We’ve been flu’ed. We don’t know if it was the flu – H1N1 – the swine flu – but it was fluey and it’s now, thankfully, on its way out. Toronto is all a flutter with vaccine line-ups and vaccine shortages and vaccine debates and elbow-coughing and anti-virus stockpiling and hand-sanitizer-mark-ups and other general flu madness. Just as the hype started ramping up, I took to my bed with aches and pains. The stories of healthy children succumbing to the flu had been enough to make K. and I decide to vaccinate the kids but the clinics had just opened and we hadn’t done it yet. So, with flu in the house, I banned the rest of the family from my bed and used my occasional out-of-bed hours to disinfect faucets, doorknobs, light switches, hand-rails and drawer handles. I contained every cough, every sneeze. I’ve never washed my hands so often.
There were news reports of young women being hit particularly hard by this flu. I felt pretty sick but was never really worried. Besides, I had a trick up my sleeve to fool that flu. While lying in bed all a-fever’d, I ceased to be young and susceptible and turned 35. It was a crappy birthday but that virus woke up to find itself being fought off by a woman of respectable age. It never stood a chance.
The night of my birthday Malli’s fever started. Now we were scared. This is the boy who was hospitalized for pneumonia at five months old after waking up panting one morning after many nights of fever. We counted his breaths, called a Telehealth nurse who reminded us of all the worrisome warning signs, none of which he had, and made plans to have him seen by a doctor the next day. That night was long and hot. K. stayed with Akka in the healthy bed and Malli came to my sicky bed. I slept either holding his hand or with my arm resting next to his body so I could feel his tummy rise and fall. It reminded me of the first few nights with a newborn when you can’t really sleep because you have to check every twenty minutes to see that they’re still breathing.
The doctor prescribed Tamiflu for him. Then Akka’s temperature floated up and her prescription got called in the next day. The boxes of medicine say “for stockpile use only” on them. I wonder what they’re worth on the street? And I find myself feeling like I have to justify why my kids got some. It wasn’t hard to get – both the Telehealth nurse and our family doctor suggested it. The pharmacy had it in stock. But with people jumping vaccine queues (mostly, it seems, hockey players) and stockpiling Tamiflu in their fridges, it’s odd to hold two courses of the stuff in my palm.
However, we have it, and we’re using it, and we’re sleeping better knowing that the kids’ flu experiences will be shorter and less onerous because of it. Plus, it really works. The fevers come back each day but the kids aren’t miserable and, in fact, have a little too much energy for my liking. I don’t like them to be sick but I do like them to sleep during the day and those two often go together. Not on Tamiflu, apparently.
The biggest challenge has been getting the drug into them. It comes in powder-filled capsules. The kids can’t swallow them (we tried) so we cut open the capsules and sprinkle the powder on something they like to eat. In this way we’ve now forever ruined their taste for lime jello, cappuccino ice cream and honey. They’re growing suspicious of yummy spoonfuls coming at them twice a day. Akka spent over half an hour this morning licking microscopic bits of Tamiflu-laden honey off a spoon, making faces and gagging. She finally took it when I spread the drugged honey onto a chocolate chip cookie and let her eat that. Ridiculous. And familiar.
When I was small we lived in Lesotho for a couple of years. When we traveled to places where there was malaria we took chloroquine tablets. My parents would crush the bitter-tasting pill between two spoons, add some sugar water or jam, and feed it to me. It was awful. I can conjure up the taste now. I’m sure they balanced a precious dose on a spoon and said all the things I said this morning: “You have to eat it” “Just do it fast – it’ll be over in a second” “It’s just a taste” “Come on honey, it’s time” “That’s enough fussing – take it!” I remember worrying about the pills days before a trip. I remember thinking I’d do anything to get out of having to swallow them. Now I look at my daughter and I think ‘I know how you feel’. And now I also know how it feels to be your mom and to want to protect you. And although I’ve been on both ends of that bitter-tasting spoon, I haven’t thought of anything better than a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.