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son Phinny was 3 months old when that first spot of eczema appeared on his
left cheek. After shunning the pediatrician's recommendation of hydrocortisone
cream, I committed to a dairy-free, wheat-free, soy-free diet in an effort to
keep my breast milk allergen-free. Yet the insidious red rash continued to
creep across my son's sweet face—cheek to cheek, chin to neck—taunting me,
daring me, pushing me further in search of the ingested thing, the alternative that literature
claimed might be the cause.
likely outgrow it," the pediatrician promised at eczema visit number three. By
that time, Phinny's entire body was a scaly red palette with abraded white
patches. He was 6 months old.
didn't know. "Maybe age 2 or 3. Certainly by 5."
with each passing year, our son's skin grew worse, often becoming bloody, once
even infected. Through it all, Phinny scratched continuously and slept terribly,
which meant my husband and I slept terribly, too. When our son scrambled into
our bed each night—restless, itchy and unable to settle—one of us would stumble
to the couch, seeking enough sleep to make it through the next day. The one who
stayed with Phin endured a long night of kicks and itches. And that's how it
went for years.
or atopic dermatitis is not life-threatening. But it's a hard-to-cure
allergy-based condition that affects approximately 10 percent of all children. Most
doctors claim you can't cure it, only control it, but we couldn't manage to do
either. Not with herbs, diet, cotton clothing, natural oils, purified water, snake
oils or all of the omega-3s I could sneak into his organic applesauce. Even
the cortisone creams—that I eventually resorted to—left us feeling helpless.
They might repress the eczema in one spot, but then it would pop up in another.
Eventually we quit the steroids, too.
matter what we did, Phinny's skin was so unsightly that it hurt me to look at
On those hellish nights when you feel helpless around your beautiful child's horrible skin, draw a breath and trust, really trust, you will both be OK.
back on my son's early years, I remember little except how sweet he was despite
his discomfort, and how hard it was for me to stay steady. Other mothers were
out strolling or playing with their smooth-skinned babies, but I seldom went
off scratch-patrol. When I would turn away at the park, Phinny would rub handfuls
of sand on his elbows and knees until they bled relief. I began to worry he
would never heal, that he would never sleep at a friend's house, go to
overnight camp or swim in a pool without the chlorine burning him.
time to time, I would meet a mother who had somehow endured the same experience
and come out on the other side. "Will I get through this?" I'd plead in
unmitigated desperation. "Tell me it's going to be OK?"
as I needed someone to assure me I would survive, I can be that person for you.
listen to me. You will get through this. Your child will heal. You will sleep
again. I promise.
the support of a homeopath who treats disease with remedies from the plant,
animal and mineral kingdom, Phinny slowly got better. It took some long years
and a hefty dose of patience, but, yes, he got better. And your child will,
too. Be thoughtful about what you try. Diet. Vitamins. Homeopathy. Cortisone.
Prayer. Voodoo. Something will work. Follow a doctor you trust and your gut
instinct. And take care of yourself while you're doing it.
Today, my once hopelessly itchy boy is a strapping 16-year-old who runs track and
plays varsity soccer and doesn't even think about his skin except to
occasionally slap on some sunscreen as he's heading to the pool. He would go on
a sleepover every weekend if we let him and has been to at least six overnight
on those hellish nights when you feel helpless around your beautiful child's
horrible skin, draw a breath and trust, really trust, you will both be OK.
This is something to get through, to learn from. At some
point it will be a distant memory, and
you will be on the other side, sharing your story with another young mom.