to me one of those personal essays that get scattered across the Internet. This one was aimed at children of the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and even ’70s, and wondered how all of us could have lived as long as we did, considering that:
As children we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, and when we rode our bikes we had no helmets.
We got cut and broke bones and broke teeth, and there were no law suits from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame but us.
We shared one drink with four friends from one bottle and no one died of this.
We made up games with sticks and tennis balls.
We had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment.
Some students weren’t as smart as others and failed exams so they were held back a year. Tests were not adjusted for any reason.
And, perhaps the one that struck me the most, this: "We did not have Play Stations, Nintendo 64, X-boxes, video games, 250 satellite channels on TV, DVD movies, surround sound, cell phones, personal computers, Internet chat rooms. . . We had friends."
Back at the elementary school the health officials apparently came to the same conclusions I did about molluscum contagiosum. My boy has not been excluded, though they have asked him to keep his shirt on — literally now as well as figuratively.
My boy and I will survive MCV, I am convinced. As for the Nintendo, the movies, the 250 channels, and the Internet chat rooms, I am hopeful but not nearly so sure.