Sitting in my physician’s office in pain, I tried not to well up with tears as he applied pressure to the swelling on my neck and jawline. He looked for blocked salivary ducts in my mouth but saw nothing. Then he had a peek at my teeth. And then, strangely, he asked if I had a child.
"Has he been vaccinated?"
Yes. Yes, of course. (I’m freaking out a little now.)
"I think you have mumps. You probably picked it up at the playground or daycare centre."
I’ve probably never been so flabbergasted in all my life. Mumps? For real? I was vaccinated! I began countering this healthcare professional’s [very] educated diagnosis. And then it hit me: Had I infected anyone else? Was my kid at risk?
Because there’s a vaccine to prevent mumps (commonly referred to as MMR since it protects against measles, mumps and rubella) and because I know I was vaccinated, I soared through life with a “Can’t catch me!” attitude. What I learned that day in my physician’s office was that the MMR vaccine prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps, and that my swollen face would have been much, much worse had I not received that vaccination as a child.
In the three days leading up to my decision to visit the doctor, I had felt run-down: tired and achy, a low-grade fever that was manageable with Tylenol (acetaminophen). Despite my colleagues saying I looked fine, I was sure my face looked a bit puffy, especially on the right side. Day by day, it got worse until finally I was unable to chew. What had been a little soreness and puffiness turned into feeling like I had a rock in my jaw and my jawline and neck were visibly swollen. The pain woke me through the night on the third day, and kept me awake for hours. Ibuprofen and ice were no longer cutting it so I decided to drop the stubborn act and see my physician.
Mumps is a highly contagious viral infection, which has an incubation period of 14-18 days from exposure to onset of symptoms (which made it difficult to pinpoint exactly who I’d been in contact with to have passed that treasure on). The initial symptoms are nonspecific: low-grade fever, feeling poorly, headache, muscle aches and a loss of appetite. It’s easy to think you’re just coming down with a cold or simply run-down. It’s the swelling of the parotid gland around day three of the illness that defines mumps.
One of the serious complications of mumps is meningitis, so my physician put me on preventative antibiotics and suggested a cycle of ibuprofen along with warm and cold packs to treat the parotid swelling and tenderness. There’s no specific therapy, so you pretty much have to suffer it out. Luckily, I wasn’t ill for too long and within about two days I was able to chew my food again.
Mumps is spread through direct contact, like the kind I have most mornings and afternoons with the children my son Finley attends school and daycare with. As an overgrown kid myself, I tend to get down on the ground to play with them.
I never knew anyone who had mumps growing up because everyone I grew up with had received the MMR vaccine. The days before the swelling hit, I just felt crappy: sickly, tired and achy. Although the swelling wasn’t too bad, the pain was extraordinary in the left side of my jaw. The pain radiated into my ear and throat, as well as my neck muscles and until the swelling went down entirely, nothing would lessen my discomfort. Turning my head hurt, and chewing was out of the question. In summary: it sucked.
Get thee to a doctor, and quickly. Your physician can determine whether or not you have mumps and will suggest the best course of action. I elected to get another dose of MMR vaccine at the physician's suggestion, because I'll do just about whatever I can to avoid another experience like that. While you're swollen and potentially unable to eat, warm and cold compresses really do help and an over-the-counter painkiller will be your best friend. I recommend you also take this opportunity to eat ice cream at every meal, because obviously. And be well.