NEVER tell me I have ‘man flu’

What is the most sexist, unsympathetic, demeaning thing you can say to a guy when he’s ill?

Call it ‘man flu’.

I just slammed the door in my neighbour’s face for exactly this reason, and do I feel bad for such unwelcoming behaviour? In all honesty, no. No I do not.

Let me explain why this sort of thing pisses me off. I generally do a 17-18 hour day looking after a one-year-old and a three-year-old, regardless of how I’m feeling. Oftentimes, it’s a great deal more than that. The last four nights my little one stayed up till 3am, 2.15am, midnight, and 2am. On two of those nights, the other one got me up at 4. Why? Because they’ve both got coughs and colds and are feeling too unwell to sleep. I kid you not, my clothes are held together by snot stains and phlegm.

It doesn’t matter if I only snatch a couple of hours sleep – I get up at 7am to change nappies and wipe arses, get others dressed and breakfasted before myself. I play mind-numbing games, take the kids swimming, give them baths, cuddle them, read them stories, cook them lunch and dinner, drive around trying to get them to sleep. I can’t even take a shit by myself anymore.

Which is funny considering I’ve caught my youngest’s upset stomach and had to sit on the toilet eight times yesterday. The human body just can’t take that kind of pressure indefinitely. Something’s got to give, and it has.

Today I’ve woken up exhausted, with a headache, sore throat, pink eyes, runny nose and blocked ears, and I feel like a piece of crap mushed into a taxi’s floor mat. But I still got up, got the kids dressed and fed, took them swimming, brought them home, got them lunch…and then there was a knock at the door.

My neighbour looked at me and the first thing she said was, ‘Are you unwell?’ because I clearly look like shit.

‘I feel awful,’ I said.

‘Oh, poor you,’ she replied sarcastically. ‘What is it, man flu?’

I’ll tell you, she got off lightly with a door slammed in her face.

How did society reach a point where it’s deemed okay to mock somebody who is feeling unwell purely because of their sex? I’m talking to women, because it’s only women who do this, such as my wife, mother-in-law, my neighbour, work colleagues, casual acquaintances, TV shows, adverts – exactly how can you justify mocking people for being ill? If you wouldn’t mock a woman in the same way, why not? And what kind of person does that make you?

I know there’s going to be a section of people out there reading this who’ll say, ‘Well, women had it bad for ages, so suck it up, dude,’ but if such people can’t see the irony in combating sexism by being sexist, then you’re too stupid to be reading my site. I have never mocked anybody, male or female, for being unwell. Why would I? It’s just plain rude.

It’s part of a wider trend of belittling, ugly, anti-male rhetoric that you see out there. Explain something to a woman? You’re mansplaining. Interrupt a woman? You’re manterrupting. Because of course, only men talk down to people or interrupt them.

What the hell has sex got to do with anything? If someone talks down to you or interrupts you, it’s not a male thing – it’s an asshole thing. If a woman talks down to me or interrupts me, I don’t immediately infer it’s because of her sex and use some bullshit, made-up word like womansplaining or womanterruption. You know why? Because neither sex has a monopoly on assholes.

And besides, we already have perfectly good words for these behaviours that don’t try and divide us as people – ‘condescending’ and ‘interrupting’. And there’s a great, inoffensive word you can use when I man is feeling ill that doesn’t belittle him – ‘ill’.

Seriously, I believe in equality. We all have the right to be treated equally and have the same opportunities, regardless of our sex, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. There are, undoubtedly, areas in which women are unjustly discriminated against, just as there are those in which men are unjustly discriminated against (but you’re pretty unlikely to read about that anywhere), but if you believe that ‘raising women up’ to be equal to men is synonymous with ‘pulling men down’, then you’re part of the reason we live in such a fractured, divided society.

Now I’m going to get on with my afternoon, ill or not, knowing I’ve probably got another thirteen hours before I can crawl into bed.

Rant over.

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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…

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!

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?