The TB Scare


“Ms. Robeson, can I talk to you for just a moment? Do you have a second?”

I had just brought Tiny Tot into preschool. It was six in the morning, most of the kiddos were bleary-eyed, my toddler included, and the parents looked varying degrees of awake. Coffee had not been part of my morning routine, so my brain was not fully cognizant when the director of the preschool approached.

“Yeah, of course,” I said, thinking about the five minutes I had to spare, which had been allotted for a Starbucks run, but now needed a reroute.

I followed the director into her office, wondering what was happening. Was I delinquent in payments? Did Tiny have a fight with a child? Could there be a reason why a few of the teachers had been replaced by new teachers in the last few weeks?

Pretty confident I had paid-to-date, and fairly certain that my tiny human hadn’t created a scene, I waited for the director to speak.

“I wanted to let you know,” she began, causing my concern to rise, “that one of our teachers has been diagnosed with TB. Tiny Tot was one of her students, and every student under her care needs to be tested for tuberculosis. We’re fairly certain that none of the students will have contracted the disease, because no one in her family has contracted it, save her. Friday there is a meeting with some healthcare professionals, and Saturday we’re having free TB testing done at the school. Can you sign right here acknowledging that I’ve made you aware of the situation?”

Um, uhh … what?

My brain hadn’t had coffee, and I needed time to process this information. I mean, how often did I envision a time in which I would bring my child into school and find out a serious, life-threatening disease might be running rampant through a group of teeny, tiny humans? Never. That’s how often I worried in the past about dropping my child off at preschool.

Even after Tiny contracted Hand and Foot Disease at his previous daycare, the most I ever thought I would have to worry about was contracting lice.

… And trust me, that’s bad enough!

So I left the preschool, made a run past Starbucks–because at this point, I needed it–and drove an hour into work. The entire time, I’m going over what I know about TB, and what was occurring, or wasn’t occurring, in Tiny. He didn’t have a fever, he didn’t have a cough, he didn’t have night sweats, and he definitely wasn’t losing weight. The only person in our family that was coughing was me, and I had been sick the week before with laryngitis, which Tiny never caught.

Then I started wondering about how the teacher had been diagnosed with the disease, seeing as most people are unaware they have contracted tuberculosis until serious symptoms appear. Did the school have a precaution in place concerning yearly testing? As a member of the healthcare field, I myself get tested for TB once a year. So, did they? Or, did she find out after coughing for so long that she was finally coughing up blood? And, if her symptoms were that serious, had she been working with the children during that time?

Focusing on that train of thought, I started thinking about Tiny’s teachers. Had any of them been gone recently? Had any of them been coughing when I picked my tiny human up at the end of the day? I could think of two teachers who had been mysteriously replaced recently. I didn’t know if it was due to vacation or sickness. And, on that thought, I couldn’t remember a time in which a teacher looked visibly sick around the kiddos.

These, I knew, were all questions I needed to ask the director.

Once I arrived at work, I sent a text to my boss, seeing as I work around patients. It simply said, “Tiny has to be tested for TB. One of his teachers is on leave from it. They are making every child under her care get tested.”

His response was immediate, “He may need to be treated with contact that close. Call and make an appointment with a pediatrician.”

It was too early to call, being only 7:30 at that point. My colleagues and I batted around how the teacher may have contracted TB, how long it could have been before she found out she’d fallen ill, and any exposure time with the kiddos. I called Tiny’s pedi around 8:30, when they opened, and informed them that Tiny had been exposed to TB, and his preschool was requiring testing. They scheduled him immediately, and I told my boss that we had an 11:30 appointment.

Then I told Tiny’s dad. Tiny’s dad’s biggest concern was that Tiny was coming to him that evening, and would he be exposed to the bacteria. Seeing as he had just spent an entire week with his dad and Brother, I told him that if he was going to be exposed, he’d already been exposed … and that was if Tiny had it, which I was pretty confident he didn’t.

I picked up Tiny from preschool early, but first I spoke to the director, asking the questions I wanted to know. The teacher had gone into a region where TB was prevalent, on vacation, and contracted the disease. She’d been too sick to return to work (from my understanding) but due to her work, everyone had to be made aware. Whether or not that was the full truth, or a gloss over, I’ll never know, but it made me feel better at the time. So I grabbed Tiny, and told him we had to see the doctor before we saw Daddy, and I would take him anywhere he wanted to go for lunch after the appointment.

He was slightly afraid at first, asking if he was going to get a shot. I said it would be a little prick, like a mosquito bite, but he’d barely feel it. I was lying through my teeth, too; those TB tests are painful!

We showed up, played in the waiting room, played in the doctor’s office, explained to the nurse and the pediatrician how he got a possible exposure, and then the nurse came back in to administer the test. I hugged Tiny close, held his arm straight, and expected … I don’t know. Tears? Pain? Whining? Fear?

Man, was I wrong!

Tiny was a trooper. He didn’t even blink when the needle went in his skin. In fact, he watched it!

How is this my kid? I hate shots!

Two days later the test was read. Though it was a little irritated in the area, the test read negative. To that, I am eternally grateful. We survived our first TB scare.

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