E has just finished his course of antibiotics for a chest infection, and I breathe a sigh of relief: another contagion banished from the house. Even B is well, having shaken off his viral cough in a matter of days – although not before he passed it generously on to me. And given that I am old, worn out and haven’t had more than two consecutive decent night’s sleep for four and a half years, I am struggling after two weeks to feel anything other than lousy. I have a sneaking suspicion that my immune system packed away its sword, threw a few essentials into a holdall and got the hell out of me a few months ago, so fed up was it of the constant battle with snot, coughs and unspecified viruses. So my current cough has claimed squatters rights and shows no signs of moving on. At least it is just me that is ill now, I muse, in a most uncharacteristic show of maternal martyrdom. Blimey, I must be ill.
But I should not have worried, for by ten ‘o’ clock that evening, mere hours after the last spoonful of that yellow antibiotic elixir passed through E’s lips, he awoke with a temperature of 40 degrees. This is concerning. 39 degrees is tolerable. Even 39.6. But reaching the hallowed ground of 40 shifts whatever he has into more worrying territory. I peer into the gaping abyss that is my medical knowledge. Just a fleeting temperature or suspected meningitis? The start of a cold or an infection so aggressive we may need light sabres to fight it off? That’s the thing with kids and illness: there seems to be no way of telling. From this point, it could go two ways: vanquished by a dose of Calpol or the start of a life-threatening illness. Let’s flip the coin and find out.
I sit next to him on the bed, stroking his hair, as M runs to fetch some Calpol.
“I feel sick,” he says, which translates as: “There is a tsunami of vomit rushing up my gullet as we speak.”
With an air of resignation, knowing that the sick bowl is under the bed and out of reach, I cup my hands together and hold them under his chin. Sure enough, a huge stream of stomach contents lands warm and foul-smelling in my hands. Ah. Welcome to my life. The Incredible Human Sick Bowl. There is so much of it that it is threatening to dribble over the top of my fingers, and whilst uttering meaningless platitudes such as ‘you’ll feel better now’ (yeah, because I always feel smashing right after I have puked) I concentrate on keeping the sick off the carpet. E is distraught so I throw a few more impotent words in his direction whilst I glare at the sick in my outstretched hands, willing it not to spill. E’s arms starts to flail about wildly and I glance up, wondering for a fleeting moment if he is having some kind of fit. But no, he is gesticulating with abject horror at the smallest of sick splashes that have landed on his pyjamas, the full extent of the collateral damage he sustained when the vomit struck. Well, don’t mind me, with my hands full of your lumpy stomach contents, smears of sick on my arms and tracks of yellow vomit slowly making their way down the backs of my hands. This is obviously nothing compared to that miniscule fleck of puke you seem to be screaming at. M arrives with wipes and medicine, and quickly daubs E clean, before gently wiping his mouth and offering water. And I say again, don’t mind me, frozen to the edge of the bed, trying to both simultaneously look at the sick in my hands to ensure I am holding steady, whilst trying to move my nose away from the smell. I will just sit here for a while longer. I send up a quick prayer to the God of Coughs to have mercy, because one tickly throat incident now and we may all end up wearing what E had for tea four hours ago.
E’s temperature has dropped a smidge, but I am still concerned. His torso is outrageously hot, his face red. “I think one of us should sleep with him tonight, ” I suggest to M. “I’ll go and get you a duvet,” he replies. That’ll be me, then.
I switch the fan on in E’s bedroom, a remnant from the summer. Although I may have just dreamed we saw the sun. I lay down on a makeshift mattress on the floor next to E’s bed. I am immediately freezing. Now, I am no expert on aerodynamics, but there was something bloody curious going on. I lay with my back to the fan, shivering under the duvet, facing the bed. And yet, somehow, I was getting a sodding great breeze in my face. A cold one, at that. I lay there, listening to E breathing as he drifted off to sleep, no doubt having nightmares about his soiled pyamas, and cringing every time the fan swung round to chill me that bit further. I push the thought from my mind that if he is sick again, there is every chance he will lean over the side of the bed and puke on my face. Well, this is fun.
I cough for a bit into my pillow, desperately trying not to wake E, who keeps letting out quiet moans which have me springing into a sitting position and feeling his forehead. Every time I sit up, the cold air inveigles its icy fingers under the duvet and I feel just that little bit more crap. I need a tissue as my nose is now running profusely, but I’ll be damned if I am getting up in these sub-zero temperatures. I deploy my son’s nose-wiping tactic and use the back of my hand. Sometimes, it’s useful to have been through two childbirth experiences: I have no more dignity to lose. I lie back down, trying to work out which part of my body has now broken cover and is outside of the duvet territory getting frost bite. Maybe I should get into bed with E and let his radiant heat warm me up a bit. He moans again, and I sit up to check on him. Shit, is it really only midnight?
I get a faint whiff of sick as I move around, trying to find a comfortable position. I sniff the pillow, my hands, my arms, the front of my pyjamas. ‘So what did you do last night?’ ‘Well, after I caught a bucket load of my son’s warm sick in my bare hands, I held onto that for a while for a laugh, then went to bed in a wind sock, spread my own mucus across the back of my hand and then spent ten minutes sniffing round like a crazed bloodhound trying to track down the unmistakable aroma of vomit.’
I peek at the clock. One in the morning. I have yet to sleep, unlike my ill son, who is sleeping the sleep of the righteously-empty stomached. I have had many shit ideas in my time, but sleeping on the floor is right up there. I start to consider what excuse I might use to swap places with M. I cough hard, to see if I can wake E up, thus meaning that my presence in his room is more of a hindrance than a help, and giving me good grounds to quit. He doesn’t flinch.
Another hour passes. I can’t breathe through my nose due to my sinuses being packed full of Lego, meaning I am now breathing through my mouth. I am afraid my teeth might get so cold they may snap off. At 2am I am freezing, miserable and knackered I can’t take any more. I crawl from E’s room a broken woman, smelling faintly of vomit. Parenting. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.