There are few things in my experience as a parent that make the Anything But That! List. I mean, I don’t like to hear the sound of running feet on pavement followed up by a loud smack, silence (that’s the wind up), and then screaming. Having a child with an autism spectrum disorder, however, will soon turn you into an almost hard-hearted piece of gristle when it comes to falling. As soon as Milly could walk, she could fall and fall she did. All the damn time. Her knees and elbows looked like hamburger from the age of 12 months to 36 months. Between the sensory issues and the fact that she kept looking back as she walked or ran forward, the kid couldn’t stay upright for more than five minutes! I carried a first aid kit loaded with extra large bandages, gauze, hydrogen peroxide, and antibiotic ointment everywhere. Both cars had one, and my purse aka backpack had one as well. Still does.
I’m also not fond of colds or anything that might resemble influenza. I’m especially hateful towards pertussis since my husband brought that bastard of a bug home with him from Boston last year. After being quarantined by the heath department last spring, everyone in the family feels a special disgust towards whooping cough. Because Milly has asthma, these bugs that get anywhere near the lungs make her the most vulnerable. She always contracts pneumonia. Always. I prefer if a family tells me if there is an illness in the house. Playdates can be postponed and rescheduled. A cold in one kid can become pneumonia in mine, and getting an asthmatic child over pneumonia and back on their feet again? It takes a long time.
Breaking bones, lacerations, and even pneumonia are not, however, what I hate the most. The thing that will make me put my house into lockdown and keep my kids indoors interminably?
Gastroenteritis otherwise known as the stomach flu. The barfs. Whatever you want to call it. If you’re vomiting, I will not let my kids anywhere near you. If there is even a rumor that you’ve recently vomited, then you are on our No Fly list.
I know some people who are like Jerry Seinfeld. They haven’t puked in years. They remember the last time they did it, and the last time they did it was in the 70s. And they were born in the 80s. I knew a woman like this. She had actually never vomited a day in her life! I was incredulous. I didn’t want to trust her. I wanted to lump her in with women who don’t gain any weight during pregnancy. People who have never once vomited and women who don’t gain an ounce during pregnancy: “Oh, I just don’t know! I seem to lose weight when I’m pregnant. Isn’t that the funniest thing? And I’m never sick. In fact, I’ve never thrown up a day in my life. I don’t even know what it feels like to be nauseous. Is it unpleasant?” It’s unnatural.
I spent most of my young life puking. I was that kid. My husband was that kid. Consequently, our kids are those kids. Both Grace and Camille have been hospitalized for vomiting. Eadaoin is a born barfer. That kid will puke just because she has butterflies in her stomach. Nervous stomach? Yep, and so much more. If a stomach bug is going around, she’ll catch it. Then, she’ll share it with the rest of the family because, you know, it’s good to share, right?
If we’re lucky, all four will just get it over with at the same time. It’s messy, but it’s fast. Usually, we’re not that fortunate. It gets dragged out to weeks and weeks of throwing up. The amount of laundry is spectacular. It’s almost as awe-inspiring as the sleep deprivation. The worst possible scenario is when all four kids are down at the same time, and then an adult goes down, too. Or, God forbid, both adults are down. That happened once. We just laid out the girls on the living room floor on a huge vinyl air mattress with their own buckets. We put on Disney movies and took turns emptying the buckets and administering liquids. One moment, I was fine. The next, I was running for the bathroom, and I heard my husband cry, “Not you, too! No!” An hour later he was sick as well. There we all were. Trying to assist our kids while we were vomiting at the same time.
Well, once again, I have the early morning shift. Grace and Milly are both lying on the couch. Milly started vomiting yesterday at 5 PM. She puked every 20 minutes continuing to vomit every 20 minutes until almost 4 AM this morning. My husband took the night shift. Grace emerged from her room at 6 AM complaining of a stomach ache. She just threw up a third time. And so it goes, burning its way through the family. What are the odds that we all catch this nasty bug? Pretty high although I’m hopeful that we won’t. My hands are raw from washing them.
So, what’s the big deal? Everyone vomits right? It is a big deal when one comes from a family of people sensitive to the viruses that cause gastroenteritis. It’s a big deal once you’ve had to hospitalize two of your children, one for three days, because they could not recover on their own. It’s a big deal because these sorts of viruses are so damn contagious. Six people in a house with one barfing child will eventually equal five more vomiting people. It’s just awful. Does anyone wonder why these bugs seem to be so easily passed on? I’ll tell you why:
- Norovirus. With norovirus — the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in adults — you’re contagious from the moment you begin to feel ill. Symptoms appear within one to three days of exposure. Although you typically feel better after a day or two, you’re contagious for at least three days after you’ve recovered. Some people may be contagious for up to two weeks after recovery. Also, children are often contagious for a longer period than are adults.
- Rotavirus. Symptoms of rotavirus — the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis in infants and young children — appear one to two days after exposure. But you’re contagious even before you develop symptoms, and you typically remain contagious for two weeks after you’ve recovered. Children are often contagious for a longer period than are adults.
The viruses that cause gastroenteritis are spread through close contact with infected people, such as by sharing food or eating utensils. Washing your hands or using hand sanitizer is the most effective way to stop the spread of these viruses to others. (Mayo Clinic)
Many people believe that once they or their child have stopped vomiting, then they are in the clear. Well, thank God that’s over! We’re well now! Hurray! Not so fast. You are still contagious even though you are asymptomatic. If it’s Norovirus, then you’re contagious for a minimum of three days even after you feel better. Children are contagious longer, but how many parents reschedule appointments, playdates, and send their kids back to pre-school and school within 24 hours after a bout with the stomach flu? Almost all. And that monstrous beast of a bug Rotavirus? Contagious for two weeks after symptoms have resolved? No wonder schools and daycare settings become cesspools of viral plague. Who can stay home for two weeks? How many people actually figure out what kind of virus they had? How many young children, older children, and adolescents are actually washing their hands appropriately? Heck, how many people are actually washing their hands after they use the toilet? My husband has a game. I don’t know when he started playing it, but he comes home every day and tells me how many guys he observed leave the bathroom that day without washing their hands. There’s almost always at least one. If these guys are fathers, then what are they teaching their children?
So, what’s the big deal here? Well, aside from the fact that gastroenteritis is hard on the body, and one is contagious for a minimum of three days after symptoms pass not to mention that some forms of these bugs are harder on younger bodies than on adults, there is the issue of medication compliance for those who take daily doses of prescribed medications. If you’re vomiting, then you can’t take your meds. If you can’t take your meds, then whatever your doctor was trying to address pharmacologically is not being treated. What if you have a seizure disorder? What if you have chronic migraines? What if you require oral medication to treat something like Type 2 diabetes? Or, like Grace, what if you have a severe neuropsychiatric disorder that requires a few medications? If you can’t take your meds, then you can’t be treated.
I guess this is my long-winded, verbose way of saying…
…because you don’t want what we’ve got. And, we never wanted what they had whoever they are! Keep it simple, wash your hands. If your child vomits, then don’t allow them to play with their friends for a minimum of three days after they become asymptomatic. Three days might seem like a lot, but vomiting thirty times in ten hours is a lot, too.
And, there goes Grace again. I want a hazmat suit.