I am married to someone who has been sick since before Christmas. Our children have had everything from the flu to pneumonia. I don't know what I had for one week, but I hope I never have it again. Plastic bottles with childproof caps have taken up permanent lodgings in the refrigerator.
It is winter, and the miseries are upon us.
It begins with a cough, a sore throat, a headache, perhaps an earache, and of course, a runny nose. You can't breathe, you can't sleep, you can't swallow, you can't move. Perhaps you have the chills, and maybe even a fever. You are tired beyond belief. It ends a week later, if ever. No one is immune. The miseries are life's great leveler, striking rich and poor, male and female, young and old with fine impartiality.
Herewith some suggestions for survival, a list compiled after consultation with friends and associates who have also experienced the miseries firsthand.
If you are married to a man who is sick, the chances are he will move into the living room, surround himself with boxes of tissues, and proceed to spend the next few days wheezing and sneezing and coughing and generally making the center of the household uninhabitable for the rest of the family. You can, of course, ask him to take his illness into the bedroom but do not expect him to do so. Adult American men do not suffer their illness either in private or in silence. He will resist every effort to send him to the doctor, but it is worth persevering: there's a small chance the doctor will help him, and your family, survive.
If you come down with the same disease your child has, try to resist the temptation to save yourself a trip to the doctor by partaking of your child's antibiotic. This is a favorite maternal way of coping with being sick while caring for a sick child, but the result is that the child doesn't get all his medicine and the infection invariably returns. This places the mother in the tricky situation of trying to replenish the antibiotic supply without confessing to the pediatrician that she, literally, had taken medicine from her child's mouth. One friend who had shared both strep and the antiobiotic with her son had already used up one excuse and yesterday was searching for another: "I can't call the doctor and say I spilled the bottle again."
If you are a working mother and you have a sick child, try not to feel guilty. The fact that you work is not what made your child sick. If, however, you sent him to school with a terrible cough because you had to work, you should try to make your employer feel guilty for not allowing you to take sick leave when a child is ill.
If you are ill, be careful what you read. Do not read "Sophie's Choice." This is not a book to read when one is already feeling dreadful. Beach brochures are better.
It is unwise to rush back to work. You may feel that your absence is creating a terrible burden on your colleagues, but the chances are they are home sick too.
It is okay to feel sorry for yourself. There is absolutely no reason to maintain a stiff upper lip when you would give a week's paycheck for a new nose.
Do not think for a moment that this winter is any worse than the rest of them. Dr. Karl Kappus of the influenza section of the Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta thinks we were just spoiled by an unusually mild influenza season last year. He says the influenza virus has just begun to strike and things will get worse before they get better.
If you are a homemaker who gets ill, make the most of it. This is a wonderful opportunity to have your family appreciate all the things you do for them that they never notice. On the other hand, they may react to your illness by sending out for pizza which the children would rather have than your wonderful cooking anyway.
Tips for children: mothers and fathers who are sick are generally crankier than usual. Serenading them with rock music is contraindicated. This also is probably not the best time to bring up anything that entails spending money.
If you ever recover and are able to return to the living, do not be afraid to answer the question, "How are you?" with the truth. There is no need to tell the other person each and every detail of your miseries, but there also is no need to pretend you're feeling terrific when you're still deciding whether you'll live. You've been through an ordeal and you are entitled to have your fellow man extend some compassion in your direction. If he's smart, he'll understand.
After all, the chances are he may be next.