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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27 comments:

  1. Never have I read a more accurate description of childhood illness. You should print this out and distribute to pediatrician's offices nation-wide--they can give it to new parents so they'll know what to expect as their kids get older.

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  2. hahaha!! I can't tell you how many times I've wished for strep or some other bacterial infection!! It's always, always, always a mystery virus!

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  3. I use to go through this same thing because my child constantly got bronchitis, but since we have been going to the chiropractor I avoid most of this. (Insert shameless plug for chiropractor here!) Seriously...I know exactly how you feel but chiropractic has made us SO much healthier. Please try it!

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  4. I *just* went thru this last week. I was totally praying for strep, or at least an ear infection, but no...'twas the dreaded "mystery virus".

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  5. Yup. Us too. The baby had wheezing, coughing, I even asked for an antibiotic, which I don't usually do. Viral. Then, by the end of the week, big brother had it, but kind of different too. No coughing/wheezing, just a high fever and listless. Oh, and now fever blisters all over the bottom lip. And yes, this cycle is so accurate it's scary. Right down to the drinking straight from the bottle of shiraz.....

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  6. Ugh.... I'm sorry your littles are sick. Been there done that. One fall/winter cycle Thing 1 and Thing 2 had bronchitis or pnuemonia back and forth every week from Halloween until March. I.kid.you.not. It was Hell on Earth. Luckily none of my girls have not been sick with anything in over a year. Knock wood.... Pretty sure I just jinxed myself.

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  7. Wild all day and horrible at night. I HATE THAT! I mean, I love that you wrote it, but I hate that it's true, especially the time my, then 2 year old, got oral steroids for croup. The next day, you would have thought I fed her chocolate covered espresso beans for breakfast.

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  8. You just reminded me: we need to get our flu shots.

    Excellent explanation of the cycle. I am a visual learner.

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  9. Absolutely perfect description, particularly the HATE for the unspecified virus.

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  10. I hope your babies get better and fast, so you can keep your sanity.

    We've been sick since school started here...my poor little outbreak monkeys. It's gets brought in by my OMs from school, and it makes a flipping bee line towards me every stinking time. Once we get over one cold, here comes the next round. It is coming in Every.Other.Week! (I think, it's an EVIL plot by the Germ Commander.) And these are just the common viruses with no fever (sometimes), but make you feel absolutely miserable.

    I will be in a corner in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, once the flu season starts spreading like wildfire. Knock on wood. Ugh...

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  11. My son used to get mystery rash to accompany the mystery virus, so the pediatrician sent us to an allergist (with whom I am positive he plays golf). That's how we found out that mystery virus has a matching mystery rash, because my child isn't allergic to anything but an empty plate.

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  12. So sorry you're going through this, I can relate all too well *sigh*

    We just got over 2 months of passing "mystery virus" back and forth. My oldest brings home all sorts of viruses from school and shares it with the rest of us. My 2 younger children don't stand a chance. I actually dread when all 3 are in school and no one is ever NOT sick.

    And while you're on the topic, why is it that said "mystery virus" always makes an appearance when you have guests staying in your home, you're on vacation, or it's the holidays? It happens every.frickin.time.

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  13. my favorite was both my girls suffered from a "summer virus" this summer....and it happened several times....ugh

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  14. I sometimes, guiltily, enjoy it when my kids are sick. They slow down, because they are medicated, and the attitudes are gone. They need their mommy and will snuggle with me on the couch and are all sweet.

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  15. You forgot the last and final stage...where us moms get whatever-in-the-hell the kid(s) *had*, right about the time their energy levels shoot back through the roof...

    :-P

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  16. we've had tag team sickness here and i'm ashamed to say i was involved.... first my 6 y/o got pink eye the night before we were driving 13 hrs to my parents. then i managed to get a nasty cold that knocked me on my backside for xmas eve, xmas and the day after. then my dog got in on the action and i had to take him to the emergency vet. not to be left out my 10 y/o got a nasty cold and pink eye! it was a bit of an FML week!

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  17. Will you PLEASE make a t-shirt out of the flow chart? And find somewhere on the t-shirt to put "Please let it be strep". I would wear it constantly! This is my life - down the the actual mental begging for strep. Well, except that the last two times the medicine did NOT fix the strep.....

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  18. I used to make the mistake of googling symptoms before the doctor appt and always came to the same conclusion: Bubonic Ebola. Non-specific but certainly fatal.

    Nothing pisses me off more than a dr telling me that it's "just a virus." Guess what. AIDS is just a virus. So are hepatitis and ebola. Never dismiss a virus. It's much more fun to toture the peds office!

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  19. I second the request to print the flow chart onto a t-shirt, and to print "Please let it be strep" on it. I'd buy four.

    This is so spot on, every bit of it. You're a genius!

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  20. Are you freaking kidding me? Just went through two effing weeks of illness. I had pneumonia and the kids had the flu. No Christmas here, no Happy New Year. It sucked giant monkey balls, BUT I do have my sense of humor and know that it's all part of life. You are dead on, again. And if you're curious, I just updated my blog on the nonsense of being sick for two weeks and how gross and funny it all is. You have to laugh. Thanks for making that perfectly clear too!

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  21. Wow, Ms. Anonymous Triathlete must be feeling kind of Snitchy today. Maybe I misread, but that seemed uncalled for.....

    I love this post, and it's repost is perfectly timed, seeings how today I've been dealing with the first of what's likely to be 3 kids' nasty spewing. =)

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  22. I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who dreads hearing the phrase virus used in the diagnosis. Keep in mind that I respect the dangers of excessive antibiotics use; however, when I hear the doctor say, "Just lots of fluids and rest, and they'll be fine in a few days," I want to scream, "So I can send them to YOUR house?"

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  23. I think you need an addendum to the chart...2-3 weeks after kid gets sick, same illness (especially strep) is passed on to Mommy, who, NATURALLY, has to suck it up, pop copius amounts of Tylenol (or something stronger, if you're lucky enough to have a few leftover pain pills from your last c-section laying around), and keep on dragging herself through the days. In Mommy's case, strep tends to travel to the sinuses, warranting ANOTHER visit to doctor's office for a second round of antibiotics. Although sinus infections suck it big time, it can be nice to sit in the waiting room with all the most recent People magazines, and more importantly, WITHOUT your little people. Good times.

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  24. Hahahahhahahahhahhaha!!! I hate going to the Dr. and will generally avoid it. It's like a petrie dish of disgustingness in there. I would love to walk into a Dr's office one day and see this chart on the waiting room wall!

    And how about when Daddy gets sick... the biggest wimp of all! I still go back and read this every time he gets sick because it somehow makes me feel better. I'm so mean ;) hehe

    http://blogunta.blogspot.com/2008/10/sicko.html

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  25. Totally with you on the wishing it was strep. I had the same symptoms on the first of December, prayed it was strep, nope a virus that was like a houseguest that wouldn't leave. A month later and I'm just getting over it. I feel your pain.

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  26. I just want to say that I love you guys! I'm new to the site just a few days ago and I can't get enough! Keep up the great work!

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  27. Re: awesome pediatricians – ours is as well. My 3.5 year-old woke up from her afternoon nap on Dec 23 with gunky mucus-y eye. (Not so) awesome. Called the pediatrician that evening (the actual on-call doctor, not a service) and the doc called in ‘scrip for eye drops. She also asked if I wanted to bring the girl-child in to the office in the morning (CHRISTMAS EVE morning) to be checked out. Holy Mary Mother of God – this is the BEST. Girl-child also had an ear infection (which I had been not-so-secretly wishing for; oral meds are sooooo much easier than eye drops).

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