Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Outbreak... and after

For parents of toddlers in Singapore, it's right up there with sudden fires or wicked child kidnappers.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is an endemic childhood ailment that visits thousands every year - usually lasting only a few days. However, a handful of truly unfortunate victims never recover: When word breaks that a kindergarten, creche or other care centre has seen a case, the place clears out faster than you can say, 'Aa-ti-shoo'.

Just a few days ago, Sonny's infant care centre fell under the shadow. The first victims had been enrolled in the facility for older children next door, but then two of the little fella's playmates became confirmed HFMD statistics. We were sombrely told that it was best Sonny be kept at home for a few days while the place received a thorough wipedown, since HFMD can be spread through saliva left on shared toys.

Luckily, Mum happened to be clearing her leave and it was near the weekend anyway. Still, we suddenly had Sonny with us for a more prolonged spell than we ever envisioned. For the next couple of days, he tagged along as we embarked on various excursions - to condominiums in our ongoing research for a possible purchase, to eateries and the library. It was the longest continuous spell we had spent with him, and it seemed to us it stoked his clingy side: He became, if it were possible, even more dangerously attached to Mum and even more inclined to break into tears if left to himself. For our part, we scrutinised every newly-discovered pimple or freckle, wondering if these were the first harbingers of the disease: We even absented ourselves from a friend's party, not wishing to be responsible for Sonny innocently transmitting HFMD to one of the other tots there.

The next week, of course, Sonny was re-deposited at the infant care centre. Yet his increased propensity for tears hasn't yet abated. A doctor Pa chatted up told us that we ought to soothe him as soon as possible, but we are still occasionally letting him cry just to see how long he can keep it up. So far, the answer seems to be: For as long as it takes, which is bad news for the 'shun-him-to-discipline-him' school of thought. But we're now eyeing our upcoming holiday to the Arabian peninsula with some trepidation. If two days was enough to make the little fella extra-needy, 10 unbroken days with us might push him into some new and even more frenzied dimension.

At least, though, the HFMD scare gave us a warning of what might come. You know what they say about silver linings and clouds...