Medicine vs. Magic

When you’re a parent, people never tire of telling you what to do and how to do it, not in the form of advice, but in the form of judgement. And when it comes to health, they’re bloody insistent. With everything else you have to contend with, it’s damnably unfair to hear veiled criticisms of your parenting, especially when you’re in the emotionally vulnerable position of wanting to do the right thing with a screaming and thoroughly unhappy baby.

The best response is to bite back your annoyance and say, ‘Thank you for your advice, but as the mother/father of [insert baby’s name], I will make the decision as to what is best for my child.’ It’s short, polite, to the point, and reminds them where the power truly lies.

But it doesn’t stop you wanting to throttle them with their condescending attitudes and ridiculous ideas.

It’s like a friend of mine who is on a personal mission to stop me giving Calpol to my baby, because paracetamol is bad, it’s bad for babies, it damages their liver, it’s unnatural, and all that jazz. Whenever she discovers I still use it, she turns into an evangelical preacher and acts like I’m slowly and deliberately poisoning my child.

With Calpol.

I’m not saying that paracetamol is safe – overdoses do damage livers – and nor do I advocate dosing kids up on paracetamol as and when you feel like it, but when it’s necessary, and when it is administered carefully, at the right doses, then there is nothing wrong with it. Izzie has an ear infection and a high temperature, as I discovered yesterday afternoon when I rushed her to the doctor’s after she projectile vomited all over Lizzie. The doctor prescribed Calpol to bring down the fever. Simple.

But, according to my opinionated friend, I’m practically killing the baby by giving her paracetamol, and I should avoid using it until I’ve tried some alternatives.

‘What alternatives?’ I asked. ‘Child Ibuprofen? Because I have that too.’

Nope, lectured my forthright friend. Homeopathic remedies.

Ah. Magic water and wishful thinking, then. Glad we had this conversation.

Until a few years ago, I thought ‘homeopathy’ was simply another way of saying ‘alternative medicine’. I figured it was herbal remedies like St John’s Wort, cinchona bark, and suchlike. But that’s not homeopathy at all.

Homeopathy is a medical system invented in the late 1700s that posits that ‘like cures like’ (hence the ‘homeo’ part of the word). Its essential belief is that if you put something that causes an illness into some water – say, something that causes a headache – then dilute that water down almost exponentially until there’s unlikely to be a single molecule of the original substance left, that water is somehow energised and imprinted with the ‘memory’ of that substance and will therefore be able to cure headaches.

There’s another word for water that contains no molecules of any other substance:

Water.

Homeopathic remedies contain precisely zero active ingredients and are therefore precisely useless. And ‘like cures like’ has no basis in science whatsoever. That’s not just my opinion – the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not recommend homeopathy is used to treat¬†any¬†ailment, the NHS say there’s no good evidence that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any health condition, while a 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report concluded homeopathy is no more effective than placebos (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Homeopathy/pages/introduction.aspx).

No matter how much you talk about Nature with a capital N, or the Law of Similars, or how substances leave a quantum imprint behind, I do not believe in homeopathy. I will take science and evidence over magic and fairy dust every time.

Then there’s the close relative who has this crazy notion that the best way to cure a cold is to consume vast quantities of vitamin C, and so tries to get us to overdose every time we have the slightest sniffle. The fact the human body can only absorb a finite amount of vitimin C before excreting it out, and excessive amounts give you diarrhoea, means it’s not the best advice, ta.

And don’t get me started on amber necklaces helping with teething. This whole ‘Baltic Amber contains up to 8% succinite, an anti-inflammatory and analgesic that will be absorbed into the baby’s skin to ease pain, cut drooling, and stimulate the thyroid’ is pseudoscientific claptrap. You show me a substance that is strong enough to exist for millions of years at excessive temperature and pressure, yet is weak enough to leak out when brought to a baby’s body temperature. I’d respect them more if they went right ahead and said, ‘It works by magic,’ or even, ‘We don’t know why it works, but it does,’ than duping people into thinking there’s a scientific basis for this. And since the same people who advocate amber necklaces also disparage modern medicine as ‘dangerous’, aren’t they worried that they have no control over the dose of succinite their baby receives?

I’ll end by paraphrasing GK Chesterton: it’s good to have an open mind, but don’t open it so much that your brain falls out!

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After the Cold

You look around your house, a shell-shocked survivor of the tornado that has swept through. Stained clothing lies scattered over chairs and banisters, dirty muslins screwed up in every corner. Tissues, and pieces of tissues, and the wrappers from cough sweets, litter the floor like patches of melting snow. And over it all lies an icy silence.

The storm has passed.

 

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“I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe…”

I struggled to make dinner this evening. Partly it was because I forgot to take my antidepressants two days running, leaving me horribly light-headed and with pupils like pinpricks; partly because in the endless round of buying vapour rubs, cough syrups, tinctures, ointments and snake oil salesmen’s charms, we’ve run out of food.

It’s a contest from Masterchef. I wandered around the kitchen, doing an inventory in a daze. One egg. A clove of garlic. Some carrots, best before two weeks ago. Strawberries that can walk by themselves. Some unidentifiable white substance lurking at the back of the fridge. And some oats. Make a dish out of that.

In my mind, I’m haunted by the memories of crying, sneezing, coughing, puking, and snot, endless snot. What started clear and runny turned thick and yellow-green – at this stage she blew vast snot bubbles from each nostril that spattered everywhere when they burst. Later, it turned into this sticky jelly-like substance, not dissimilar to the glue they use to fix bank cards to letters or CDs to the covers of magazines. It would get stuck all over her face, and I’d have to peel it off in strings. Now, as the cold fades away, it’s a healthy snotty green, and only visible when she sneezes – that’s when it hangs from each nostril like two little worms. Lovely.

I think the worst thing about the whole experience was little Izzie’s distress. You’re meant to protect her, you’re meant to take away the pain and discomfort, but there’s very little you can do to make a sick baby feel better. You can’t explain what’s going on, get her to blow her nose, give her a decongestant. I tried as many things as I could – held her in a hot, steamy bathroom, used vapour rub, nasal spray, Calpol, cough syrup, cuddles. I even tried to use an aspirator – kind of like a pipette where you squeeze a rubber bulb, put the attached tube up the baby’s nose and release the bulb to suck all the snot out – but frankly, more was dripping out on its own than I managed to get in the pipette, so I abandoned that one. And I didn’t bother putting pillows under her mattress to prop her up – given how much she moves about in her sleep, she’d have ended up upside down at the bottom of the cot with the blood rushing to her head.

And so much for three days coming, three days here, and three days going. I mean, the worst of it is over – her temperature is down, her nose isn’t running, her appetite has returned, and she only sneezes from time to time – but her throat still rattles with phlegm that she’s struggling to bring up, and she still has a nasty cough. Apparently, the average baby has eight colds in its first year, lasting ten to fourteen days. Since she turns six months on Friday, and this is her first proper cold, either she’s way below average or the next few months will be hell!

Now if only I could shake the cold she’s given me…

The Plague House

Paint a red cross on our door and may the Lord have mercy on our souls!

Yes, the dreaded lurgy has come as an uninvited houseguest, like that uncle who always turns up and hangs around in his underwear and refuses to leave. The kind of houseguest who robs you of sleep, disrupts your steady routine, and gets snot on your clothes, and doesn’t even have the common decency to look embarrassed about the shit he’s causing.

Friday night during the power cut, Izzie developed a bit of a cough and sneezed a few times during the night. She woke Saturday morning with a chesty cough and a sniffle and she didn’t want her formula. By mid-afternoon this had developed into a temperature and a full-blown cold.

I say full-blown because she’s definitely acting like it’s the end of the world. But then, for her, it is. She hasn’t had a cold before and it must be terrifying to have litres of yellow-green snot pouring out of every orifice, slipping ceaselessly down your throat, and choking you every time you so much as move your head an inch. And the cough is awful – it sounds like she’s hacking up razor blades, the poor thing!

And so it has been, every minute, every hour, since Saturday. Unfortunately, Lizzie came down with it Friday morning, so she’s a sneezing, coughing, congested wreck who spends most of the time in the bath, drinking Lemsip or sleeping, leaving yours truly to press on solo. Really, this is a one-parent family right now.

The worst thing about all this is the total lack of sleep. The little ‘un panics and starts to scream and choke the second you put her on her back in the cot. Any position involving lying down provokes coughing and spluttering as she starts to drown in her own snot. She will fall into an exhausted stupor, but only on her front on you, leaking from mouth and nose onto your chest or arms or neck, so if you want her to sleep, you have to stay awake.

Thanks to the power cut, I got three hours sleep Friday night. Saturday night, thanks to Izzie’s cold, I got an hour. Last night, Lizzie decided she should free me of the burden of disturbing her sleep and moved into the spare room, so I dosed myself up on caffeine and set to it and I have no idea how much sleep I got – a few minutes here and there, I think, but I’m not sure as it’s all a bit of a blur. Tonight looks to be the same.

The new routine involves me getting Izzie settled on me for half an hour, then gently easing her into the cot in the exact same position, where she stays anything from a few seconds to fifteen minutes before starting to scream again. I honestly don’t know what’s best – to go back to bed for a couple of minutes, which leaves me feeling rough as hell, or resign myself to staying up all night, which leaves me super tired.

There are other horrors too. She has a temperature and she spits out the Calpol and won’t drink the formula if I try to sneak it in. She chokes on the cough syrup and after a while the vapour rub I put on her chest starts to smell like death. Even that’s preferable to her breath at the moment. And she farts with every cough, meaning it’s a never-ending concerto of trumping, scented with cauliflower, for some reason. And there’s not enough in her belly to poop, so every guff brings out a tiny little liquidy smear, so you keep thinking she’s done a poo, start to change her only to discover there’s nothing but a skid mark in there. But it smells so bad you might as well change it so I’m going through nappies like there’s no tomorrow.

Because she can’t breathe through her nose and has a sore throat, not to mention that she’s swallowing gallons of mucus, I’m struggling to get fluids into her. A lot of what does go in she brings back up with interest anyway. It was very disheartening Saturday afternoon when, despite my trying to stop her, she put her fingers down her throat and brought up everything I’d fed her all day. Worse was when she threw up earlier – an endless outpouring of water, milk and phlegm, mixed together like amniotic fluid. Pretty darned gross.

And I’m gross too. I’m sleeping in my clothes which I’ve worn since Friday – there’s no point changing them because they’re crusty with snot and worse, and whatever else I put on will get dirty just as quick. I haven’t had a chance to bath or shave, so I look like a pink-eyed homeless junkie, and smell the same.

Right now, Lizzie is in the spare room getting another good night’s sleep – hopefully she’ll feel a little better tomorrow and help out a bit. Izzie is lying asleep on my chest. My shirt is a soaking puddle of drool and baby snot. Given my almost total lack of sleep since Friday, my eyes feel gritty and my brain wants to leap out of my forehead. And I have a sore throat, a sure fire sign that whatever has infected Izzie and Lizzie is making its way into my system and trying to take me down from the inside. But for now, I’m hanging in there. Someone needs to look after the baby. If not me, then who?