The Reluctant Townie: A different kind of foot-in-mouth disease

The Reluctant Townie: A different kind of foot-in-mouth disease

In response to the half-dozen missives I received from area parakeets who were surprised not to find my column lining their cages last Sunday: I have, indeed, persisted, in spite of your condescending suggestions to the contrary.

But by all means, feel free to do your worst this week, parakeet. I know you've been saving it up. May you find wedding rice in your feeder!

The truth of my absence is far less dramatic than a sudden exit.

As it turned out, Halloween had more tricks than treats in store for my family this year. My household consists of two adults, two children, a dog and a fish (although I'll be the first to admit the fish doesn't count), and while some names have been changed to protect the innocent, I have been authorized to confirm that four of the six occupants fell victim to competing strains of sickness.

Two were ravaged by a viral bug that featured sustained, bipolar vomiting, while the other two were afflicted with the eponymous hand, foot and mouth disease.

Of all the potential diseases one could contract, there is perhaps none as unsexy on its nose as hand, foot and mouth disease. It is a game of "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other" masquerading as a medical diagnosis.

There is really no good way to tell someone that you have acquired hand, foot and mouth disease when you're an adult. It's a tricky subject to broach. First of all, it sounds like a disease for horses, not people. Secondly, you don't want people to assume that your hands, feet and mouth have some sort of inappropriate relationship, despite the unholy intersection implied by its name.

You're a grown-up. You know not to put your feet on the dinner table or eat spaghetti with your toes.

As a child, one is, if not expected, then at least understood to have contracted hand, foot and mouth disease due to a general inexperience with life and the way things work. As an adult, one is all but required to mount a legal defense of their diagnosis or risk exile from polite society.

By God, how does an adult of sound mind come to contract hand, foot and mouth disease? A rational observer can only assume, without aid of an advanced medical degree or equivalent Google search, that the affliction, like pink eye, is the result of stray, unregulated fecal matter.

Nothing could be further from the truth. (Or, rather, according to my research, that is pretty accurate, but I would wager that most adult sufferers of hand, foot and mouth have a moderately regulated code of personal hygiene and are not themselves to blame for contracting the disease.)

It is the children who serve as Trojan horses of viral contagions and weird bacterias introduced into the home. They are the weak link of unregulated fecal matter and lax hand-washing standards. Beware the children!

They are also prone to sneak attacks of covert spittle, intrusive grubby fingers and point-blank facial sneezes. As a parent, I believe our immune systems evolved as human beings specifically to combat the existential threat of raising children who moonlight as biological terrorists. But after this past weekend, I am sad to report that we may be losing the war.

Have you ever drank a cup of coffee that your spawn recently sneezed into? If not, how can you be sure?

As a point of fact, the disease of hand, foot and mouth can be transmitted a number of ways that do not require fecal contact, including airborne methods, and it is highly contagious in nature. It should not be a source of shame.

In times of great sickness, my wife and I quarantine our children to different rooms of the house, using the CDC protocol as our inspiration. This makes it twice as disappointing that every time an outbreak occurs, the entire house falls ill no matter what precautions we take.

The good news is that now, at least two unspecified residents of my household are inoculated from future bouts of hand, foot and mouth disease. Like chicken pox, it's a one-and-done experience.

The bad news is that for the remaining persons unknown, the threat of painful mouth blisters and social stigmatization lurks in the shadows, waiting to strike.

Let this story serve as a warning. It could happen to you!

Ryan Jackson's sick-day quarantine protocols require a fully functioning flamethrower, and he can be reached at

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