Monday, January 19, 2009

Bizarre Medical Episode (That Happened at MY House) and Wrapping Up Loose Threads

So, you might remember a post I put up a while ago about my little guy having the weird cyst-thing in his neck. I never posted an update to that story because, well, there wasn't an end to the story yet. Our family was stuck in an extended episode of "House" for the last month; only with more cheerful doctors, less life-threatening diseases, and tests that take weeks to get results from instead of in overnight lab sessions.

A week after I posted that story we got a call from our ENT (Ear,Nose,&Throat doc for the unversed) saying that the pathology report was in and that it wasn't clarifying what the problem was, as they had expected it to. In fact, it was making the picture a whole lot cloudier. The tissue that they got out of the "mass" was mostly necrotic (a disturbing word anywhere, but when applied to a two-year-old it sounds downright diabolical) so the doctors still had no indication WHAT the mass was. They were pretty confident that it wasn't cancerous, but they couldn't rule it out 100% with the information they had. The doctor felt that it was probably an infected lymph node and that removing it via surgery would be the best option. Christmas was coming up, so "could do it in a couple weeks if we want to wait until after the holidays." Daddy-007 and I made a quick phone call to an allergist doctor friend of ours who's medically-reasoned response was "these infections happen. It is a good sign that there is necrotic tissue because it shows that the body is killing off the infection- it will go away in time. It will be harder on your son's body to go through a surgery than to let it go." We absolutely adore and respect this friend, he is an amazing doctor, he has helped us with our two asthmatic sons and all of our allergy-affected kids. (Did I mention that we totally and completely LOVE him, his wife and his family??) So, his saying that made it even MORE difficult that Daddy-007's and MY gut reaction was "Get that fucking THING OUT of our son's body immediately!" We have had enough loved ones die of cancer that there is a not completely unfounded concern about any strange "lumps" or enlarged lymph nodes and the thought of our son walking around with one was too much to bear.

We struggled for a few moments and then told the doc we wanted the surgery. Not in a couple weeks but as soon as he could schedule it. We were at the doctor's on Wednesday 12/17 and the surgery was schedule for Monday morning.

Monday morning came and the surgery went smoothly. The Animal was a dream about the whole thing. It was early in the morning, we had to be there at 6:30 a.m., so the whole thing was over by 11 a.m. The doctor called me in for a consultation after the surgery and said that the surgery went really well. The lump was a cyst and it popped right out. The main concern with an infection is that if it has spread, the doctor will find all kinds of infected tissue around the node or cyst and it is a mess to get it out. That wan't the case here at all: there was no evidence of any further infection. They could now send the whole mass off to pathology for testing and we could finally find out what was causing the infection.

We wait. Then we get a call at about 6pm on Dec. 23rd from the doctor.... "Well, it turns out that is WAS a lymph node. And the pathologist, after looking at the sample for a full hour was only able to see TWO mycobacterium." He continued, "Mycobacterium are notoriously difficult to find and even more difficult to identify, so we need to send the node off to a laboratory in Seattle to get a PCR test run on it that will isolate and identify the mycobacterium so we can rule out TB." Huh? Tuberculosis just seemed so ODD.... I mean, where would he get it? He didn't have a nursemaid with it, coughing and rocking him to sleep every night, for crying out loud.... The teachers and other students at his Montessori school certainly didn't have it. Didn't there have to be long-term exposure to get that?

If you are a hypochodriac, please skip this section: It turns out that TB is in the environment and a lot people have it in their system somewhere and never even know it. So, it was possible that just this lymph node had TB. OK. I hope not. But it's better than the other well-known mycobacterium, Leprosy. The problem with TB is that it takes uber-antibiotics to knock it out, and you have to take these antibiotics for 6 months to a YEAR. (I don't have a great history with taking medication regularly. I'm not saying that the Animal was an accident, but I will say that I hopelessly messed up the pill in the two weeks before conception. Let's just say he was a welcome surprise. :)

So, we have been waiting these weeks to get that test result back... and it finally came in a few days ago. The infection ended up being one of the "Common Atypical Mycobactium" (how's that for an oxymoron) known as Avium. It is an unusual infection, but not unheard of. Can happen after exposure to farm animals... We hadn't been, but OK, if you say so. .... The best way to treat this kind of infection: is to CUT IT OUT. So, we had done the best thing by already having it taken out. Phew! And that is, really, the only treatment. We just need to keep an eye on him for any more lumps or bumps and follow up with the doc in another month or so.


And this is the part of the story where it becomes clear that it is great to have a specialist in microbiology in your family.

I got this email from my mom yesterday:

re:mycobacterium avium complex
I’ve been reading about cervical lymphadenitis due to MAC and it seems innocuous enough if the lymph node was removed. This seems to be a disease of small children with a median age of three years. Interestingly, it said that there will usually be a history of a splinter or needle puncture wound. Mycobacterium loves water and wet environments, so it would seem that the splinters on the dock at the Lake may have introduced the bacteria into the Animal. Removal of the node is the treatment of choice.

So, I'm thinking about this and then realize that I know EXACTLY where this infection came from. The Animal has gotten tons of splinters from the dock, but that is NOT the puncture wound that I was concerned with.... You see, we had this totally bizarre thing happen when the Animal was between 18 months and 2 y.o....

He got this bump on his jaw line that looked like a pimple. And then it got bigger over the course of a day or two.... and I was feeling it and it was odd and kind of long-feeling under his skin. Then it started to look like it was getting pretty big and ready to pop, so being a natural born picker I gave it a squeeze. Imagine my shock and horror when a feather came shooting out of the little abcess!!! A FEATHER, people! It was like a scene in a movie when a person suddenly pulls an egg out of their mouth (Was that in the Witches of Eastwick? Or Thinner?). So weird, so unexpected, so.... not right. I mean it wasn't like just a piece of a feather, it was an about an inch-long feather! It came shooting out like an arrow! It ended up healing just fine, but I told our family doctor about it to see if he had ever heard of such a thing. "Nope."
So, where does a child get an extremely unusual Mycobacterium Avium infection from? A feather puncture wound, I am guessing. The feather actually peirced his skin just a couple inches away from where the infected lymp node developed! And when queried about the likelihood of mycobacterium living on a feather from a pillowcase that my son slept on, my mom told me that these mycobacterium can live for thousands of years-- they've been found in Egyptian tombs-- so yes, that is most likely where it came from.

So, months later.... the mystery is finally solved. Sorry it took so long to go through the details, but it is what it is. :) And in this case, it is all good. (At least it is now!) Hooray!


  1. Holy Crap! What a story...seriously. I am so glad that everything turned out alright for your little boy and your whole family, how scary!

  2. Wow, that is so bizarre, so glad it wasn't anything worse, but the waiting and the worry!! AHHH!! A feather, a friggin' feather?>!?!!? I'm a picker too, now i'm afraid of what I might find shooting out! Hugs!

  3. A feather???? Even sleeping is dangerous now??? So glad he's alright and glad you followed your gut instinct!

  4. miss scarlett in the or!

    so glad the mystery is solved and the little man is on the mend!

  5. Before I even commented, I went a threw away our feather pillows. Damn it, now I have to go to town and get more.

  6. Gr. Tried to comment earlier and the form didn't work right.

    Anyway. I'm sure I said something far more eloquent and brilliant and such then.

    But talk about a story where mommy's instinct pays off! And what a weird situation! If ever there were a spokesperson for not using down pillows- you'd be it! A feather? That would have FREAKED me out!

  7. OK, that was the strangest, most enthralling thing I've read all day. You got to the feather part and in my head I'm watching a video of the "psychic surgery" stuff where they pull string and feathers and whatnot out of torsos...
    There's a lot of weird stuff out there. My son had full-blown scarlet fever for two weeks between sixth and seventh grade. The doctors were flabbergasted!

  8. That is the craziest story!! I can not believe the feather lodged in his jaw line! Thank God it all worked out as it needed to and that you made it through - I would've been an emotional wreck with that saga going on 'cause well, that's how I roll. Emotional.

    Glad it's all behind you.....

  9. Wow, this story gets stranger and stranger. This must be why you tried to run off with Max...:)

  10. My God. I work in an ER and I'm always worried about being exposed to TB but then I see the Dr's and nurses are too freaked out about it so I just figure if they aren't they I shouldn't be.

    I so so so glad your son is okay. Please give him a big hug from me.

  11. Wow. A feather. That is one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard. Glad Animal is fine. This will be a great story to tell his first girlfriend.

  12. My son sleeps on a feather pillow. It's like his "blankie". Should I get rid of it? We always get "the weird stuff".

  13. Wow, what an interesting situation. I'm certainly glad that your son is alright.

    bright blessings!

  14. Like, double wow! I am so glad everything is ok...and that I just replaced my feather pillows...

  15. This post is awesome! Now I will be carefully scrutinizing every bump and lump for burrowing attack feathers.

  16. I'm glad you didn't tell me this earlier; I would have started referring to him as Damien...

  17. Wow - the feather, did NOT see that coming. So happy that alls well that ends well.


  18. That is CRAZY! the node is one thing, the fact that a feather 1 inch long made it all the way inside your sons' chin is another... glad he's ok!

  19. Hello Amy. I am enjoying reading through your post and want to congratulate you on a job well done with your blog.

    I have finished my review and I'm happy to announce that "The Bitchin' Wives Club" has been added to Blogging Women.

    A big pat on the back to you. Thanks for sharing your blog with me and now the readers of our women's blog directory. I'm looking forward to future post.

  20. Holy Crap! (I know someone else said this, but that's what I was saying throughout the WHOLE post!!!


  21. I agree, that is scary. Before I had kids I wouldn't have given it much thought, but now that I have 2 of my own stuff like this really bothers me. Hopefully that will be the end of that for you.

  22. Incredible. So glad this had a happy ending.

  23. Wow. Glad you followed your instinct on this one. And a feather? Holy smokes!

  24. Holy cow! How weird is that! Glad the Monster's ok now!

  25. Oh Man!!!
    What the ?!?
    They don't prepare you for something like that in the parenting books.
    I'm so glad the healing has begun.

  26. Thank god he's okay and every is resolved. I would have been right there on the "cut it out" side. It's quick and it's gone.

  27. wow...waht a story!! How strange about the feather I would ahve freaked out if that thing "popped" out at me!! lol


Thoughts appreciated. Advice welcome. Douche-baggery scoffed at then deleted.