It’s a tired refrain, but one many of us moms and our spouses use all the time: “I really can’t get sick right now.” In fact, I hear my husband utter the words anytime someone coughs near him. I always respond with an eye-roll because come on, who really can afford to get sick, ever? It’s inconvenient, stressful, painful, and renders us useless. Many employers offer so few sick days that a severe cold or virus isn’t enough to convince us to use one. And taking care of kids when sick? Oh. My. Goodness.
So, I try not to use that expression, but I’ll never forget the one time I did. My family (plus our two pets) had to evacuate our apartment suddenly due to water damage. It was in the midst of record-breaking heat and, this being New York City, none of our friends had room to put us up. Cramped in a tiny hotel room with three people, a dog, and a cat was stressful enough. But on Day One of our saga, I felt it. A tickle in the back of my throat. Its initial reveal was in the form of a small, pathetic cough. Yet, we moms know. Insignificant as that little cough might have seemed from the outside, it felt loaded. “I really cannot get sick right now,” I lamented as we drove to Buy Buy Baby to clear out their selection of organic baby food.
Within three hours, I had a skyrocketing fever, the chills, and a burning throat. Forced to co-sleep due to a missing travel crib, I turned my back on my family in the hotel room that night, riddled with illness from my nose to my toes. Wouldn’t you believe it? In the morning, I felt even worse. Just in time for the plot to thicken — my husband, too, was sick, but it was his stomach. We packed the baby up and headed to a freestanding emergency clinic (of course it was Saturday), only to find out that the hubs had a virus and mine was strep throat. And bronchitis.
Not wanting to risk doubly infecting each other, and desperate to keep as many germs as possible away from our then-7-month-old, we decided to split up for the week. We ferreted the animals off to family members and my husband headed back to the flood zone, leaving me, my hacking cough, and our overly energetic baby in his wake. Yikes. Here’s how I survived five days of illness as a stay-at-home parent — and miraculously, kept my daughter from getting sick, too.
The first thing I did was alert anyone who was expecting anything from me that week that they would not be receiving it. Sometimes, you just have to give in and let yourself be sick. I realize that there is always going to be someone who expects us to push through and just do, but when you are so sick that you can barely get out of bed in the morning and you have a baby to take care of, cutting your losses and giving yourself a true “sick day” or two is the only option.
Secondly, I kept my paws off my kid. This is hard to manage when said kid is not yet walking and needs to be held a lot. I did my best to be near her without actually holding her, for the duration of my five-day stint in Sickville. When I had to change her diaper, nurse her, and so on, I would make sure to keep my hands as far away from her face as possible, and would turn my head away to breathe in another direction. To the outside world, I probably looked like a really uncaring mom. The good news is, we were hiding inside and free from the scrutiny of the outside world.
To keep her entertained and as far as away from me as possible, while still safe, I created a toy-loaded fun zone. I dug deep for the energy to clean her toys after washing my hands vigorously, then set them up in different stations throughout the room. I padded the walls with pillows so she could crawl from one to the other and keep herself occupied. And, forgive me, but I also put the TV on, so there would be visual stimuli she could enjoy when I just could not muster the strength to entertain her. Older kids would probably do even better, as they appreciate TV more and can be tasked with coloring Mommy a “feel-better” picture. But we made it through with minimal meltdowns, thankfully.
Here is the mom-guilt kicker: I ordered delivery. You got that right. Preparing meals for the family is not only strenuous, but dangerous when you’re sick. Too much contamination. Yes, this was an expensive choice, but luckily I didn’t have much of an appetite, so the food lasted me longer. And as mentioned above, we had purchased a bunch of packaged baby food for the week. Typically, I make my daughter’s food from scratch, but this was not the week for it. We made up the budget later in the month when my head was clear — but when I was sick, rest was the most important thing.
Finally, I accepted any iota of help that was offered. A few friends availed themselves throughout our ordeal and held the baby or played with her so I could lie down for 20 minutes. I am usually the do-it-all type and hate feeling indebted to others, but when I’m down, I’m learning to accept a leg up here and there.
In a little under a week and thanks to the glory of antibiotics, I was feeling better. Our damaged carpet had been repaired, my husband’s stomach was back to normal, and we reunited for a weekend of serious Netflix-watching and plenty of naps all around. There were days of that relentless illness when I literally thought I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. Call me dramatic, but strep and bronchitis at once in 90-plus-degree heat is a lot, especially as an at-home parent to a busy baby. But I learned that week that a mama’s love can help her conquer anything! Well, with the help of DayQuil, Z-Packs, and TV, anyway.
More Health Content for Moms: