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©January 2002

Carol Jane Remsburg




When Your Child Gets The Flu







When your child gets the flu, and by that I mean more than the 24-48 hour bug, your life becomes a constant crisis.  Every normal routine has gone to the wayside, including work, regular home chores, and especially sleep.  Emergency mode has kicked in and you live on adrenaline and simply hope it lasts the distance.


For the last eleven years, Erin's years, I've been lucky.  For most of those years she was so healthy other than those few years we battled the hard war of the 'ear infections' when I finally took a stand with her pediatrician and demanded tougher medication than the perennial favorite of the 'pink stuff' (also known as Amoxicillin).  I knew I needed the 'banana-flavored stuff' (also known as Augmentin) because while it can cause diarrhea in younger kids, it works great.  So, when the pediatrician and I hashed it out, I vowed to use the "BRAT" diet and keep the applesauce coming so her bowels wouldn't go nuts.  The kid STILL won't eat applesauce to this day. 


So somehow we made it from ages 2 thru age 5.  The only truly horrific incident over those years was a 3-day stint of Roseola that I'd just as soon never repeat.  The kid never totally dried off from being in the tub to try to kill the fever which hit 105 a couple of times and scared me so badly I had nightmares for years.  My own sleep deprivation on that little illness was a mere 72 hours.  I was younger then—only 33.


Since then, age 3, until now, age 11, Erin's had the annual 48-hour bug occasionally.  Nothing more.  I've been totally blessed with that.  I know some of you are out there telling me I'm lucky because I DON'T KNOW.  But in some ways I do.  Last year a friend of ours little daughter, same age as Erin, died of a brain tumor.  It had been two years of hell for them and all we could do was offer what support we could along with our prayers.  This year another little girl of a lady I work with, again the same age as Erin, was diagnosed with FRIEDRICH'S ATAXIA and is another horrible avenue to grow up with and die before your prime.


Lucky?  Yes I am, but when the real bad flu comes to visit your child you realize that it can kill them just as effectively as the more exotic diseases.  The fever MUST be vanquished and the child MUST stay hydrated.  The secondary infections that can arise from that like pneumonia or bronchitis are an entirely separate issue but we have to be watchful.


Here's how it's gone so far:


Thursday afternoon I leave work and go to the school to pick up my 11 year-old Erin.  She looks terribly pale, tired, and listless—very much NOT the norm.  She didn't give any hint of her pending illness when I dropped her off in the morning.


It was grocery night and I thought about taking her home first but she wanted to go.  I should have known better.  We were only gone an hour but she was running a fever by the time we got home and I was frantic.


I went into extreme "Mommy Mode" which meant I left the groceries to be unloaded and dealt with by hubby.  It was strip her down, put her in bed, pop the ibuprofen into her with gallons of water, cool cloths not only for her brow but all over her body to help quickly reduce the fever.  And I stayed with her.  I read to her.  I held her.  I fanned her with the damp cloths after I rubbed her whole body down with the damp cloths.  I shared by own body heat when the shakes came—for the rest of the night.  And I worried a watchful vigil while she slept a troubled sleep. 


At 4:30 AM I crept back down the stairs to lay my worn body down.  I was stressed and exhausted.  My vigil with the thermometer and the cooling rags was over for the night.  The buzzer buzzed like it always does at 5:45 AM and it was time to get up.  It was Friday and it was a Friday that wouldn't see me at work or Erin at school.  I began to hope since it was Friday that this was going to be a 48-hour wonder at max. 


I called in and begged a vacation day since I knew I couldn't have a 'sick' day if it was for me and if sometime over the next week "I" caught this, well, then there'd be trouble at work.  The "V" day was granted.


Friday was filled with readings, noodle soup (that she never ate—on both occasions), granola bars (that she did eat), lots of water and ibuprofen, ginger ale, and rest.  From her bed, to the couch, and then to my bed where she watched movies, Erin drank prodigiously and rested.  The fever stayed between 99-100 but not like that middle-of-the-night 103+.  I puttered around the house doing laundry, taking out trash, straightening, and small things so that I was always near and to do her bidding.


The night came and with it crept in the fever, big and bold this time not hiding in the corners.  The old thermometer was checked and checked and nearly worn out.  The cold wet cloths were swabbed over her small body again and again.  I fanned her, I crooned to her, and told her stories.  Little Erin shook and shivered and then ran hot.  I tried to counter every symptom as the hours grew long and late. 


The fever finally left at 5 AM on Saturday morning and I crept downstairs to find my bed and the blankness I needed.  An hour later I was up and downing as much coffee as I could.  The fever would be back soon but not like during the night.  This time the fever didn't arrive on schedule once the meds wore off.  She slept on and I worried.


Once she was up I tried more liquids and food—any food.  She opted for water and later ginger ale.  Sometime during the later morning hours she wanted an ice cream cone from the freezer—her fever was down.  I didn't care; I gave it to her.


More soup and crackers were rejected.  Frozen orange juice came and went and mostly was discarded.  More water, more water, and more icy cold wash rags were the thing she wanted most.  Movies were watched and locations were changed but her energy was at an all time low.  Still I ran and I fetched.


Now it wasn't just the fever I was fighting but the dry cough that had developed and the clogged head.  She became frustrated.  I tried to give her some hot tea to no avail.  Then there were the OTC medications that I felt were safe enough to give her to unblock her head and reduce the coughing.  It didn't work.


Night came again.  With it her fever ran rampant like an imp bent upon destruction—no limits were set upon it.  I held and I battled when the shakes overtook her, she drank prodigious amounts of liquids between the water and the ginger ale and took as much ibuprofen as I dared give her.  Then were the cold, icy wet cloths, and body rubs and fanning to ease the heat.  Again the night stretched out into the wee hours.  Finally she slept that uneasy sleep, and much later I snatched an hour for myself.


Sunday came and I was up early and knew I should have tried to sleep longer but worry and stress will not let the dreams come.  Those that do are what you long to escape.


It was coffee and quiet and clock-watching before I dared to call the pediatrician's beeper.  I just couldn't bring myself to call her before 9 AM.  By then, Erin was also up and more meds were taken.  And I still worried.


The doc called back and she confirmed I was doing everything I could and that if we had another night like the last she would see her tomorrow—Monday.  I showered up and ran to the store.  The aging thermometer died last night when I needed it the most and when it seemed that Erin's fever ran the highest ever.  I got a new one, a more reliable one, cases of Gatorade, OTC cough medicine and Tylenol® as it was time to switch off the fever-reducer from the ibuprofen, and some Sudafed® to unclog her head.


More liquids and more liquids, more readings, and more holdings was how our day went.  She decided she was hungry—for a small cheese pizza.  Out to the freezer and into the oven.  It also met the trash; she couldn't eat it.  She'd had part of a 'cherry freeze' that morning before giving up.  I offered her crackers or just plain ANYTHING and she just wasn't hungry.


Later she ate 3 very small chocolate chip cookies.  I would have given her lumps of pure sugar by then; anything, anything at all to get something into her stomach.


At 11, Erin isn't a small child, no not one of those 'waif' little things.  She's enduring her 'stocky' period and is nearly in every way a small adult and is heartier than many of the same.  Still, she is a child.  She's tough but vulnerable.  She's my baby, so I worry.


The fever and the cough and the congestion continue.  It's late afternoon on Sunday now and I'm almost certain that the REAL fever will return again tonight.  It will be to the Doc's tomorrow for the real medicine and all my machinations will wind down. 


Will she ever know or understand my fears for her, my love for her?  No, not likely, but it'll be another night without sleep and weeks before I'll rest easy again upon my pillow. 


Yes, even the 'plain-old-flu' can be deadly.  When it's your child you worry and work and struggle to keep their pain and suffering at an absolute minimum—and then they whine because you didn't do something else—like get their hair cut.  Where did THAT come from? 


Mothers know along with some fathers too.  When that fever runs wild so do our imaginations like how it can shut down their kidneys or boil their brains or . . . well, you get the picture.  We often wonder later "if" we didn't get the fever down fast enough that some strange lament will haunt them later in life. 


 . . .And still we worry.


It'll be another long night tonight.  I hope you and yours are kept safe and well.  And if this illness visits you, know you aren't alone for we've all been there together during the midnight to 4-5 AM ritual.  Bless you and keep you.  Oh, and remember, you know what to do and you didn't forget a thing. 



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