I pulled off his pj’s and froze as I stared at the big purple bruises that were scattered along his legs. My mind raced as I re-traced our day; who he was with, what he ate, what he did. The bruises looked almost as though someone had hit him across the legs with something. My heart started beating faster, tears began to fill my eyes, and I lost my breath.
“What happened to your legs buddy? Did you get hurt?” I asked him, trying to hide my concern. He shook his head no and I called for my husband who stared in disbelief at the bruises.
“What could that be?” he asked feeling just as confused as I did.
“What did he eat?” I answered his question with another question.
As someone who has food sensitivities, I was always concerned about my kids and food. I feared the peanut allergy and that fear made me very cautious of introducing new foods, especially high allergen food. The moment I saw the bruises on his legs my first assumption was that he must have eaten something that was causing a reaction.
We had spent the day at a family gathering where there was a lot of food and many different people offering him a little of everything. Truth be told, I’m happy that my children are open to trying almost anything. If they don’t like it they will be honest and say they don’t like it but they aren’t afraid to try it.
It makes life much easier for me. Except when it doesn’t. Except when we are at parties and everyone is feeding them things and we, their parents, have no clue what they have ingested.
I knew this called for a trip to the ER. The bruises were becoming darker by the minute. I frantically packed up a bag and off we went to the hospital.
After I buckled him into his car seat, I took a moment. Every time I feel as though we are past all the scary health stuff something else happens. I took a deep breath, wiped the tears from my eyes and set off.
I drove fast and I drove furious. I kept asking how he was feeling. “My voice sounds funny in my ears mummy,” he said at one point. I wondered if he was having an anaphylactic reaction. Anger began to bubble up inside. I started mentally blaming everyone for the entire situation. “Why is everyone always shoving food in his face?” I asked myself through tears. When I'm worried it tends to show itself as anger.
The nurse who triaged us confirmed that there was no swelling in his throat but the bruises were definitely concerning. We were seen very quickly and the doctor seemed very perplexed during the examination.
After a long examination and so many questions he came back with a diagnosis of Henoch-Shonlein Purpura or HSP. HSP is an abnormal reaction of the immune system and it causes inflammation and bleeding in the blood vessels. It can also cause swelling in the joints, abdominal pain and sometimes — though rare — kidney damage.
Basically his immune system went into overdrive fighting a virus that he had and this was the result.
There is no specific test for HSP, as it’s typically diagnosed based on the telltale bruising on the body and after a blood test has ruled out other diseases. The doctor couldn’t give me an answer as to why this happened, though it’s more common in children ages 2-6 and occurs more in boys than in girls. He also confirmed that it’s possible to happen more than once.
It’s scary when your child gets sick. It’s even scarier when you don’t know what is wrong with them. It's even scarier when what is wrong with them is not common.
My kids have not been plagued with ear infections, we have never dealt with whooping cough and I don't know the sound of a croupy cough. It’s the rare and uncommon illnesses that seem to show up in our lives.
The ER doctor that diagnosed the HSP made one last request before we walked out into the night. He asked if the intern could come take a look as it’s not every day they see a diagnosis like this.
I turned to my son and asked if that would be ok with him, he sleepily shook his head yes as he snuggled in a little closer. We soon walked out into the cool, crisp middle of the night air - air that my son hadn’t ever breathed before, since he was usually tucked safely into his bed at this time - but with yet another uncommon illnesses that had become part of his story.