A plague on both your houses…

…or in this case, just the one.

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that now there are four separate people in our household, the chance of at least one of us being ill at any given moment has increased exponentially. The reality is that chronic sleep deprivation has lowered the immune systems of the “husband” and I, and the The Eldest positively paddles in germs every week when she goes to nursery. Meanwhile, just to compound the issue, until recently I worked in a secondary school and therefore spent an inordinate amount of time sharing door handles and pens with a demographic of people who are renowned for not taking personal hygiene exactly seriously. This all means that we are an ideal destination for the average bug looking to kick back and relax while our small people offer warm, damp and slightly grimy conditions perfect to grow a slightly lack-lustre strain of germ into a full-grown bout of Swine Flu (I am aware that this is not actually how it works).

Now, of course I am not talking about the kinds of illnesses that people actually die from – thank god we live in a country where we are lucky enough to have eliminated lots of those kinds of illnesses through a robust immunisation programme (sorry for the slightly political point there but it seems to me that vaccinating your children is a moral imperative. It doesn’t seem fair that some people choose not to vaccinate their children for reasons best described as “woo”, and yet benefit from the protection of everyone else taking the “risk” with their children. And if they lived in a country where dying from measles was an actual real concern, I’m sure they would feel differently. Despite my efforts to welcome all-comers in this parenting “game” I’m afraid that this is one thing that gets my Mc-Judgy pants all in a twist. Ok, posturing over, back to the flippant post). I am talking about the illnesses that leave you feeling like death but really are a relatively minor inconvenience. Since the BSCB joined us, I feel that we have become somewhat experts in the field of these slightly irritating but not life-threatening conditions as barely a week seems to go by without us all falling domino-style to a germ’s silky chat-up lines, or being taken out all at once in a Weapons of Mass Destruction full-throttle attack. And it’s not just us.

The many other mums I know regularly report days being taken off work thanks to the illness of children, and the general consensus seems to be that we all feel pretty shit most of the time. Swollen glands? Check. Tickley throat? Check. Sneezing? Check. General nausea? Check. The list of slight ailments goes on and on. In the interests of “science” therefore, I have been keeping a mental tally of the various illnesses (or Bastard Bugs as they have come to be known in our house) that have inflicted themselves upon us in the last few months. One of my findings is that at a time of our lives when illness is inevitable, some are preferable to others. In descending order of desirability therefore, I give you my “Top Five” most Bastard-y Bugs:

The 5th place prize for most B-dy Bug goes to… Conjunctivitis. Not an ailment that ever graced my door before children, this has appeared in all its sticky, crusty, gunky glory three times in the last two months. To be fair, this is not really a condition that causes hugely concerning symptoms. A swollen eyelid here, an itchy eye there, some sticky eyelashes in the morning, it can all be fixed with some eye drops from the chemist so doesn’t even warrant a pain-in-the-arse trip to the doctors (or more accurately a pain-in-the-arse 45 minutes and 73 redials to get through to the doctors, a half hour wait in a phone queue, followed by a 30 second conversation with a receptionist who tells me that the system has changed and we have to be triaged (another phone call) before getting an appointment. All of this before 8.30am while trying to prevent the BSCB from artexing the kitchen wall with Weetabix and trying to convince The Eldest that she cannot leave the house wearing only a vest and her fairy wings). So overall, not a bad illness, right? Except we live with The Eldest.

The Eldest has been known to scream for one or both of us in the middle of the night because her eye is itchy, so when she stirs in the middle of the night to find her eyelashes glued together I’m sure you can imagine how oh the world ends. Just to emphasise the extent of the drama that this girl can create, hear this – the first time she had conjunctivitis she was around 18 months old. After a couple of days of waking with her eyelashes stuck together and having her eyes bathed with cooled, boiled water and cotton wool (such a good mum…), she woke on the third day with no sign of any gunge whatsoever. Yes! I thought. Except she would not open her eyes. Just would not. Refused. Completely. She let me carry her up to the living room where I cajoled, demanded and pleaded but nope, still closed. It was a work morning and I needed to leave but I was also starting to think there was something terribly wrong. After 20 minutes or so it was the dulcet tones of the Peppa Pig theme tune that finally elicited a blink and the opening of her perfectly fine eyes. WTF?! At 18 months old she had no way to articulate what had just taken place but the only thing I can think of is that through conjunctivitis she had learned that she could be awake and yet not open her eyes, and she had decided to you know, try it out. So while conjunctivitis as an illness is really just a mild irritation, its knock-on impact for us justifies its place on this list.

In 4th place comes The Common Cold. We’ve all been there, in the park, playing with the slightly feverish child when they sneeze. Candlesticks hang from their nose – two bright green strands of snot that run down over their lips and off the bottom of their chin – and you hurriedly rummage through your pockets before the child can smear the offensive slime all over their face and into their hair. You pull out a slightly grimy napkin from Starbucks which you realise you used the last time you forgot the tissues and you know you could do better. You look at the soiled, scratchy excuse for a tissue and guilt gets the better of you and you use your scarf. Like conjunctivitis however, the common cold isn’t much to be worried about really and sometimes the children surprise us with their ability to breathe through their skin, or eyes, or ears, or something anyway, because I’m sure as hell that no air is getting up that nose and they haven’t yet realised they can breathe through their mouth. Most of the time however, at worst a cold means a few disturbed nights for parent and child but sometimes it leads to…

The winner of 3rd place, The Cough. I swear there is no more irritating sentence that ever comes out of a doctor’s mouth than the words “It’s just a virus.” By the time you have passed the Krypton Factor test of actually getting a sodding doctor’s appointment you have probably had a week of being woken several times a night by your coughing child. He/ she might not actually wake which obviously is a good thing, but you are awake. A lot. Listening to them cough. Please give me some drugs. But no. No drugs. And how long can a viral cough take to go away? Six weeks! By which time your child has had another 3 colds so the cycle just, well, cycles. Obviously there are times that coughs can be more serious – croup? Anyone been there? <shudders at memory> Bronchiolitis? Yup, that too. Chest infections? Well, yes, but really those don’t count because for those we get d.r.u.g.s. So coughs are pretty shitty but not a patch on…

The 2nd place prize winner, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. Now, if you’re not a parent but for some reason are reading this, this is not the same as Foot and Mouth disease which affects mostly livestock. Confusing the two and questioning your child’s parentage is an easy mistake to make, I know, but I promise your child is not a cow, or any other cloven hoofed creature for that matter (although doesn’t Satan appear in cloven-hoofed form? I’ll leave that thought with you). Hand, foot and mouth is sometimes known by its colloquial name of F***king Hell on Earth (sorry mum, but it really was that bad) and results in blisters forming inside your child’s mouth, down their throat, all over their body and on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet. Horrible. I do know of children who have suffered mild cases of the infection who suffered only a mild deterioration in appetite and a few spots around their chin. This wasn’t the BSCB. His torso looked like he had slept on a Tangle Teaser, his face erupted into a mass of weeping, then scabby sores, and I have no idea what was in his mouth because other than to cry he barely opened it for about 48 hours. Grim. Although not quite as grim as…

The top-prize winner, the Gold Standard B-dy Bug, The Vomiting and Diarrhea bug. This is quite simply the worst minor illness to fall victim to. Like all of these illnesses there is a sliding scale of severity from the 24 hour bug that causes your child to vomit a couple of times and have one or two explosive nappies (no big deal), to the daddy of all “it was coming out of both ends” bugs – norovirus. Joking aside these can obviously be really serious as the threat of dehydration can lead to hospital admission and IV fluids. Most of the time though the reason a vomiting and diarrhea bug tops my list is quite simply because of the clean up.  During a particularly bad bout of vomiting with the BSCB (yes, he is rather sickly), we resorted to just hanging out in the kitchen – that way at least the floor was easy to clean. This is because the main problem with a vomiting and diarrhea bug is that even once the child starts to feel better, and the sleepless nights start to improve, you are still left with the mammoth task of washing everything you own so that you can leave the house again. Bed sheets, towels, more bed sheets, pyjamas, clothes, the carpet, the settee, muslins, mattress protectors, hair, skin – all of it gets covered in vomit and/or shit several times a day and the laundry pile simply spirals out of control. And while I’m thinking about it, am I the only one to ever pull a load of laundry out of the washing machine, only to find that in my throughly effed off state I’d forgotten to rinse the vom off? As desired, the wet bits have been washed neatly away but rather less pleasing are the nuggets of unidentifiable foods that have been left dancing around amongst my smalls like the sweaty, oddly-shaped and strangely pasty people who always remain in the discotheque in the early hours of Saturday morning. Vomit – the gift that keeps on giving.

Now this Top Five is clearly not definitive – these are only the Top Five most B-dy Bugs as according to the TM(M)I household. I am well aware that there are many more treats peeking over the horizon wiggling their fingers in a shit attempt at kidding me that I have seen their worst. Chicken pox, ear infections, flu, Slapped Cheek (no, I have no idea either) – they’re all there just waiting for their chance to pounce.

Oh well, what doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger, right? Now pass me the vitamins (wine).

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