WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF CHILDREN HAVING THE STOMACH FLU. IF YOU ARE NOT A PARENT OR A PAEDIATRIC NURSE, CAUTION!
Having the stomach flu is the worst. But when you are a parent and both you and your children are sick, it is hell.
The first time my husband, Mike, and I experienced the stomach flu as parents, our son was 18 months old, and I was eight-months-pregnant with our daughter. It hit me first, HARD. I was so bad that I was admitted to the hospital for dehydration and observation. After Mike had gone home and relieved the babysitter, our son became violently ill. Mike did what we always did back then, panic and then raced him to the emergency room.
Fast forward to today. We have been parents for six years and we have four kids. I would say that we know a thing or two now about handling the stomach flu with kids.
Last Thursday, I had just dropped our older kids off at school when Everly, (one of our 17 month-old twins), started projectile vomiting ALL. OVER. THE. CAR.
I am not talking a cute little spit up, I am talking about the kind of fake looking projectile vomiting you saw in movies like Stand By Me in the pie eating contest scene. I had to just watch it happen in horror in the rear-view-mirror. By the time I had turned around and got home, I sat in my car, in my driveway, for a few minutes making a game plan. Handling this kind of mess with toddler twins is not easy.
I rode out Everly’s stomach flu for the rest of the day. Cleaned up and sterilized and went on with my week. By Saturday we thought we were in the clear. But sure enough, Mia, Everly’s twin, fussed most of the night, ending with a full blown stomach flu. We survived this one by having Mia bunk with me, while Mike slept on the couch.We did another round of cleaning and once again thought we were in the clear. But on Monday, Mike wasn’t feeling so hot. I threw my back out and he decided to stay home to take me to the chiropractor. But by Monday evening both Mike and I were very sick. Then a couple hours later, it was Holden, and then by 4:30 a.m., it was Beau.
Let me tell you, nothing tests your strength like taking care of someone else who is vomiting, while you are vomiting. The four of us were like a scene out of Bridesmaids.
By Tuesday morning, we felt like we had been through a war. We kept Mia and Everly home because Mia did a little puke-fake-out that morning.
But, unlike when we were first parents, Mike and I knew how to handle the stomach flu like pros. Here’s how:
1. Have a plan. When one of our toddlers throws up, we know that I take the patient and bathe them while Mike cleans up the mess, changes the bedding and rinses and throws the soiled bedding into the washing machine. I am usually the one that then goes back around and sterilizes. We probably did 12 loads of laundry within a span of 10 hours this week.2. Prepare for more than one vomit session. It is rare that being sick in our home happens only once. It’s like sneezes, they come in a series. Be prepared for the next round. The best way to protect your home and reduce clean-up is to use towels. If your child/baby is still in a crib, cover the ground under and around the crib in towels and have fresh bedding nearby. If your child is in a bed, use pee-pads and then cover their pillow, bed and ground beside the bed in towels. This time, we made beds for our older kids (ages four and six) with towels in the bathroom. They slept there for most of the night and used the toilet when needed. Take plastic bowels, tupperware, or better yet, those kidney shaped bowls you can get at the hospital, and place them all over your house.3. Know what to stock up on. We have our list of anti-nauseants, medicines and fluids we stock up on immediately. That is usually one of Mike’s jobs. Here’s our go to list: ginger ale, Pedialyte, Advil, Tylenol (or tempra), Gravol (anti-nauseant), Gatorade and Vitamin Water. Find more tips here.
4. Understand why your kid is throwing up. Maybe this is a no brainer for most, but Mike and I didn’t realize this until our many unnecessary trips to the ER, that there is more than just “the stomach flu” reason that kids throw up. Most of the time, the subsequent throw-ups are from either a fever, or dehydration. This is why we keep our kids on a Tylenol/Advil rotation (talk to doctor before to find out what is best for your family) and why we immediately start giving our kids fluids that contain electrolytes. 5. Go into survival-mode, ignore the mess, but keep your home clean. Does that make sense? Keep cleaning your toilets, light switches, door handles etc… with a product like Lysol wipes, but ignore all of that clean laundry that is piling up, waiting for you to fold and put away. You can leave that for another day. Also, if your kids need a day or two home from school to bounce back. Let them make a bit of a mess so you can recover too. You can read more about survival mode here: The Single Phrase That Will Help You Survive Parenthood.
6. Cancel everything. Luckily I have a job where I work alongside a lot of other mothers who have been exactly in my shoes. So when I say, sorry, I can’t make that deadline because of the STOMACH FLU… they immediately understand and say a little prayer for me. We learned a long time ago that no one wants to be anywhere near your kids when they have recently had the stomach flu. So don’t try to be a hero. Quarantine yourselves until you are way on the other side!
7. Don’t lose your s*#@! Our kids throwing up used to cause Mike and I to freak out and lose it on each other under the pressure. I don’t know if it is because the stomach flu doesn’t scare us as much now, because we know what our plan is, or we are just on the same page more than ever. But we are good at taking turns, both pitching in, and speaking up when we are at our breaking point now.
I have to say, when the sun comes up, the clouds part and you realize you are on the other side of the stomach flu, you feel this amazing accomplishment. You not only survived it, but you nursed your kids back to health too. After you have been through a family-shared stomach flu, everyday life doesn’t look nearly as stressful as it used to.