If you’ve been through it as a parent, the words Molluscum Contagiosum strike fear in your heart. If not, you’ve probably never heard of it, and you likely don’t care. Good for you. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Molluscum is a highly contagious (thus: contagiosum), incredibly common, and essentially harmless viral skin infection. It results in round, firm, white-filled bumps. They might be small. They might be a smattering on your kid’s shoulder or chest. They might redden or blacken quickly. They might come and go on your kid’s beautiful baby skin before you’ve even noticed. Or you might brush it off as a heat rash or some weird pimples.
Good for you. Good for your kid and his robust immune system.
Or. They might be enormous. They might proliferate seemingly overnight, with hundreds on your precious darling’s neck, arms, and face. FACE!
You’ll google it at the first sign of those little buggers getting bigger, looking like warts or moles or God-knows-what-scary-thing-that-might-be-really-bad. Google will tell you that it’s harmless. It will tell you that it will (eventually) run its course and cure itself. It will tell you to do nothing, relax, and wait.
You, being chill (you pride yourself on it. Your kid has only ever had one sick visit and that was because the damn daycare made you get a note), listen. You do nothing. You relax. You wait.
They don’t budge. They spread. People are noticing. Your kid is upset. (You don’t tell her, but so are you.)
You swallow your (stupid) pride and take your kid to the doctor. Your doctor says that it’s harmless, that it will run its course, and that there is nothing to do. You go home and Google it again. But this time you go deeper, and learn that sure, for some kids it goes away quickly. So quickly that most parents don’t notice. Clearly, that ship has sailed. As you find on the (increasingly hysterical) message boards, it can actually take up to four years (FOUR YEARS) to completely resolve itself.
You don’t have four years. You call the doctor. The doctor gives you a referral to the dermatologist. (Who knew it was so easy?)
You’re a bit harried, and totally traumatized, by the message boards. You don’t do any more research. You put it all in the hands of the dermatologist. She, of course, is in the business of dealing with exactly this. And she knows exactly what to do.
First she prescribes a very expensive cream that insurance won’t cover. (It’s really for genital warts.) It will work completely or not at all, she tells you. But it’s painless and you’ve always had good luck, so what the hell. You put it on your kid twice a day (carefully washing your hands afterwards) even though she hates sitting still that long. (She’s got a lot of the little assholes.) You think it’s working. You imagine that there are a few less of them, ignoring the ones that are not budging. (Most of them aren’t budging.) You go back to the dermatologist for your follow-up appointment, full of hope.
It didn’t work, she tells you. Time for phase two.
Phase two is a combination of curettage and, essentially, chemically burning off the damn assholes. Your kid doesn’t like the sound of either of those, but wants them OFF HER FACE. NOW. So the doctor puts on a topical numbing cream and you wait. After about 20 minutes (with your kid getting ever more nervous) she returns with her tool. Her TOOL. She proceeds to scrape the molluscum off your kid’s face. Blood is drawn. Tears are flowing. Your kid’s and yours.
It’s over. Her face is molluscum-free. And bruised and bloodied. It will soon scab over (I promise it won’t scar, the doctor says, which is why you went this route instead of freezing them off), which doesn’t seem like an improvement to your bruised and bloodied kid right now. (Or you, but you don’t tell her.)
It’s not over. The salicylic acid (and yes, there are other options, but you didn’t do your homework because of message board trauma) is applied to the ones on her body. Tape is put over them. You are told to take the tape off after two hours. They will blister, the doctor says, and the molluscum will eventually fall off. That sounds easy enough, you think. You and your kid book a follow-up (for three weeks later, so she’ll have time to forget, the doctor says) and leave.
Your kid hated the curettage (of course she did), but has a good attitude now that it’s over. She also can’t really move because of all of the tape. You buy her ice cream and let her stay home from camp. You get ready to take off the tape, weirdly excited. As you pull off the first strip, you notice that the waxy white virus comes off with it. That molluscum is totally gone.
You are so excited (this is better than you’d hoped!) and show it to your kid. Except that she’s screaming and crying because you just stripped off her skin and it hurts like hell. It burns. And the acid dripped and she’s got all these blisters and some are already weeping. And she’s weeping. And you’re weeping. And you are officially The Worst Mother In The World.
As you remove the rest of the tape, you figure out the best way to do it. You have the bandages pre-peeled. You have an ice pack at the ready. (You still give an internal clap every time a molluscum comes off. And wonder what will happen to those that remain.)
The tape is now off. Your kid is traumatized. Her good attitude it over because it turns out it was far from over. You are exhausted. But also invigorated. Determined. You will beat these bastards if it is the last thing you do. You go even deeper into Google. You learn that the virus spreads not just through skin-to-skin contact, but through fabric, in water, and (it seems) through the goddamn air itself.
Your former blasé attitude to hand washing, pajama washing, sheet-changing, towel-changing is a thing of the past. (You are, in fact, a little gross.) You impose military-level hygiene rules that exclude only baths. The virus festers in baths. Your kid loves baths. You make her shower.
You also learn about alternative forms of treatment that Dr. Google swears by. You buy tea tree oil and thuja cream and wish you had tried it before. You don’t know if it is working on her already traumatized skin, but it is a lot less painful, even though she still winces when you approach her wounds.
But it doesn’t matter, because your kid’s face is healing. Her body is healing. She’s getting better. She’s shaking it off. (Kids are so resilient.) You begin to breathe. You have won.
Your younger kid gets it. You take out the very expensive cream that either works immediately or not at all. And then you wait.