Okay, I could use some advice. Let’s say you have a four-year-old who has always been relatively healthy, aside from the usual childhoold viral suspects, and about six weeks ago he and his brother had a tandem night of Fever and Barf, the details of which you are still trying to suppress.

About a week after that, he had another barfing episode, this one even more dramatic in that it very nearly happened in your own bed and involved a truly horrific skidding-through-another-person’s-barf-in-bare-feet incident which, again, you’re really trying to forget except that sometimes when you least expect it you can still feel it. ON THE SOLES OF YOUR FEET.

Anyway! Then every week after that it seemed like someone was sick, your basic snot-nosed October crud that comes and goes and leaves snail-trails across every piece of furniture in the house. But the one thing that the four-year-old keeps complaining about, every week or two, is a headache and stomachache.

So a couple weeks ago you finally drag him to the pediatrician where she examines him and thinks maybe he’s got some leftover tummy irritation, either from the stomach virus stuff or the fever-quelling Motrin, and she prescribes Tums and Zantac. He leaves the doctor’s office seeming perfectly fine, then gets a fever that night which lasts for 48 mysterious hours.

Meanwhile, the toddler gets a fever, then a cold, then a cough—the lovely midnight barf-triggering kind—then seems fine, aside from the torrential mucus downpour erupting nonstop from both nostrils.

And THEN, tonight, the night when you and your husband have tickets to see Louis C.K., which you have been looking forward to all week with the fervent bulgy-eyed gaze of a donkey following a carrot, the four-year-old comes home from school complaining of a headache and stomachache. He collapses on the couch, looking pale and wan, and refuses food.

You cancel the babysitter and mentally kiss the date night and the $65 tickets goodbye. You would like very much to be left alone in a room filled with precious ceramic figurines and a large metal hammer.

Two hours later, the child has devoured a peanut butter sandwich, a glass of chocolate milk, a muffin, and a bowl of applesauce. He is chasing his brother around the room, screeching happily, and chattering about dinosaurs and skateboards. He goes to bed rosy-cheeked and seemingly full of robust health.

SO. My questions are:

• What the HELL? No, seriously: WHAT THE HELL?

• Okay, that wasn’t really a question. How about: should I go back to the pediatrician and just refuse to leave until she/he tells me what the fuck is going on, or what?

• Have any of you dealt with a comes-and-goes kid tummy Thing? Did anything help?

• What’s better for soothing an extremely bitter case of C.K.-related disappointment—ice cream, or salt and vinegar chips? OR BOTH?


93 Responses to “Diagnosis: mystery”

  1. Wendy on November 6th, 2009 7:52 am

    I agree with those who mentioned strep. My three year old had a fever and tummyache for 3 days, but no sore throat. I remembered hearing something about a tummyache being a symptom of strep in kids. I took her to the doctor and asked for a strep test – sure enough, it was positive.
    Good luck!

  2. Kate on November 6th, 2009 7:57 am

    I would take him back to the pediatrician. Just by going back you are giving her more information–that this is ongoing, and that you are concerned, which may help her figure out what is going on.

  3. Anon on November 6th, 2009 8:01 am

    I’m writing this without reading all of the other comments so I apologize if a repeat. My oldest is quite a puker in general and it takes him FOREVER to get over stomach crap. I highly recommend a probiotic – in my pediatrician’s words, they help “reset” the system. Probiotics are the only things that get him over stomach bugs. I buy Culturelle caplets in the CVS vitamin section and open them and pour the stuff into/onto whatever he’s eating – or in his water. We have had similar experiences to what you describe – everything seems find and then for no apparent reason he pukes again. He doesn’t, however, ever complain of a headache, so poor kiddo could have something else. In either case, probiotics won’t hurt him, so you might give it a try:) Good luck!

  4. Steph the WonderWorrier on November 6th, 2009 8:10 am

    Headaches that accompany puking always make me nervous. I’d definitely be back at the pediatricians office.

  5. Antropologa on November 6th, 2009 8:11 am

    I really don’t know, but you have totally convinced me our plan to move to another continent to be near family is a good one, if only to have family nearby so we can make them babysit if our kids are sick and we have plans.

  6. Charlise on November 6th, 2009 8:23 am

    I have read the comments, and while some sound great…well – anxiety doesn’t cause fever. Neither do allergies unless they lead to infection. Also – a 4 year old isn’t going to be able to fake puking and fever…it would be highly unlikely. Especially in the middle of the night when all is well.

    It is bacterial or viral. And you know what? There are drugs for BOTH. There are antivirals that move a virus along in a quick little manner when they are too stubborn to move along all on their own. There are drugs for bacteria that kill it. I would camp out at the doctor with my chips and ice cream until they at least prove something – saying “well, I don’t know…could be a virus” isn’t a diagnosis. Don’t pretend it is…make that damn doctor work for their money.

  7. Kramer on November 6th, 2009 8:26 am

    That sucks and I totally feel your pain. My son went through something similar last year and the pediatrician told us that sometimes with certain tummy viruses kids can develop sort of a fleeting dairy allergy that can continue for 4-6 weeks after the initial illness. We laid off dairy and everything was fine, after about 4 weeks we reintroduced it and all was fine. No idea if that’s the problem but may be something to try.

  8. samantha jo campen on November 6th, 2009 8:32 am

    I love the lactose intolerance suggestion, as I had tummy issues thorugh college and once I got rid of dairy it was all good. They can appear at any time.

    I was a very anxious child and could literally make myself sick at the drop of a hat with worry. I ruined two oriental rugs from puking on them since I was convinced my mom (who had a COLD) was going to die and I’d be all alone. So I worked myself up so much that I threw up all over the place. Once I got my brain calmed down I felt fine. Now, you know Riley, and I obviously came from different circumstances (my dad was killed when I was three, so anxiety = explained!) but it’s amazing what the brain can trigger.

    Regardless, I hope things simmer down soon and you get to the bottom of it.

    Also, maybe a GI Specialist?

  9. KHDW on November 6th, 2009 8:33 am

    Headaches and stomach aches together a lot of the time mean migraines. Ask him where his head hurts. If it’s only on one side, then it very easily could be a migraine.

  10. jen on November 6th, 2009 8:40 am

    Go to the ped. Stat. Even if it is something someone mentioned in the comments (here I’ll summarize for you constipation, allergies – season and dietary, sinus infection, anxiety, strep, migraines, viral something or other), all are viable illnesses that would benefit from treatment from an MD.

    Also, I don’t buy the whole idea of “Oh the kids are just passing it back and forth.” I could be wrong but from what I remember from science class, if you’ve been exposed to a particular virus/bacteria and your body fights it off, you shouldn’t be felled by it again two weeks later (unless of course it mutated or something but still).

    But I’m not an MD, so go to one and if they don’t give you answers, go to a different one.

  11. Ali on November 6th, 2009 9:06 am

    Migraine? I started getting them pretty young – headaches and throwing up :(

  12. Amanda on November 6th, 2009 9:09 am

    Oh man, so frustrating.

    Did the doctor do a strep test?

    My five year old gets a headache and super snot with strep, and never complains of a sore throat.

    Hope you’re ALL feeling better soon.

    Chips and ice cream, fo sho.

  13. Christina on November 6th, 2009 9:18 am

    I say both but definitel more S&V chips because yum and see also my downfall in life ;)

    I had a friend who has a four year old and she went through this last year and nothing ever came of it. Meaning her daughter would barf like one every week or two and seem sickly at the moment and then it would go away. And the vomiting was violent and she was worried but then her daughter was fine. They never knew what it was. Not sure if that helps but at least you know there is another case like this in the world?!

  14. Rachel on November 6th, 2009 9:21 am

    I haven’t read the other comments so I may be the sixty-fourth person to say this, but the situation with Riley makes me think anxiety. He’s always been, from what I’ve gathered as a reader of your blog who’s never actually met your child, kind of a serious kid, right? I wonder if school is stressing him out in some way. For a lot of kids, that kind of stress has physical manifestations. Just a thought.

  15. Ris on November 6th, 2009 9:26 am

    God I have no idea and no kids but whatever it is I hope they get over it stat and you are all magically healthy forever and ever amen. Seriously though, good luck!

  16. Lisa on November 6th, 2009 9:29 am

    I eat gluten free and I was reading a book for my own purposes and when I read the part about kids it totally made me think about you (well more Dylan). Basically it said that kids who have celiacs or gluten sensitivity often react by throwing up when they eat something they can’t handle and generally become shit heads. That’s my interpretation, obvi.

  17. Ashley, the Accidental Olympian on November 6th, 2009 9:32 am

    BOTH. Oh, and you forgot to throw in the tequila.

  18. MRW on November 6th, 2009 9:35 am

    I don’t have any suggestions other than the many that people have made here. I will say that several years ago I got a nasty sinus infection, but for months my doctor kept saying it was just a cold blah blah. Finally I basically told the doctor I wasn’t leaving the office until I got either antibiotics or a scan. Surprise, the scan revealed a huge sinus infection. So irritated I didn’t insist on finding out sooner.

    ANYWAY, also wanted to relate that the dairy causes increased mucus has been proven incorrect. So at least you don’t need to worry about that. http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/abstract/24/suppl_6/547S

  19. TLR on November 6th, 2009 9:36 am

    I feel your pain – we are going through a similar thing in our house with both kids. I think everyone has great ideas so I will be repeating stuff.
    Four year old: swine flu with concurrent allergies which lead to post-nasal drip which then goes to sinus infection (headache, vomiting from so much mucous, not wanting to eat becomes listless then starving then eating a lot then stomach ache). Rinse and repeat.
    One year old: swine flu and allergies and lactose intolerant (you mentioned he drank chocolate milk)
    I would definitely go back to pediatrician and demand testing. The allergy testing is awful but it would be worth it if it solves his problem.
    The constipation thing is also a possibilty concurrent with the allergy thing. I get migraines with constipation, break out in fever and chills then sweating, take a laxative and feel much better. I also suffer from allergies and sinus infections – unfortunately probably genetic.
    I would keep a chart of foods and bowel movements besides another doctor appointment.
    I know it sucks – this has been the longest 2 months of my life. The answer is out there- just keep demanding help or switch doctors. Good luck!

  20. Anonymous on November 6th, 2009 9:42 am

    You might want to ask your doc. about Chrones disease or IBS, I know that it can hit young kids, and they complain of stomach aches and pains, then it seems to go away, with no warning. I knew of one young boy who complained for years before he finally got diagnosed and treated. Just something to bring up to your doc, since you asked.

  21. Devon on November 6th, 2009 9:46 am

    Firstly, I feel your Louis C.K. pain. I once missed the Dixie Chicks because of a wee child. I’m still bitter.

    But with my oldest, I have found this. Right before she was to have a HUGE growth spurt, she would get random fevers, and complain of feeling ‘off’. Next day, she was totally fine, and a full foot taller. (I’m not exagerating…she’s 12 and 5 feet 9 inches tall. Seriously)

    Sometimes, kids will do these weird things. I do my best to ignore them.


  22. Mama Bub on November 6th, 2009 9:55 am

    It’s been said, but food allergies? Dairy intolerance?

  23. Smileen on November 6th, 2009 10:09 am

    When my son was a little over one, he would go through a pattern every few months of not keeping anything down, looked lathargic, not feverish every time. Took him to ER, they were concerned with the off and on puking, to the point they gave him a spinal tap to see if it was VIRAL menengitus. It came back nega-tory.. bu he stayed over night at the hospital and the doc said LITERALY SAID: “my team and I have gone over it, and over it. It was a mystery virus.”

    God. Honestly, request everything possible. Blood test, gi scan, anything. Better safe than sorry, some HCProf are too busy to look into each case w/o a swift kick in the rear froma parent. IMHO.

  24. lydia on November 6th, 2009 10:29 am

    My son went through something like this when he was Riley’s age. Turned out to be migraines. I’d look into that.

  25. willikat on November 6th, 2009 10:31 am

    So, I have a wicked case of IBS (and I think I’ve had it nearly my whole life, honest to god). I can remember going to the pediatrician with tummy aches I couldn’t explain, etc. Elimination diets didn’t help. And gosh, could it be that? I don’t puke, but it does get worse when I’m busy or stressed out, and my doc told me that if you get a really bad virus you can basically clear your guts of all the good flora in there that keeps you healthy and keeps them functioning the way they should. And it comes and goes on a whim, and can make me feel like the world’s gonna end when it’s bad.
    The doc recommends for that: lots of fiber (fruits, veggies, citrucel drinks, etc.) and probiotics (align, but I don’t know if that’s OK for kids) or activia or some such to put good flora back in the system and keep everything regulated (and keep you off the diarrhea/constipation vicious cycle).
    If not, I’m going with the sinus infection. Those can lay a person out.
    That’s scary. I’m sorry. I hope he feels better soon. I don’t doubt for a second he’s pretty miserable, whether it’s virus or anxiety or what.

  26. shriek house on November 6th, 2009 10:39 am

    Sounds like a classic sinus infection. Hard to diagnose in kids because it presents differently than in adults. But returning fever, snots, headache are all indicators, and the vomit is more typical with kids because vast quantities of mucus are draining into their tummies rather than being blown out the nose. I’d barf too if I had a belly full of snot.

    That said, abdominal migraines are worth reading up on (I suggest mayoclinic.com) to see if the symptoms match up.

    I think using the words “chronic” and “affecting daily activities on a long-term basis” and “HAI, I’M MISSING WAY TOO MUCH WORK”could prod your pediatrician towards taking it more seriously.

    Good luck!

  27. hannah on November 6th, 2009 10:40 am

    Sounds like a sinus infection to me. I also would suggest probiotics, I buy chewable kids ones from vitacost.com and they are super cheap. Pehaps the tummy bug he had has screwed up his stomach a bit and he needs some balance restored in there.

  28. kim on November 6th, 2009 10:59 am

    I’m not reading all the comments and I realize I’m late to the party (as you mentioned you were going to the pediatrician today)…but. I’ll chime in anyway.

    I don’t think your kids are faking it at all (they are boys who love to play and get plenty of attention), I think the idea is ridiculous. But that’s me. (Ok, so I read a few comments.)

    Most of the people I know who have had sick kids this fall have had this exact same round-robin of fevers/headaches/runs/throwing up – getting better, getting sick again. I think it is the flu – or something like it.

    My oldest daughter would get the runs/stomach problems from certain medications (some just gave her a yeast infection: fun!). It’s possible if either of them have been on antibiotics that some of their symptoms are related to reactions to that in addition to symptoms related to the illness. (we have to avoid anything erythomycin related…and I don’t know that I spelled that right)

    Also – one of my kids had strep that turned into scarlet fever and the doctors kept saying things like “likely she masturbates and that is why her privates are red and swollen” – thanks: where did you get that MD?

    Actually, I was going to talk about her frequent ear infections that kept getting better with medication and then returning the minute the medicine stopped – it took awhile for them to put it all together…

    Hopefully your boys will be all well soon…


  29. kim on November 6th, 2009 11:05 am

    p.s. as far as Riley coming home really sick and then perking up – it’s amazing what a little Motrin or Tylenol will do for the little ones – they go from being so lethargic you are considering 9-1-1 to up and playing within about 30 minutes after the medicine…

  30. Snarke on November 6th, 2009 11:26 am

    I don’t have kids but I am getting some great advice for later on when I do have them! When I was a kid I used to get stomach aches all the time, just from the stress of going to school (the kids at my school were jerks). Is there maybe a bully at his school that is giving him a hard time and stressing him out?

  31. Tracy on November 6th, 2009 11:29 am

    first of all, BOTH. sweet, savory…nothing better.

    does there seem to be any correlation b/t what he eats and the stomachaches/headhaches? maybe he’s allergic to something – wheat, gluten, i dont know how all that works.

  32. 1hot&tiredmama on November 6th, 2009 12:03 pm

    Have the children been tested for strep? It can cause some weird symptoms in children. It’s easy to diagnose and easy to treat, but sometimes overlooked.

  33. Christy on November 6th, 2009 12:25 pm

    I think stomach bugs can linger for awhile. With my kids, the second they are feeling better, it’s like they were never sick, full energy, full appetite. So, when the sick returns, it usually catches us by surprise. Seems to happen when they’re tired – after a school day, bedtime. With multiple kids, it can feel like someone in the house is sick all the time!

  34. Anne on November 6th, 2009 12:29 pm

    There is nothing I like more than diagnosing OTHER PEOPLE.

    Actually I have no diagnosis for you. But I had tons of comes-and-goes stomach things as a kid, and my dad told me that cream soda fixes stomach aches by helping you burp, and so we always kept a few cans in the fridge and that worked wonders for me. 7up/sprite works, too, and comes in the nice half-can size. Really anything with carbonation.

  35. Lisa on November 6th, 2009 1:24 pm

    My oldest son has had issues with his stomach since 2nd grade. I completely blame it on the induced stress his 2nd grade witch of a teacher, but I digress. If it keeps up, I’d check with a G.I. doctor to see if there’s an issue causing the stomach upset. We have my son’s condition mostly under control now. He has issues when he gets a bug, but other than that he’s doing well. Good luck! Your family will be in my prayers.

  36. Amanda on November 6th, 2009 1:45 pm

    It might not answer the What? but taking your child to the doctor is a sure fire way for them to be cured, five minutes before they are seen. It’s like taking your car to the mechanic for a noise.

    Second, perhaps he likes the attention when he gets sick so every little pang is getting vocalized?

    Third, I swear kids this age are just sick from October through March every year. I just went back in time on my blog and the same shit was happening every year at the same time. As the kids’ doctor just so helpfully told me, “ride it out”.

  37. Katie on November 6th, 2009 2:07 pm

    Oh Geeezus. I am twitching over here with PTSD from just READING about all the hideous barfing incidents. And I’m even more confused after reading all this stuff. What the HELL? Parenting really just sucks the big one. Especially when there is barf involved.

  38. Jess on November 6th, 2009 2:16 pm

    Rotavirus. Sucks big time. Daughter and I had it two years ago. It comes and goes and comes and goes (hence the rota). It eventually does leave, but hells bells I’ve never hated any illness more. We both actually had to be hospitalized at one point with one of the bouts because of dehydration issues. It is a nasty thing, but does at some point end. Good luck!!

  39. Nicole on November 6th, 2009 4:31 pm

    I LOVE LOUIS C.K.!!! And I hope your little man feels better soon!

  40. Jessica Contreras on November 6th, 2009 10:11 pm

    Sounds like stress to me…

  41. warcrygirl on November 7th, 2009 9:11 am

    I haven’t read the 90 or so comments but here’s my 2 cents: There is something going around that are basically headache and nausea. It lasts a few days and comes and goes. This cold and flu season has been freaky to say the least. Hope everyone is healthy and snot-free soon.

  42. Shin Ae on November 9th, 2009 8:17 am

    My kids went through Two Winters of Barf in 05-06 and again in 06-07. It was awwwwwful. After that whole thing, I was in barf shock for years. Well, I still carry an emergency barf bag in the glove compartment of the car, but in the heyday of Barf Shock, I carried a whole bucket in the car. And thrust it at anyone who even dared to cough. I also insisted on placing a bucket next to anyone who didn’t want a snack at the moment or who looked a little “funny.” Yes, I was totally paranoid and expecting it at any moment. But seriously, when you’ve cleaned up/been splashed in that much puke, you get a little shell-shocked.

    Highly recommend the Pedialyte frozen ice pops. Easy to keep on hand, nice small doses that they have to take slowly and they really help the nausea (I’ve used them myself quite a bit).

    Oh, and I just looked over some of the comments and I agree that the stress of school causes tummy aches sometimes. We went through a whole year of that, too. Older son had frequent stomach aches, headaches, reflux and heartburn all though K and grade 1. Also, yes, I’ve seen strep cause the weird symptoms (incl. barfing) and I know kids frequently barf/feel nauseous when they have sinus infections and the post-nasal drip from allergies.

  43. Kristine on November 10th, 2009 7:47 am

    My daughter had cough, fever, and throwing up, then it just moved to a cough and then it started to go away. Then she had a stomach ache that wouldn’t go away, fatigue and a fever.
    Turns out it was walking pneumonia.
    I have a 3 day rule. If the fever or illness doesn’t go away in 3 days, take them back to the doctor.

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