Marie Mitchell/ Conversations Columnist

Marie Mitchell/ Conversations Columnist

My family doesn't go overboard on counting calories. Carbs. Or steps. But we do take our health seriously. One quick and easy item on our "ways-to-stay-healthy" list is to wash our hands with soap before cooking or eating. When that's not possible, one of us usually packs some hand sanitizer to share.

The hand washing habit is a sensible lesson that the Shakers of Pleasant Hill mastered in the 1800s. They managed to remain healthy while many of their neighbors died of cholera. All because the Shakers washed their hands before preparing food for the Brothers and Sisters of the sect, and before sitting down to eat. Just good common sense preventative measures to keep diseases away.

But, despite the most diligent hygienic efforts, there can always be a few plucky germs that worm their way into your body and wreak havoc with your health. Our two daughters discovered this the hard way this summer.

In May, at our Mother's Day dinner in Lexington, Ruby complained of a scratchy throat. It didn't seem too troublesome since she ate well and joked around with us all evening. However, the two of us were supposed to fly to New York City in five days for a friend's graduation from NYU, to be held at Yankee Stadium. Something we were both looking forward to. So, I urged Ruby to see a doctor. As a precaution.

She did. And was diagnosed with strep throat. AND mono. Strep was confirmed immediately by a throat swab. The mono was determined by a blood test since it can mimic other ailments like tonsillitis, strep and even a sinus infection.

The double whammy came at a terrible time. Ruby was wrapping up her May term at Transy -- trying to finish papers, projects and tests. And, of course, the disappointment of postponing the NYC trip.

Fortunately the antibiotics for strep got her through what she called "the worst three days of my life." But the mono lingered for several weeks, leaving her bone-weary tired. Sadly, there's no medicine a doctor can prescribe to treat mono. Antibiotics won't work. You just have to focus on relieving the symptoms and give your immune system a chance to fight off the infection.

In Ruby's case, she faced high fever (103-degrees), inflamed lymph glands, fatigue, drowsiness, muscle aches and loss of appetite, since it was too painful to swallow food.

The doctor recommended ibuprofen and Tylenol. Drinking plenty of water. Gargling with salt water. Boosting her Vitamin C intake. And getting plenty of rest.

An internet search found some other home remedies like garlic or lemon juice, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar (which, as nasty as it sounds, smells and tastes, some people drink daily as a preventative measure against certain diseases. Yuk!).

Somehow Ruby powered through and managed to keep her 4.0 GPA. And, two months later we were able to travel to New York. However, it could take several more months before her energy level is completely back to normal. And, if she overexerts, which she's prone to do, that could cause a relapse.

However, several weeks after Ruby was on the mend, Ingrid started complaining about a sore throat. We checked her throat and found only a tiny patch of white attached to her tonsils. Still, we figured we'd better consult a doctor since we'd all just driven 1,000 miles to Iowa and back in an enclosed van and might have been careless in sharing appetizers, drinks and desserts during our family vacation.

The quick-and-easy strep test came back negative but we had to wait a day to get results from a more thorough test. Of course this fell around the July 4th holiday, which added extra drama. After we got the results -- negative -- we had to go back for the blood test, and sure enough: mono. We figured as much since the original two white spots now had grown into a rock concert sized area concentrated around her tonsils.

So, back to the medicine cabinet to treat Ingrid's symptoms. Fortunately Ingrid had a light summer schedule which allowed for less stress and more time to focus on getting better. She was much improved by the time I was leaving for New York in mid-July. At least she wasn't moaning, groaning or lying motionless on the couch for hours.

But then I was beginning to feel a tickle in my own throat. Real? Or imagined?

Either way, I packed plenty of ibuprofen -- and hand sanitizer -- just in case those plucky germs planned to travel with me.

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