Young Parents

Doctor, my nails seem to be falling off

Ms Yeo (with her two-year-old son, Conran) is recovering and looking forward to a manicure and pedicure.
Ms Yeo (with her two-year-old son, Conran) is recovering and looking forward to a manicure and pedicure.PHOTO: YOUNG PARENTS

After she caught hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) from her son, Ms Glynisia Yeo spent 10 days in hospital and lost her fingernails, toenails and hair. She shares her harrowing experience.

DAY 1 (March 2)

I saw a red spot on my palm. I ignored it. My attention was on my two-year-old, Conran, who was still recovering from HFMD and was cranky. A few days earlier, he had a few red spots on his feet and palms, as well as mouth ulcers. He lost his appetite for two to three days.


More spots appeared. A visit to the general practitioner confirmed that I had HFMD. By evening, blisters had spread to my fingers and wrist area. I was itching like crazy and managed to sleep only after applying calamine lotion.


I woke up and discovered that my hands were covered with bulbous, freaky-looking sores. I couldn't open and clench my fist without wincing in pain. There were red spots on my feet too. Every spot was itchy and I couldn't stop scratching.

Over time, my toenails and fingernails became dislodged.

I freaked out... Then, there was my hair, which fell out in clumps... I braced myself for the worst and my kind doctor reminded me that it would all come to pass.

I cried as I changed Conran's diaper that afternoon. The diaper's coarse texture grazed my blistered hands - it was sheer torture.

When my husband, Adrian, returned home from work, I showed him my hands and grumbled that I had been struggling the whole day, even in the toilet. Perhaps I should go to the hospital, I said.

We arrived at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital at 8pm. I was taken to the isolation ward and put on a drip. Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease physician, told me that it's very rare for adults to get HFMD. He warned me that throat ulcers would appear the next day and to be prepared that I wouldn't be able to walk for a few days if I developed sores on my feet.


My hands were swollen; my skin was stretched taut. I had fluids pumped into me regularly to prevent dehydration and I needed to relieve myself every hour.

But my achy feet made it painful for me to walk to the bathroom (the doctor didn't want me to use a catheter). I had no choice but to call the nurse for support every time nature beckoned. For the first time in my life, I also needed a nurse to help bathe me as I couldn't hold the shower head or flip open the shampoo bottle cap, much less scrub my hair. I bathed with assistance for the next six days.


Ulcers had developed at the back of my throat, making swallowing difficult. Even eating cooled porridge was like stuffing a spiky ball down my throat. It hurt like crazy. And no, ice cream did not help at all because something in that creamy substance made my ulcers sting. Iced water was painful, cold jelly was bad. I stopped eating and drinking altogether. Thank goodness for the drip.


I still couldn't eat or drink, the pain from swallowing was unbearable. I distracted myself by watching TV. I couldn't carry Conran and showed him my hands, explaining that Mummy was in pain. He seemed to understand.


My feet didn't develop blisters, just painful red sores. But my mouth, cheek and chin areas broke out in a red rash. I discovered a wonderful drink that I could down without wincing - iced chamomile tea. I drank it like water. I couldn't hold the cup handle properly because of blisters on the fingers. My tongue developed ulcers today.


Some blisters on my hands had ruptured, so the skin was peeling and very cracked. As my skin had thickened during the outbreak, when it peeled, it was stiff and sharp at the edges. A dermatologist gave me some solution to soak my hands in, plus creams to apply. My appetite was coming back even though the ulcers persisted. The medicated gargle caused a stinging pain each time I used it. By now, I could walk without assistance.


The skin on my hands peeled even more. Some large blisters remained. I was ravenous, having missed eating the last one week. I ate everything on the food tray. The nurse finally took out my drip - hooray.

DAY 10

I still couldn't do simple tasks with my hands, like opening a box or brushing my hair.

DAY 11

The sores on my hands were drying up and I attempted to bathe by myself, with gloves. It went well, although I took much longer than usual. The mouth ulcers were almost disappearing and my food cravings returned. I asked my husband to buy me a curry puff. Another friend indulged my craving for iced milk tea.

DAY 12

My toes were a little swollen from the stretched skin, but walking was no longer painful. The red spots on my hands were lightening. I made sure I was able to function without assistance before being discharged.

DAY 13

I said goodbye to the ward nurses and I was given a three-week MC by the doctor. I had to be quarantined at home as the blisters on my hands were still not fully healed and contagious. Back home, I thought the worst was over, but it wasn't.

The skin on the soles of my feet started peeling. Standing and walking became a challenge again as I hobbled around to get things done. My soles felt extremely sensitive because of the raw and exposed skin, which made it difficult to stand for long periods of time.

Then, HFMD unleashed its ugliest after-effects: I was losing my nails and hair!

I saw the nails on my right thumb and index finger turning whiter and separating from the nail bed. I waited two more days before contacting Dr Leong, when I realised that it was not getting any better.

"Doctor, my nails seem to be falling off. Is that normal?"

"Yes. That happens sometimes," was all he said.

Okay, so I figured that he omitted mentioning this so as not to cause premature panic attacks. Over time, my toenails and fingernails became dislodged. I freaked out. The discomfort was more pronounced on the fingers, probably because they are more visible to the eye.

Without my fingernails, I found that opening a canned drink was no longer an easy task. Even peeling stickers from my son's sticker book took time. The most painful part of this nail-dropping encounter was not the exposed nail bed; it was the period when the nail was peeling off, but still attached to the skin.

Inadvertently, things such as hair and tissue paper got trapped in between and caused sudden pain.

I wrapped surgical tape around all my fingernails and it made my life much better.

Then, there was my hair, which fell out in clumps. When I realised that nothing could be done to prevent it, my heart dropped. I cried for a few days because my hair was already naturally thin.

I braced myself for the worst and my kind doctor reminded me that it would all come to pass.

As I write this in late May, my nails are growing back. I am definitely looking forward to a well- deserved manicure and pedicure - hopefully by September.

I am discovering, albeit slowly, that time does indeed heal all wounds.

•This article first appeared in Young Parents magazine. Young Parents, published by SPH Magazines, is available in both digital and print formats. Go to to subscribe and for more parenting stories.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Doctor, my nails seem to be falling off'. Print Edition | Subscribe