Monday, January 08, 2007

Dance of the Stomach Flu Fairy

If you want to catch the stomach flu, you needn’t actually touch barf. I just did that for good measure. This time of year, you only need to spell the word F-L-U to find yourself hunkered over the toilet bowl wishing for the easy, lazy days of, say, Boot Camp.

In our family, the Stomach Flu Fairy first sprinkled her evil pixie dust—like that strange, horrible-smelling powder that the school janitor used to shake onto piles of fresh vomit, each granule being equally as vile as the barf it intended to neutralize, leaving one to wonder, in chicken/egg fashion, whether the granules caused the barf or the barf caused the granules—onto our beloved Sylvia (3 years old). And before Sylvia could say Lysol Disinfectant Spray, she began throwing up. I went to check on her at bedtime, groping my way into her bedroom in the dark, patting around with my hand in her bed, trying to find her face, when… whoa, that’s not Sylvia’s face, that’s puke!

That was Thursday night. Why does it always happen at night, when blurry-eyed clean-up is twice as difficult; when even the most adept pukers have trouble hitting the throw-up bowl? (By the way, being able to throw up into a bowl is a milestone worth celebrating! Surprisingly, there is no entry in the baby book for it. I personally added my own line to each child’s baby book, since, in my opinion, this feat ranks right up there with crawling and walking. Evidently the squeaky-clean folks at Hallmark don’t agree).

Our famously-spunky Sylvia set a family record on Friday by spending the entire day in bed, burning up with a fever, only waking when I coaxed her to drink water or took her temperature. At 4:30 p.m., she arose like Lazarus, stumbled to her bedroom, and got herself dressed. (We thought this strange, since she normally asks for help getting dressed). She relocated her convalescent nest to the main-floor couch, and remained there for the rest of the day, fading in and out of sleep, offering small, weak smiles to anyone in close proximity.

By early Friday morning, after the aforementioned hand-to-barf contact, I wasn’t feeling so well myself. Thus, paradoxically, on Friday, I was treated to a rare luxury: a day lounging in bed with Sylvia. With Tobin’s capable hands steering the familial ship below, I snuggled in bed with Sylvia (who usually sits still to snuggle about as long as Tigger stops bouncing to call “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!”), read a novel (that is to say, I read an entire novel from start to finish!), fretted about Sylvia’s fever, and dozed with complicity. All things considered, being sick was a good trade-off, since my funky tummy never developed into full-blown bouts of barfing.

Saturday, we all felt tired, as if we’d spent the previous days running against the wind. But we were encouraged by the stalwart example of Eli, Baby Extraordinaire, who has bravely battled a cold/cough/ear infection combo for weeks, and is now working his way through a second round of antibiotics. “This is how you handle illness, Mama,” he seemed to say, “You just smile and pretend that you’re not even sick at all!” In addition to a runny nose, cough, ear infection, and diaper rash (his first ever, likely caused by the antibiotics), Eli woke up on Tuesday with what we call “Goopy Kitty Eye.” You know the kind—seen in kittens adopted from the pound—where the eye secretes a green goop that hardens into a crust and seals the entire eye shut. It’s technically called conjunctivitis, but that doesn’t lessen its nastiness factor. So, in addition to antibiotics, we obtained some medicated eye drops from the doctor. Now, here’s the amazing part. For the first application, I held down Eli’s flailing arms while Tobin applied the drops to his eyes. After two or three subsequent applications (over the course of the next day), Eli decided, “Hey, this stuff isn’t that bad! And my eyes are starting to feel better! I think I’ll just lie here quietly and hold still so that the full dose gets into my eye. Yeah, that’s the stuff.” (Note to reader: if you haven’t already become an Eli Groupie, now’s the time to go back and read “Ode to Eli.” This baby really is fantastic.) By day two Tobin could apply the drops unassisted, with one hand tied behind his back just to prove his fatherly prowess.

Sunday came and went in barf-less fashion. Score: One for My Family! Zero for the Flu Fairy! We won! She lost! We trapped that ol’ Stomach Flu Fairy, pinned her wings to cardboard, and placed her in a glass-top shadow-box to celebrate our victory.

But then, Sunday night, 1:30 a.m.: What’s this? Eleanor calling from her room? “Mama, I feel sick! Mama, I feel sick!” After Eleanor baptized the bathroom floor in barf, I relocated her to the downstairs bedroom where I could sleep with her and monitor her condition. Between bouts of barf and bedding changes, Eleanor carried on a thoughtful banter. With genuine concern, she asked in a sing-song voice, “Mama, what if Eli gets the throw-ups? He might get throw-up on his soft little baaaby skin!” During a cleansing, middle-of-the-night soak in the tub, Eleanor discovered a red thread in the water, and kindly offered it to me, her eyes dancing with the excitement of great discovery: “Mama, you can save this in your sewing kit for the next time you need some thread!” Umm, I think I’ll pass, there being little demand in my life for one-inch, barf-germed tub-thread of unknown origin...but thanks for the nice offer. Then, as we both climbed back into bed for the final time (4:30 a.m.), I whispered “Goodnight Eleanor. Mama loves you,” and she replied, “Goodnight Mama. I love you. And your Mama loves you, too. And so does your first Mama, even though she’s in heaven now.”

Then, as I lay awake, with Eleanor’s foot firmly rooted into my ribs, I thought about the silver-lining of tending to sick children: I believe that illness brings out the essence of who they are—it reveals their inner-most qualities that otherwise remain hidden by daily activities and routines—and gives us a glimpse at the adults they will someday become. I counted my blessings: for Sylvia’s quirky, cheerful, energetic disposition; for Eli’s mellow happiness; and for Eleanor’s empathetic thoughtfulness.

Tonight, after being barf-free for 3 nights (“good on ya, mate!”), Sylvia threw up in her bed. Yet she giggled and danced as she led the way to the bathtub (“I’m the leader; I’m walking first”), showing no other sign of illness.

Out of the corner of eye, I saw the Stomach Flu Fairy loading up another batch of dust. I’m just not sure where it’s going to land.

(Disclaimer: I don’t think you could actually catch the flu just from reading this blog, but if I were you, I’d go wash my hands now, just in case).


KarenP said...

Oh, Ally, I just love your blog! I can SOOOOO relate! Fortunately the stomach flu fairy hasn't struck around here for a few months (knock on wood) but I've been there. I have a friend who pays her kids $1 each time they throw up in the toilet. No penalty if they miss, but just a little extra incentive to make it down the hall in time. And, hey, there's nothing like $20 in your pocket to make an otherwise miserable day a bit more bearable for a sick kid!

Ally said...

The $1 pay-off is hilarious! What a great idea. Both of my girls would have several dollars in their piggy-bank after this week's fun.