Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Stages of Childhood Illness

When my kids get sick, I am confronted with a long cycle of crap. I have been doing it long enough that I can now identify the stages of typical childhood illness from the maternal perspective. For your enjoyment, I will describe them. There is also a flow chart, in case you are a visual person. And, yes, apparently I do have too much time on my hands. We shall mention that no more.

After your child begins to act sick (the preferred medical term at our house is “pitiful and puny”), the primary stage of the cycle starts: The Fear. For example, it's not a cold, it's swine flu. It is not a sore neck, but rather viral meningitis. It may also be a tumor. Personally, I get scared so deep in my bones that I am momentarily paralyzed. Because nothing seriously bad is allowed to happen to my kids. Ever. It is time for a slap across the face or a shot of whiskey [Take the shot – Kate].

The Fear may also result in severe and intense freaking out (manifests as random shouting at people) and generalized over-reaction, but passes quickly, depending on how long it takes you to move to the next phase: The Doctor’s Visit. While this is a very short part of your child’s overall illness, it is a very meaty topic. Let’s discuss.

My last pediatric practice was a nightmare. It was not uncommon to wait for two hours to see the doctor. The place was always packed. The toys were old and crusty with funk that was invariably highly contagious. You would arrive healthy and cheerful for a check-up on your kid’s birthday, and leave furious, three hours later with a toddler now incubating three strains of flu, pink eye and a puking virus. The receptionist could always be counted on to be both vapid and rude, if she chose to put down Soap Opera Digest long enough to talk to you.

But that is the past; long ago and in another State. In contrast, my current pediatrician is wonderful. You may be amazed to learn that I am able to get a sick child appointment quickly and on the weekend. Since H1N1 arrived, they schedule well kids in the morning and sick kids in the afternoon. They have removed toys and magazines from the waiting area to minimize germ-spreading. The place is spotless and smells like Lysol. You can see the lines on the carpet from where it was recently steam-cleaned. Tissues, trash cans and hand sanitizer are everywhere. Masks are encouraged for those with flu-like symptoms. The staff is friendly, prompt, and professional. This place is obviously run by mommies.

The last time I was ‘in cycle’ and taking a sick kid to the new and awesome doctor, I had only one thought. I am not proud of this thought, but here it is: “Please, God, let it be Strep.” Yes, I was praying for Strep. And you do it too, so stop judging me. You know why we hope for Strep, but just in case you are feigning ignorance, I will lay it out. You get a prescription, you give it to your child and 24 hours later, they can go back to school and you can get your life back. Strep is great. There, I said it again.

But in this case, it was not strep. Of course not. It was the diagnosis I dread. “It’s a virus. Just wait it out. Blah, blah, blah. Three- to-five days. Worse before she gets better. Sicker at night. Basic childhood illness. Nothing to worry about.” The mysterious unnamed “Virus” that leaves small children wild, energetic and aggrieved all day and then horrible, feverish and sleepless all night, struck again. Stupid virus.

Moving on. After the doctor’s visit, which depending on how many kids you have with you and how they behaved in the waiting room can be its own horrifying experience, comes the next phase; The Phase Where You Wish for a Nanny. This stage hits about the same time as the realization that the illness in question is not that serious, only a serious pain in your ass. No one will sleep. No one will be happy. Everything will suck for 3-5 days. I try to be kind and sympathetic during this phase, and when I only had one kid, I was very sweet. Now I have three. I am therefore one-thirds nice and two-thirds annoyed.

Moving to the next crap-tastic phase: The Guilt. Because I feel really bad about the fact that I am feeling petulant. They are my children after all. But I am not a 24-hour machine. And that is what it takes to successfully see an entire household through a bad round of the stomache flu. I get angry at the prospect of dealing with non-stop vomit and diarrhea for five days, and because of The Guilt, I have the added bonus of feeling bad about being resentful and pissy.

Then comes the last stage; The Long Dénouement. These days can be sort of nice as you can sometimes check out of the regular world. You can snuggle in your jammies on the couch all day long watching movies with subdued, medicated and therefore quiet children. And you must be responsible. So, drive ten kids to soccer practice? So sorry, but no, can’t this week. I’ll try not to cry about it.

You will recognize the end of this phase and the entire cycle of illness, when your children cease being sweet and begin to actively antagonize you, and each other. When the pre-dinner witching hour again becomes completely unbearable and you are ready to throw them in the yard and start drinking directly from the bottle of Shiraz, they are usually on the mend. Then, healthy and obnoxious, your family’s regular life resumes. Super.


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