**WARNING: this post may contain details that will conjure up mental pictures in your head that may be considered disgusting.**
I have an e-x-t-r-e-m-e paranoia that I suffer from and I have for about the past 5 years. I speak of the ever-so-dreaded stomach flu.
I don't remember this being a real issue when I was a child. And in fact, the last time I really had a bad case of the stomach flu was when I was in grade 6 -- until 5 years ago. Ever since I had kids. Coincidence? I think not!
The winter that Joelle was a year old, I had my first bout with it since my tween-age years and have had it every year since then. Nothing makes my stomach drop with dread quite like this awful illness. I don't even know how to properly describe to you just how much I loathe this sickness.
If I hear of anybody who has it, I immediately replay in my head the last time I -- or one of my kids -- was in contact with them. Or if I was in contact with someone who was in contact with them. If I think anyone in my househould even had the remote possibility of being exposed to it, I get completely paranoid that we will be next. I get incredibly anxious, and every little thing causes me to be suspicious that it will make its unwelcome appearance in my home. If the girls so much as whimper in the night, I hold my breathe and pray that it's not because they are getting sick. Or if anybody gets up at night to use the washroom, I'm begging God to let it just be a regular trip to the washroom and nothing more. If anyone so much as mentions that their tummy hurts, I pounce on them with questions: Does it feel like you need to throw up? How long has it felt this way? Does it hurt, or does it feel sick?
My girls have to wash their hands all. the. time. As soon as we get home from anywhere -- everybody washes their hands. I am constantly reminding the girls, "As soon as you take off your jackets and boots, head straight to the bathroom to wash your hands with lots of soap and water." It doesn't matter if it's Joelle coming home from school, or all of us coming back from the grocery store...even if nobody took their hands out of their mittens on a little excursion, they are sent straight to the bathroom for their hand-washing routine.
The problem with all of this is that I spend way more time feeling anxious and worked up about it than it actually takes for the flu to go through our family. I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I have made sure all of our bathroom garbage cans are empty in case they are in need in the middle of the night. And the girls both have had an empty ice cream pail beside their beds ever since October when I first heard of someone having the stomach flu this fall.
Surprisingly, the girls haven't caught on to my extreme paranoia. They are mostly pretty oblivious, as the only thing I really say to them (well, other than my peppering them with questions if they let on to any suspicious stomach flu symptoms) is that we are just trying to stay healthy. It helps that neither of them have really had that many encounters with the 'disease.' Joelle has thrown up I think maybe twice in her life, and Malia has had 2 really bad bouts with it over the past 3 years. So not too bad. And even the times where I have had it, it has been relatively quick (however not painless!).
But for whatever reason, I am almost paralyzed with fear of getting this flu every winter. And I'm just not sure how to keep it in check. I mean, I'm totally fine with the way I am with getting the girls to wash their hands when they get back from anywhere public (and even a friends' house). But the constant anxiety and over-stressing about it...well, it's really not very fun. I try to give myself lectures that all we can do is proper hand washing and then it's really out of our control. If we get it, then we get it. We'll deal with it, we'll survive, and then we'll move on with life. But I just can't quite get myself to just relax about it.
Last week, Les and I rented "My Sister's Keeper" (a must-see if anyone is looking for a movie to make them cry!) and I told myself that a silly little stomach flu is NOTHING compared to what some families -- like the one in the movie -- have to go through. Sure, it was a fictitious movie, but there are many real stories out there with real people suffering like this. (For those of you who don't know, it's a movie about a family who has a teenage daughter who has suffered from leukemia since she was a toddler.) Watching that teenager -- even though she was just acting -- go through the things she had to go through...it made me so grateful that the worst I have to worry about is the stomach flu. It made me really think long and hard about my over-reactive paranoia and how unfounded it really is. Sure, nobody likes to feel nauseous and spend time emptying their stomach contents like that...but it's a day or two a year. Not a constant thing that your body has to go through as a result of trying to save your own life.
I told myself after seeing that movie (even though I had seen it before, but it wasn't during flu season the first time) that I was going to stop being such a sissy about it. That I was going to remind myself that I would take the stomach flu any day over anyone in my household having to battle the ugly disease of cancer.
And then what did I do last night? Emptied our bathroom garbage cans and lay in bed with anxiety after Les told me that his stomach felt a little bit weird.