B has been unwell and this has just reinforced to me that I would truly make the worst nurse in the world. In the list of professions at which I would fail inexorably, nursing would be hovering around the number one spot. All those bum wiping, sick-scraping, pit-washing duties, I don’t know how they do it without hitting someone. And there lies the rub. Although I wouldn’t even want to rub, you don’t know what you’d catch. The fundamental trouble is, I struggle with prolonged sympathy. When one of the boys falls ill, the first hour is fine. I cuddle, I administer Calpol*, I allow extra television, I may even read a few stories or sing a song. So far, so nurturing. But as the hours slip slowly by in a haze of vomit, or shit, or fevered brow – or if I am really hitting the jackpot, all three – I start to lose the small cache of sympathy that I was saving up, which was forcefully and painfully gathered through many hours of looking at pictures of sad kittens and injured puppies on the internet**. Where a couple of hours ago, I was quite happy stroking hair and mopping brow, now I really want to ask him to pull himself together as I am getting very bored.
It is a strange state of mind I find myself in, when one of my offspring is ill, oscillating wildly from general boredom and frustration, to nerve-shredding paranoia. With E, being the first born, every sniffle, dribble of sick or runny poo provoked a fleeting thought about some deadly illness that I was too incompetent to diagnose meaning it was only a matter of hours before he should be in intensive care. With B, he has both the luck and the misfortune to have arrived second… for pretty much everything. For attention. For trips out. For concern. So when I feel he is hot one afternoon, I chuck some Calpol down him and put it down to teething.
When M picks up a crying B from his cot at half past midnight and B throws up with spectacular force, I am starting to think that I might have to reassess my initial diagnosis. But after a momentary panic when in the half light of his room, coupled with my still-asleep brain, I spot great dark blotches of something in his sick which I think is blood until I remember he had spinach for his tea, I am not unduly concerned. M settles him whilst I get the shortest of all straws and begin the Great British Scrape Off, cleaning sick from sheets and sleeping bags and pushing sticky fragments of spinach down the plug hole. It is then, as I absentmindedly scratch a smear of sick from my pyjama sleeve, that I wonder if I should take this a bit more seriously. It’s just a temperature and a bit of sick. Or is it? No, it’s just a bug, he’ll be fine in twenty four hours. Or will he? Yes, he will, it’s probably something he picked up from nursery, or more likely, from licking the plastic balls at the play barn. Or something more serious that requires immediate hospitalisation. As I clean the vomit from under my fingernails, I resolve to assume it is nothing to worry about. Unless, of course, it’s… okay, for chrissakes, just go to bed.
The next day, or Shit Saturday, as we now refer to it, is spent mainlining Calpol and Nurofen into B in an attempt to control his temperature. I wonder if it is worth buying a tea urn and filling it with the strawberry loveliness, so we can lie B underneath and dispense with those plastic squirters. They seemed such a brilliant idea at first, as Medicine + Spoon + Baby = how come I have Calpol in my hair and down my cleavage? But after three uses, the plunger sticks, so I press harder and harder until I end up shooting 5ml of medicine down the back of B’s throat at jet speed and nearly choke him to death. The vomiting seems to have gone – obviously just the opening act in this particular medical drama – and is replaced by diarrhoea. Or just teething nappies. Who knows? They could make a game show out of the arbitrary diagnoses that occur when parents contemplate their sick child:
“Okay, Bob and Eva, here we go with round two. Sickness, high temperature and… what looks like a rash… let’s spin the wheel and find out… You’ve landed on allergy, would you like to gamble your bottle of Calpol and your sick bowl on the next category, which is unspecified infection?”
I spend the entire day convinced that B has nothing more than teething troubles, and the vomiting was just one of those things… maybe he is just not partial to spinach. And then my mind goes and does its own bloody thing and interrupts my thoughts with the memory of Blake’s last very high temperature, which led to a two-day stay in hospital. But then I picture us traipsing to A&E, to be told that he is teething and they may revoke my parenting license. Bloody hell, someone needs to invent a diagnosis stick. Just stick it up a baby’s bottom, leave for one minute and the read out will tell you what is wrong. Nothing complicated, perhaps just two options: 1. Calm down, you idiot, it’s a cold or 2. Call an ambulance right now. Or maybe one more: 3. Are you sure you should be left in charge of a child?
Whilst we vacillate pathetically about whether we should get a medical professional involved, B is quite happy to go about his business regardless. Quite literally. He is shitting like his life depended on it. And this is no ordinary excrement. It is watery, bright yellow and has an aroma that could strip your nasal passages of skin from three foot. But that is not all. It’s delivery is turbo-charged. The first we know about it is the rumbling of his bottom cheeks as the G Force gathers pace. Approximately three seconds later, it appears in all its glorious Technicolor shittiness, usually running out the bottom of his trouser leg, or creeping up his back underneath his vest like a stinking tsunami of bowel contents. I have never wiped so much poo from one boy’s armpits in a single day. But I have now perfected the art of inverse-rolling of the vest to facilitate removing it without wiping poo all over B’s head. This is a Niche Parenting Skill, which is of utterly no use in any other situation bar with your kids. A bit like Ninja Nose Wiping, where you can soundlessly pounce on a runny nose, using the element of surprise to circumvent the usual chase around the kitchen table, and Teeth Washing Headlock, where you can clamp a child’s head in the open-mouthed position so you can clean their teeth rather than wait the three hours they would take to get round to it.
B started to rally that afternoon, probably due to the entertainment of me spending most of my day scraping poo from five vests, three pairs of trousers, an assortment of socks and a tee shirt. and so we forwent any further inability to make a decision about what to do about his illness. That night, he woke at midnight full of beans. Bleary-eyed and dog-tired, I stumbled into his room. He was never going to settle himself, so I quickly administered a large bottle of warm milk, to try and make him fall asleep. He gulped the lot, looked me in the eye and actually bounced up and down on my lap, laughing. I gritted my teeth and tried not to want to bite the legs off of the cot in frustration. I just needed to get back to bed. I paced the room with him, my arm muscles trembling with exertion. I hummed lullabies. I asked him nicely. I swore very gently in his direction. I was so tired. Still, he was like a ferret with a caffeine overdose, no doubt revelling in the euphoria of not feeling ill. Which was nice for him. And not so nice for me. Eventually, after about an hour and a half, I sat in the chair with him, as I just could not stand and sway and pace any longer. It is not a rocking chair, so I thought I would improvise. I held him, hummed a monotonous series of notes that really could not be called a tune, and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And then it struck me: baby’s bedroom or mental asylum? In the long dark night of parenting an ill child, sometimes it is difficult to tell.
*Other paracetamol medicines for children are available. But really. This one tastes of strawberries. I’m quite tempted myself.
**No puppies were injured in the making of this blog in an attempt to revive my sympathy gene. I did make a kitten a bit sad though.
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