The Winter Vomiting Bug

If you want to know about the aetiology of the Winter Vomiting Bug – or stomach bug, norovirus, rotavirus, gastroenteritis, or whatever the hell else you might want to call it – then read on, for I am now an expert.

First, despite the name ‘Winter Vomiting Bug’, you need to be aware that it doesn’t limit itself to just one end of the body – the explosions can come from pretty much anywhere it chooses, and often both places at once. Also, it isn’t restricted to winter – it crept into our house in the spring, and returned to provide some entertainment in time for Halloween, which is really autumn. In fact, since the name ‘Winter Vomiting Bug’ is only a third accurate, it should really be called the ‘Anytime Puking Squits Bug’, because that’s exactly what it is.

What are the symptoms? As you can gather from the (new) name, it causes guts ache, vomiting and diarrhoea. In this current manifestation, the vomit is rather neat and tidy, taking the form of a solid mass wrapped in a transparent sac of phlegm – kind of like boil-in-the-bag fish, only with more carrots. And a real powerful aroma of fermented apples, like the cider bums that sit on park benches.

I know this because when my darling daughter started to vomit at 1am while sitting in the centre of the carpet, there was nothing in range to grab, so I had to catch it in my hands. This is one of the unexpected pleasures of parenthood. But she seemed instantly more comfortable in herself, so that’s a plus.

Meanwhile, the diarrhoea is – well, diarrhoea. There’s not a lot else to say. A slightly sweet, fruity bouquet, but otherwise exactly as you’d expect.

What is the disease progression? Within twelve hours (of catching vomit in your hands), you get a real bad case of stomach cramps, relieved by burps that taste of fermented apples (at which point, you go, ‘Oh crap, I’ve caught it!). Over the next few hours, the cider burps develop an aftertaste of bacon. Gradually, these burps become more frequent and lose the apple taste altogether, now reminding you of those little burnt bits on the bottom of fried eggs. And then, as it starts to feel as though you’ve swallowed a sea urchin shell that’s rolling around in your stomach, you realise you’re going to be sick, and that as soon as you have you’ll feel better, but it’s going to be a while yet.

What’s the incubation period? I have this down – 23 hours, 37 minutes. Because that is precisely how long it took between getting vomit on my hands to experiencing the pleasure for myself. It is a particularly violent form of retching – my wife Lizzie ran around in a panic screaming ‘you’re going to die, you’re going to die!’ – and it feels like someone is smacking you in the gut with a sledgehammer, but as soon as you’re done you feel as though you could run a marathon – albeit, a marathon with regular toilet stops as the other end remains a little unpredictable.

How long does it last? Now the good news: about a day. The vomiting/diarrhoea explosions are fairly concentrated into a period lasting between a few minutes to a few hours. It’s a long time coming, but once it hits and it’s over and done with, you feel much better. Admittedly, you wonder why you can’t remember being kicked in the stomach by an entire rugby team, but it’s much easier after the explosions than before. The fragile belly lingers for a few days after, and you’ll have plenty of loose stools, but eventually it fades.

Is it contagious? Oh God yes. My wife had it first, about two hours before my daughter, so I had to tend to both at the same time. I used anti-bacterial soap and scalding water every couple of minutes, especially after handling vomit and poop and every time when moving from one patient to the other, but I still managed to catch it.

What’s the long-term prognosis? An aversion to cider. Red skin on your hands. An intimate knowledge of the inside of your toilet bowl. And, if you’re anything like my daughter, a chesty cough and cold that leaves you snotty and spluttering and miserable for at least a week.

The other night she woke up screaming 21 times. Sixteen times I dragged myself out of bed, put her dummy back in, placed her on her belly, rubbed her back until she was soothed, and stayed with her until she was snoring again. Which, for the mathematicians among you, means a deficit of five. On those occasions, I lay abed in a soporific daze, battling to claw my way up to reality, unable to rise in the five or so minutes it took her to ‘self-soothe’ a.k.a. cough and scream herself to sleep.

So this, in a nutshell, is the Winter Vomiting Bug/Anytime Puking Squits Bug. If you know anyone who has it, avoid them like the plague, for they are carrying the plague – a plague of disgustingness you don’t want to unleash upon your family. Although, telling people you’re contagious is a great way to keep the neighbours from bothering you…

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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…