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Appreciating the gifts of illness

February 22, 2012

Appreciating the Gifts of Illness

as published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette


It’s Friday, 2:55 p.m., and my cell phone vibrates. When I see it’s the director of Zoe’s preschool calling, a pit forms in my stomach.

In the past month, half the town has been sick with one malady or another. Just two weeks ago we weathered a weeklong respiratory virus that knocked out three members of our family. We considered ourselves fortunate since the bodily fluids involved only required a few boxes of tissues. Just this past weekend, we had all returned to 100 percent.

But this morning, by the time I returned from dropping off our high-spirited Zoe at school, my wife, Lori, had hit the deck with gastro-intestinal symptoms, a burst of chills, dizziness and a fever.

So when I answer the call, it is no surprise to learn that our little Zoe had just tossed her lunch.

As I enter the building, I pass one of Zoe’s teachers, who having just mopped up, is on his way to the Dumpster. In the hallway outside of her classroom sit two knotted trash bags: one containing her clothes, the other her naptime bedding. Inside, Zoe is pale and nursing a bucket. On our way out, Zoe leaves one more special deposit in the parking lot. At least we weren’t in the car, I think to myself.

At home, after Zoe purges a few more times, and with no sign of a quick recovery for Lori, I snap into super-domestic-hero mode. “I will not get sick,” is my mantra. I set the washing machine to heavy-duty and mix a cocktail of bleach, vinegar and soap for six consecutive jumbo loads of laundry. I spin from room to room like a mad man, a bandana covering my face and rubber gloves up to my elbows, washing and sanitizing sinks, floors, beds and anything else that cannot be thrown in the trash, dishwasher or washing machine.

By dinner time, Adam, who has spent the afternoon running back and forth checking on his mama, who was still horizontal in our bed, and his big sister, who is stretched out on a camping pad on the living room, is the only one with an appetite. He is delighted to know that since I have no energy for whipping up a wholesome meal he is going to eat frozen waffles. He pumps both fists in the air and yelled: “Yeah baby!”

Waiting for the inevitable

It’s Saturday morning; Zoe and Lori still have the “run over by a truck” look. Making up for the rest of us, Adam knocks back six bowls of cereal, and he’s starting to get a bit cagey. A trip to the transfer station, where he is beside himself with the presence of all things heavy-duty: Snowplows, dump trucks, diggers, etc., is the perfect outlet. By evening, Lori is starting to turn the corner and – despite hours of spooning his sick mama and slugging drinks from his sick sister’s water bottle – Adam shows no signs of illness. I decided that my persistent queasiness is a figment of my imagination. Just to be sure, I adopt a no eat, no throw-up policy.

Sunday arrives, and with the girls clearly on the mend, super-domestic-hero blood still coursing through my veins, I decide, like any sensible father would, to finish painting the master bathroom. This proves useful in three ways. One, I am able to check off a major item on the honey-do list. Two, I have ample time to obsess about the list of work deadlines that have started piling up while I have been operating a home-based urgent care clinic. Three, I can effectively distract myself from my increasing sense of malaise.

Before the paint dries, I go down, hard. Claiming the bed, which Lori has vacated, I wallow in misery, all through the night. Time slows to a glacial pace. At first, I tell myself, “I won’t get sick.” When things don’t improve, clinging to hope, I think, “Yeah, I might get sick, but maybe not.” From the moment I accept the inevitability of my situation, until it actually happens, seems like eternity.

Monday afternoon, feeling like I just might live, Zoe climbs up onto the bed and sits next to me. Just as I had done for her on Saturday, she sings to me “You Are My Sunshine,” and then leans over and kisses my forehead. In that moment, I realize that nothing feels as precious as a father’s love for his sick little girl – except a little girl’s love for her sick Daddy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben Murray permalink
    February 23, 2012 1:46 pm

    This story is so familiar. We went through the same thing this year as did several of our friends. It seems like there’s no escaping it.

  2. Ross Bell permalink
    April 18, 2012 12:38 pm

    Priceless ending!

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