It started with a bunch of red dots on Beatrix’s back. No big deal. After a couple days I started looking up measles, chicken pox, etc, to try to see if I might need to do something. However, the spots didn’t match any of the descriptions, and she didn’t have any other symptoms except a sudden, really nasty diaper rash, so I thought I would wait and watch.
They turned into boils. Yuck. Well, one thing we know, is boils. I was a little baffled at why she would have so many (around 20) all at once. So I test-treated one with some onion overnight (we found it works well to help the boil as well as relieve pain). The next morning, the good news was that after removing the onion, all the pus came right out. The bad news was, Beatrix had a fever. (This is one of the signs with boils that the infection has gotten beyond home treatment.) We consulted with one of our colleagues who is a nurse, and decided to wait a little and try to treat the rest with onions, and see if that would make it better. It is 3 hours 1-way on a “bus” (big, hot, uncomfortable van) to Kigali to see a doctor, and we were pretty sure that she would just be prescribed antibiotics. (Which would be great if the infection is out-of-control, but unnecessary if we could help her fight the infection.) So we applied onions and band-aids to most of the rest of the boils, and waited a few hours. Again, the pus came right out! Easy. But on the second one I realized, it wasn’t pus coming out, it was WORMS!
You might be thinking something along the lines of, “Well, you are in Africa, these things are to be expected,” but Rwanda is fairly mild as far as scary parasites/sicknesses/bugs/etc go. In over 3 years, I’ve never seen anything like this.
After a couple minutes, I got over my panic, and we realized it was too late to get to Kigali in time to see the doctor that day anyway. So I consulted my best source of information on everything: Google. I also updated the email we had sent to a doctor friend in Canada to ask for advice. I was a little lost at where to start. I was mostly afraid that it was something in her bloodstream, and that this was just a symptom of worms eating her brain, or something like that. But after a bit I found something that looked promising (mango worms), and happened upon this blog post.
The description sounded familiar, and the treatment is to put petroleum jelly on, wait half an hour, and the worm will start to wiggle out: then you finish taking it out. It sounded simple enough, and at the very least we figured it wouldn’t hurt. And I had some petroleum jelly that a friend had given me to use
for Bea’s newborn bum (thanks again, Danielle). Sure enough, it worked well, so I went ahead with my diagnosis. We treated all the spots we could find, except one we left to show the doctor. We felt terrible, squeezing the worms out of each spot – she protested a lot, and the info we read said it was quite painful. (And remember she had a low fever all day long.)
two worms on a bandage: the whole bandage is about an inch by an inch
I had to hack at her hair to get the ones on the back of her head (one snip at a time while she crawled around – she never sits still). I was afraid she would be angry at us or frustrated after, but instead, when we were done, she was nearly the happiest I’ve ever seen her: she was all smiles and just crawled back and forth, back and forth, back and forth… over and over. It was like she was suddenly feeling so good, and that was how she knew to celebrate.
We went to bed. The next morning, the fever was gone, and we had gotten some advice from our doctor friend in Canada. Beatrix and I hopped on the “bus” to Kigali anyway. Although I thought I knew what it was and we were treating it, I’ve still never seen anything like it, and I was totally at a loss as to how she had gotten this, mainly on her upper back, neck, and the back of her head. They mainly come from the soil (but she has almost never crawled around on the dirt) or when your clothes aren’t dried properly/fast enough. It IS the rainy season, but mostly she wears clothes that don’t cover that area. I was hoping he would look at it and say, “Oh, I know what that is, this is what you need to do.”
I was disappointed.
He didn’t seem to have much idea what it was, or what we should do. He wanted to give antibiotics in case of infections, with all the openings (but it turns out that these parasites “keep a clean house,” so infection is unlikely). And he was concerned about scarring. I had to fight to keep my cool as I tried to convince him that the real problem was the WORMS IN HER SKIN, and I was hoping to treat that. I was also thankful we had heard from our friend, so I had a little more confidence to make my case. To his credit, he listened to my concerns, and gave me an ointment used for acne and skin parasites, as well as medication for internal worms, and antibiotics, just in case.
So, we put sulphur ointment on all red spots, several times a day, for several days after. She sprouted 2 more spots with worms, which we dealt with easily. She seemed to recover quite quickly. I, on the other hand, took a little longer. As thankful as I am for the internet, I was a little distressed that some of my best medical advice came from a blog. I also started to become hypervigilant, since I had no idea where this had come from.
I had started to suspect the cloth carriers we use, since she spends a lot of time in them, and that is the right area, when a friend said the same thing. When she said maybe it was time to wash them, I was so discouraged – we have been washing them regularly, and had recently washed one… And then the light went on. We had recently washed one, and I remembered putting her in it, thinking, “its dry enough.”
Apparently it wasn’t.
I felt terrible, but I’m sure it won’t be the last time my mistakes cause her difficulty. I also felt so much better, because now I have some idea of the cause, and something I can do to prevent this from happening again. (We bought an iron, and I’ll be ironing all her stuff during the rainy season to kill anything that may have made its home there. Having an iron makes me feel like a real adult.)
Several weeks later, the red spots are still fading, and I have hopes that there won’t be much for scars. Her hair is growing, and I’m sure she’ll be just fine with no long-term consequences. And her parents? Well, we have a new, gross, missionary story to tell around campfires.