Tag Archives: sick child

Tumbling into a pothole of offspring illness

So there I am, walking briskly along the uneven path of parenting, stepping lightly over the weeds of disobedience, swerving gracefully to avoid the cracks of stubbornness, and oops, before I know it, I have tumbled into a pothole of offspring illness. Damn, damn and thrice damn.

B, who had been coughing like a hardened 20-a-dayer, developed an ear infection over the weekend. Obviously, being the caring parents that we are, did nothing whatsoever about this until Monday, when the doctor confirmed that B was definitely unwell and not just having a grump (my own first attempt at diagnosis). I have a vague recollection of looking at B on Saturday, falling over for the fifth time that morning, with his flushed cheeks and slightly red eyes and thinking ‘blimey, I wonder if he has an ear infection?’ And then, because I am pretty sure my maternal instinct was removed by accident when I had my C-Section, I dismissed such folly and put it down to teething. I swear, if I see my son with a limb hanging off and a fence post through his torso, I shall attribute it to teething.

And, being those aforementioned caring parents, we took him to nursery the next day. I entered reception looking like I was about to open a pop-up pharmacy, cradling Calpol, antibiotics and ibuprofen in my arms and making B walk as there was no room left for him to hitch a lift. He waved forlornly at me as I left him in the baby room, and walking back to the car I mentally docked myself 100 points from the league of great parents. Which meant I was currently running at a 342,800 point deficit. Shit, I am going to have to pull my finger out and do some serious Lego tower building to recover from this.

I drove off to my meeting, thinking happy thoughts about him being absolutely fine, but cringing every time the phone rang in case it was nursery telling me that B had taken a turn for the worse. But give my son his due, he did last until about 4pm, at which point he surrendered to his temperature and started to heat up like a hot thing in hot land, sitting on a Bunsen burner in a set of thermals.

We gave him a bath of Calpol and a spoon of cool water, sorry, a bath of cool water and a spoon of Calpol (although I am not convinced that the former would not be more effective), fried a couple of eggs on his forehead for our tea and got him to bed. All was quiet for three hours. Perhaps he is over the worst, we thought. As parents of two children, we should know bloody better by now, but no. Go to stupidity jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200 or any sleep. By half past ten, B was awake. And when I say awake, I mean screaming inconsolably. We cuddled, we stroked, we sang, we walked, we Calpoled…

 (Oh yeah, get me, I have just made Calpol into a verb. To Calpol verb: to administer strawberry loveliness to a minor. If the language pedants amongst you are struggling with this, I suggest you pour yourself a large glass of Calpol and relax a bit).

…but to no avail. B was rasping, struggling with short, rapid, shallow breaths that made us distinctly nervous.

“Shall I take him to A&E?” I venture with a grimace. I shudder involuntarily as I remember the last time I went and spent four hours waiting to be seen, at which point I was told to just go home.

We do what parents do when they are totally out of their depth and have a potentially very sick child on their hands: we act decisively and swiftly. Oh no, wait a minute, that must have been another, more competent set of parents. My mistake. What we do is stare at each other, then at B, then back at each other again, as if we can conjure the solution from between us, just by tracing an invisible line of magical answer-giving triangulation. After a while it becomes apparent that the sofa cushion is not going to spring to life and give us any medical advice, so we escalate our focus from the cushion to NHS Direct.

I approach the call with trepidation, since the last time I phoned about E having what I suspected was the Noro virus I was told to keep feeding him normally, including curry. There spoke a woman who was not going to be responsible for the ensuing clean up operation. Well, actually, there spoke a woman who did not have a bloody clue and was reading it off a screen, but let’s not be picky. But they were remarkably good, and arranged for a doctor to call us. We waited for forty five minutes, watching our son rasp and wheeze as he tried desperately to find a comfortable position on M’s lap. Eventually, I spoke to the doctor, who asked me all the same questions, agreed with me that it could be a chest infection, warned me not to use his puffer too much in case he became tachycardic (I am sorry, did I just wander onto the set of bloody Casualty? How am I supposed to know what that means? Oh, fast heart rate, you say? Well, why not tell me that in the first place, you knob?) and didn’t answer the only question that I actually had:

“Do you think it is safest to take him to A&E?”

“Well, it’s up to you.”

“I know, but given that you have had seven years medical training and I struggle to apply a plaster correctly, I was kind of thinking you might have a better idea than me.” Okay, I did not say this. But I thought it. Really loudly, Whilst grinding my teeth.

He did leave me with a very comforting thought though. He said that with young children, they can go downhill into a more serious condition very, very quickly. Ooh, super. You know, I had approximately one atom of my being that was not being consumed by anxiety up until that point, so thanks, Doctor Knob, for coming to my rescue there.

Well over an hour after this whole debacle began, we were back where we started, pondering an A&E trip. B, meanwhile, was so pissed off with our inability to make him feel any better, he had dozed off, at which point we thought sleep would be a better cure than four hours in a hot, noisy A&E., so we  decided to break the cardinal rule of the household and let him sleep with us so we could hear him breathing.

And so there we ended up, M and I flanking B, who laid on top of the duvet in his vest to get the full effect of the fan I had rigged up to cool him down. I was sodding freezing, but moaning felt a little churlish, so I kept my own counsel, the effort of which was quite something. B decided the only way he was going to sleep was to grind his head into my windpipe until my neck was at snapping point and I had a curiously close up view of the headboard. Not my position of choice for a sound night’s sleep, it has to be said. Stoically (okay, I was thinking some terrible, sweary things about my current predicament, but given I said none of them out loud I can still play to stoicism card, I reckon) I put up with this until 2am, at which point I could bear it no longer and gently passed the baton, I mean, boy, to M. I stared at the headboard a little longer, as my neck had seemingly frozen, and spent the next three hours in that weird semi-awake state where a small but insistent part of your brain is screaming “Don’t Sleep! You have a sick child! He could stop breathing for all you know! Stay awake you bitch! Don’t you dare close your eyes!”

It was almost a blessing when B roused himself at 5am to start the day, and I never thought I would hear myself say that. My limbs had been filled with concrete, my eyelids stuffed with grit, my brain had leaked out of an unspecified orifice and looming ahead was a call to the doctor’s surgery where I would be told I was eighth in the queue, behind an octogenarian who was going to give a full medical history of her varicose veins. I tell you something about falling into this pothole of offspring illness. It’s bloody cramped, it smells a bit and I think it has made me little tachycardic. Oh yes, in your face, Doctor Knob.

A shallow sympathy puddle

That perennial unwelcome house guest, sickness, comes to stay once more. Honestly, you would think it would have got the message the last time it visited, what with all that barely-disguised tutting, sighing and eye-rolling I did. But no, here it is again, banging loudly on the front door, dumping its belongings in the hallway for everyone to trip over and leaving a bad smell in the bathroom.

This time, it is E that cops it. One evening, he starts to complain he is feeling unwell and a cursory touch of his forehead is quite a surprise: he is, indeed, running a temperature. I would have put a tenner on the fact that the complaint of illness was solely down to the fact that cleaning teeth and bedtime were imminent and he hadn’t finished watching this particular episode of Scooby Doo, but it turns out that mother definitely doesn’t know best. Well, not this mother, anyway. I shall have to employ a more competent mother to make judgement calls about my son in the future, I think.

One dose of Calpol later and he is in bed, insisting – despite the ambient temperature of his bedroom being somewhere between tropical and naked flame and him seemingly ignoring the fact that you could fry up a couple of chipolatas on his forehead – that he has his duvet pulled all the way up to his chin. We have a mini tug-of-war with his bedclothes, as I try to explain that he really needs to not cover himself with 10 togs of heat as it will make him feel worse, whilst he pulls it up even further just to prove the point that he is going to win this battle. I persevere for a while, as I really do not want his internal organs simmering in their own juices, but I soon realise that I am engaged in one of the most common parental past times there is: wasting oxygen. So I leave him, just two eyes and a forehead visible over his bedding.

He is still running a temperature the next morning, which is most concerning: I have a huge to-do list of work that I really need to get done. I decide that it is just a viral thing (don’t panic, I am a fully trained medical practitioner: I have a qualification from the university of Google, you know), ergo, there is no problem sending him to nursery. And then stupidly, when he asks for his morning milk, I oblige without a second thought, no doubt as I am too busy attempting to extricate a five day old pea from B’s mouth, or trying to stop him from sticking his finger in the electrical socket. Approximately three minutes later, there is a shout from the lounge: “Mummy, I am going to be sick!”

Now, I am not known for my swiftness of foot. But like parents everywhere, when they see a child a) teetering on tip toes on the back of the sofa shouting ‘look at me!’, or b) reaching up to the cooker just as you spot that you have left a tempting pan handle within reach or c) threatening to ruin your upholstery with vomit, I can give Usain Bolt a run for his money. The god of warp speed shone his faster-than-light on me and within the space of ten seconds, I had scooped up E under my arm to deposit him in the bathroom, realised that M was in there, changed direction toward the kitchen sink, remembered that E cannot reach the sink unaided, grabbed his stool mid-run from under the table, plonked it in front of the sink, dumped E on it and angled his head sink-wards just as the milky contents of his stomach came rushing out to play.  There are not many moments of unalloyed triumph in parenting, I find. But this was one of them. I allowed myself a little smile of victory on behalf of my sofa as I watched my son wretch so hard I thought his oesophagus may put in an appearance at any moment. That smile was soon gone from my face though, as firstly, E grabbed my hand and wiped his sick-smeared mouth on my forearm, and secondly, I realised that there was no way I could send this boy to nursery now. Bugger. I picture my to-do list, gathering dust,  beside a mountain of paperwork, a pile of urgent bills and a stack of notes I need to look at, under which somewhere, perhaps, is my desk.

So I do what any caring parent would do with a sick child: pull another chair up to my desk, plonk E on it, find an old episode of Scooby Doo on the iPad and tell him not to say a word as mummy has some work to do. The one flaw in my plan is the instruction ‘don’t say a word’. It’s a bit like sprinkling chocolate buttons over his lap and asking him not to eat them. It just ain’t gonna happen.

“Mummy, look at this bit, Scooby and Shaggy are trapped.”

“Oh yes,” I say trying hard not to lose the thread of what I am typing.

“No, look, mummy.”

“I am.” I angle my head a little toward the iPad, but don’t take my eyes off my screen.

“You’re not looking mummy!” he protests.

“I am,” I lie.

“No. Look.”

With a sigh, I look. And by the time I look back to the screen, my thread has been well and truly lost in the dark recesses of my brain and I have to start that line again. This is going to be a long, long morning.

“Mummy, can I draw on this?” He waves a brand new pack of Post It notes in front of my nose. Usually, Post Its are not for E. Gone are the days when I can use Post It notes with gay abandon: I work for myself, so have long given up the ultimate employee perk of an all-you-can-eat stationery cupboard.  But today, in a desperate attempt to get my work finished, I acquiesce. Ten minutes later, we are bobbing on a small ocean of bright yellow paper squares, curling slightly at the corners, each one bearing a small scribble, or a single letter, or a hastily drawn shape. Finally, after half the aforementioned Post Its are stapled together until my stapler jams, my ruler gets posted down the back of my desk never to be seen again and a large proportion of the pages of my notebook have curiously been crumpled, ripped or folded, I finish the urgent client document and skim read it before there is nothing salvageable left in my office. I don’t see any obvious accidental inclusions of ‘Scooby snack’ or ‘jinkers’ in the text,  so I hastily email it off.

It is at this juncture that the Calpol is starting to wear off, and E wants to lie on the sofa and feel sorry for himself. I oblige, installing a blanket under him to protect my sofa from any further outbursts of a vomity kind and a sick bowl by his side.

“Stroke my head, mummy,” he says. I do so for a while, until my arm aches.

“Cuddle me, mummy.”

“Can I lie on you, mummy?”

“Can I have some more water, mummy?”

“Can I have a little bit of toast, mummy?”

“Can you stroke my head again, mummy?”

And so it goes on. The demands of a slightly ill child. Each one met with marginally less sympathy than the last by his tired, slightly mean-spirited mother. The trouble is, I have very small sympathy reserves. Whilst some people worry themselves about the nationwide power generation crisis, foretelling of power shortages in two years time, I am more concerned about my own sympathy shortage. by my calculations, if E keeps on getting ill, I will have totally depleted my sympathy reserves by 2015. Some parents seem to have unlimited supplies of the stuff. There is no end to the sympathy they can shower on their offspring. My mum for one. No matter how ill, how whingey or how irritating I was, she turned on her sympathy tap and out it poured, embalming me in the warm, comforting glow of her care. I don’t really seem to have a sympathy tap. I have more of a… shallow sympathy puddle.  I don’t embalm my son in sympathy, more that I begrudgingly flick a few drops in his general direction. I want to be more sympathetic, I really do, but I get a bit… bored.

“Do you want to play Guess Who?” I ask, hoping that we can break the monotony of Mr Bloom’s Nursery. Watching a load of talking vegetables is making my remaining IQ leak from an unspecified orifice. But E only shakes his head in that slightly piteous ‘mummy, how can you be so crass as to suggest a board game, I am ill, you know’ kind of way that makes me want to tickle him to see how ill he really is. But I don’t, and turn my attention back to a gurning cauliflower making inane comments instead. Two seconds later and I have to find something else to do before I hurl the remote control at the screen, so I decide to do something constructive and will myself some more sympathy. It can’t be that hard, surely? I concentrate hard on feeling sympathetic. I look at E, lying forlornly on the sofa.

With effort, I reach out and pat his ankle. Well, look at me, with my sympathetic patting. I’m like a modern day Mother bloody Theresa, me.

Sick and tired

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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