Category Archives: illness

The day I tested my child for Covid-19

It was 6am and I had drunk too much wine the night before to enjoy any part of being awake this early. Unfortunately there was a sobbing child standing next to my bed with a croaky voice telling me she didn’t feel well. I stared at her for a few confused moments before her entire body shuddered with a hacking, throaty cough. My brain instantly zapped back to those panic-stricken, croupy nights of her babyhood and, just like that, all traces of wine-fug disappeared. We were five days into our family holiday in Norfolk, about to embark upon a busy weekend of carefully planned celebrations for my brother-in-law’s 30th. Britain’s South-East was buckling under a heatwave. We were five months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

I took B1’s temperature while Hub gave her water and settled her onto the sofa with her favourite teddy and a blanket. 37.5. A smidge high, but only a smidge. We gave her Calpol and cancelled our plans for the beach. A few hours later the patient was tucking into bacon and eggs happily, though the cough interrupted from time to time. She thought she might have a little nap – something for which, in her entire six years and 11 months on the planet, she has never once volunteered. She coughed a few times in her sleep and woke around 1pm, pale and with a temperature raging at 39.6.

poorly b1

Half an hour later, Calpoled up and cheerful once again, B1 sat in the back of the car, peppering me with questions as I nervously drove through unfamiliar streets to our nearest test centre on the outskirts of Norwich. Hub had made the appointment minutes after her latest temperature reading and we’d been given a slot between 2 and 2.30pm. We’d calmly tried to explain what was going to happen to B1, who, fortunately, has always been a pragmatic and sanguine sort not particularly prone to anxiety. Her only real moment of concern was when she misheard Hub explaining that she was going to have her nose swabbed and thought we were going to swap it. My phone, battling the 32C heat from its perch on the dashboard, periodically swerved between giving directions and informing me that it was too hot to function.

test centre

At the test centre, a re-purposed Park & Ride establishment, instructions were given to me via signs held by be-masked, apron-wearing individuals (who, incidentally, looked a bit like they shared my phone’s sentiment). I had to confirm my identity with my driving license and hold up a QR code for someone to scan through the window to check B1 in, then we were directed to another area. A sign was held up with a phone number for me to ring on my protesting mobile so I could speak to a person on-site, who told me what I needed to do for the test. I was then permitted to lower my window just enough to be handed a test pack before being directed to reverse park in a bay. So far, so efficient. Apart, of course, from my growing nervousness that I was to be the lucky, grossly-underqualified individual tasked with the mission of swabbing my daughter’s tonsils and nostrils for the deadly virus currently bringing the world to its knees. I was beginning to wonder at this point whether swapping them would be less trouble.

cv test

The test looked fairly straightforward. I read the instructions several times over, making sure I pretty much knew it by heart because I really didn’t want to be faced with the awkward situation of having to consult a pamphlet mid-swabbage. Besides, it was now 34C in the sun, my windows were closed and my engine (and, therefore, AC) were off. I could literally feel the sweat beading on my temples. Swab both tonsils for at least 10 seconds, make sure you don’t touch the cheeks or tongue, then insert it up the nose until it will insert no further and swirl it around there for another 10 seconds. Then what? Then put it in a little tube of red liquid and close the li… But where was my little tube of red liquid? We had no tube of red liquid. Christ, it was hot.

The CV-19 testing guidelines advise that for young children, a spare adult should come along where possible so that one of you doesn’t have to clamber into the back seat. It also advises that no unnecessary extra people/siblings travel in the car with the symptomatic individual. Figuring that the easiest solution all round was for just one of us to transport and test B1, I had at least had the foresight to remove one of the baby boosters from the back seat. Therefore, though I’d already clambered into the backseat and then back into the front to summon (via my hazard lights) a cheerful masked man for our elusive red liquid vessel before scrambling back henceforth, I was thankfully not faced with the reality of trying to wedge myself into the one-year-old’s car seat to actually administer the test.

“Try and make it a game,” advised the booklet. “Pretend you’re tickling their tonsils.”

I don’t know what kind of games the makers of these booklets like to play with their children, but needless to say we won’t be replacing Junior Monopoly anytime soon. B1 tried to keep her mouth open. She tried very hard not to gag or cry as I rubbed the cotton swab against one and then the other tonsil, telling her it would be over soon and hating the world and its virus with every word. To be honest, I don’t think we managed 10 seconds. We might have clocked six. In any case I did what I could before I judged the risk of her vomiting, clamping shut or wrenching her head away bigger than the prospect of retaining an intact sample. Next, I poked the same swab up her nose – which seemed relatively gentle in comparison, which probably means I did it wrong – and, finally, plunged the bugger into its tube of liquid. Both of us pouring with sweat, I climbed back into the front seat and switched on the hazards, the engine and the AC in one movement.

“I didn’t like that, Mummy,” remarked B1, unhappily, as we delivered the sealed sample into a bin of similar-looking specimens from the car window.

I didn’t like it either. In fact, as mum experiences go, it was right up there with jabs and holding a four-month-old B3 down whilst doctors tried to get a blood sample. But, like all of those things, it was necessary. And, all things considered, the test itself was quick and relatively painless. Then again, B1 is an easy-going, rational, neuro-typical almost-7-year-old. Heaven help us if we ever have to test our 3-year-old.

Retrospectively, the funny thing about the whole experience was that we didn’t get B1 tested for CV-19 because we seriously thought she had it. I mean, she might have, but the chances were pretty low. We tested her because she had two of the symptoms (though the cough was far less frequent and more wet and croupy than the one we’d been warned about) and we were going to be seeing loved ones, some of them fresh off the shielding list, over the next few days, as well as visiting several family-friendly attractions. We knew that a negative test result would mean a hell of a lot more than us saying, “It’s probably just a cold.” On the other hand, a positive result would have spelled disaster not only for our holiday but for that of the friends and family we had already seen at that point… We didn’t think it would be positive. But, as at least three of my past pregnancy tests will tell you, sometimes these things are, however unexpectedly. As it happened, this time we were right. B1 took it easy for a day or so and was back to her usual self within 48 hours, nary a hack in sight* and, that particular day aside, we went on to have a bloody great holiday.

back to normal

B1 a few hours post negative test result, back to normal and atop a large rock

So there it is. It’s wasn’t the great Antiguan Chicken Pox Debacle of 2018. It wasn’t even the Mercifully Short-lived Meningitis Scare of Cornwall 2019**. But I didn’t share this story for the dramz, I shared because this time next week my children will, like most of the nation’s, be going back to school/nursery. I’m sure I’m not the only one worried about the torrent of bugs which we’ve come to expect from the first few weeks of term, and what that will mean this particular September. What counts as a sniffle and what means we have to self-isolate and get tested? How much time off work will that mean? Is any cough the wrong kind of cough? Oh yeah, and what if it actually is Covid-19?! I don’t know any of this, but at least I can say what it’s like to take a child to get tested. If that helps anyone worry a little less… Well, then it’s worth sharing a relatively unexciting blog post with a relatively-unexciting-but-hopefully-clear, searchable title.

*We are, however, still dealing with the legacy of the Great Covid-19 Scare of August 2020 in the form of Torrential Snots still emanating from the nostrils of B2 and B3. Bloody wish we could swap those.

**I’m beginning to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t go on holiday anymore.


Stranded in paradise

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Day 23 on the island

The burned skin has long peeled off and the once bulbous and red-raw wound of Husband’s spider bite has faded into barely a freckle. “We’re going to a new holiday home today!” I say, trying to energise the words as I did so effortlessly three weeks ago. Child 1 just looks at me wearily. So does her baby sister. “Another one? But mummy, I want to go to SCHOOL!”

I’m not complaining. Or at least I’m trying really hard to see the bright side which is an extended holiday with my lovely family, mostly free of charge (once the travel insurance claim goes through) in the Caribbean. It’s pretty darn bright when you look at it that way. But there’s the other side to the coin where we are confined to a small apartment with Husband attempting to work remotely on a five hour time difference while I come up with increasingly screen-reliant ways to entertain two small children. At mealtimes – banished from mixing with others at the restaurant – we come up with what we can with sparse ingredients foraged from the tiny (but devastatingly expensive on the scale of £7 for a bottle of milk) onsite shop. At night the baby wakes repeatedly.

There is no end in sight.

And we’re almost out of beer.

Ok, maybe I am complaining a bit.

Day 1
We think it’s just a heat rash. Child 1 seems absolutely fine, chatting away and extremely excited to be on the first abroad holiday she can remember. Surely if it were chicken pox she would be poorly?

Day 2
It is most definitely not a heat rash. Blistering spots have erupted all over my porcelain daughter’s skin. “She’s got it bad,” we laugh, safe in the comfort that her temp is normal and her spirits are high. We will later come to realise that she did not, in fact, have it remotely bad.

Day 3 – 5
The spots peak and scab over and we are able to venture out to the beach, keeping a safe distance from others. Child 1 looks a little less leper-like and has fun splashing about in the sea. Her temperature remains normal and the only time she seems bothered by her affliction is when she wakes hot and itchy in the middle of the night.

Day 6 – 12
“I don’t expect Baby 2 will get it,” my mum (a retired nurse) tells me. “After all, she’s still breastfed. Surely your immunity will pass on?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, “that’s not what I’ve read online…” But secretly I’m hopeful. The holiday rolls into its second week and we all sleep soundly through the night. A small crop of red spots on Baby 2’s arm fail to materialise into anything sinister. Sisters fly in and sisters fly out. We drink the rum punch. We laugh a lot. We relax.

Day 14
With that impending sense of quite-ready-to-go-home-now-thank-you well-being we move from our villa to an apartment. Our original holiday was to be 16 days long on the virgin islands (visiting the place where my parents first met in recognition of the 10th anniversary of my dad’s death) but due to the continued damage caused by last year’s hurricane, this fell through and resulted in us having to book an apartment for the last two nights of our holiday. That was the plan, anyway.

Baby 2 is fractious and sleeps badly the first night in our new place. The original red spots have faded but she has begun itching her head, messing her hands along her hair line with an urgently perplexed look on her face.

Day 15
We are due to fly home tomorrow. There are a few unidentifiable red splotches on Baby 2’s head but as the day wears on she becomes more cranky, stops eating with her usual gusto and by the evening the unmistakable blisters have rashed their way over my baby’s soft skin. Her neck is particularly bad, and there are the beginnings of spots on her arms and face as well.

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Day 16
Baby 2 is covered in spots. Covered. She looks like a poster child for chicken pox. They are in her ears, on the palms of her hands, the soles of her feet. Barely a square inch remains unblemished.

We phone our travel insurance who tells us we will need confirmation from a doctor to be sure it is the pox. We arrange for a brusque doctor to visit the apartment which she does so and, in the space of 3 minutes confirms it is chicken pox and that we can’t fly for at least a week and that we now owe her $200 USD. We then make another expensive call to the travel insurance while establishing that we are able to stay in the apartment for another week. Husband contacts work to see if he can work from here. I email Child 1’s nursery. We cancel classes and ask the neighbour to carry on feeding the cats. Mum goes home without us.

Day 17 – 21

We settle into a new routine of sorts. Husband works as best he can, being five hours behind the UK. I take Child 1 to the pool while Baby 2 naps. We have a few horrendous nights – the most memorable of which finds us up at 4am, trying to forcefeed calpol into an incandescently rageful Baby 2 whose temperature has rocketed to 39. She screams as I try to dab calamine onto her spots. She screams when I try sudocrem. She won’t feed. Even a bath (the failsafe B2-calming-method) produces bewildered, mournful sobs. In the end she tires enough to accept the boob once again and falls into a fitful sleep as I Google all the chicken pox remedies I have no hope of laying hands on…

Day 22

The doctor arrives and we wait with bated breath, secretly convinced she will take one look at Baby 2’s much improved skin and issue the all-important ‘fit to fly’ note. We should know by now, really, not to get our hopes up.

“No,” she barks. “The scabs are not dry enough.”

“Aren’t they? They look pretty dry to me and it’s been a week now… We were really hoping to fly tomorrow…”

“No, how about Monday? I’ll do it for Monday.”

Bugger.

Day 23

More emails are sent to husband’s work, Child 1’s school and all the other commitments we have over the next working week that it never occurred to us we might miss. Our travel insurers confirm what we have suspected, that without the doctor’s note they cannot book any flights for us. Moreover, they tell us that some airlines require medical clearance which can take a further 48 hours to come through.

Meanwhile our accommodation agent finds us a new holiday home to move to and we make another trip for provisions, not knowing whether they will be for two days or 10.

Day 24

The new holiday home is lovely. It has  stunning sea views, it’s light and breezy, large enough for all of us and has a pool. But it’s not home. And, for the first time ever, I think, it occurs to me that you can be in the most beautiful, luxurious setting in the world but if you want to be home that is the only thing you will see, no matter how far you look.

Still, we make the most of it and have fun in the pool. To celebrate our last night of being unfit to fly we go to the restaurant for dinner. The children behave beautifully and Husband and I enjoy a much-anticipated pina colada.

Day 25 (Monday)

We wait with bated breath for the doctor to email. Our travel insurers, five hours ahead, remind us to send them the note as soon as we get it. And we wait some more. At 10am we phone her and she says she will get to it as soon as she can. After another chase she finally sends it at 4pm and we forward it on to the travel insurers, knowing full well that at 9pm they will have long gone home for the day.

Day 26

The travel insurers say they are looking into flight options. Child 1 decides to make cards for all her teachers and friends back home. She hasn’t been to nursery for over a month now and this week we are missing important meetings and introductions for next year when she will start reception. Husband tries to work. Baby 2 – looking laughably healthy now – reveals a new tooth. She will turn one year old in four days and has now spent a twelfth of her life in Antigua.

And here we remain in limbo. The drinking water has run out and so we are drinking tea and milk. We’re trying to save the blisteringly hot hike to the shop until we know when we need to book our airport taxi. We are saving the last two beers for the receipt of plane tickets.

I know there are many people who would say that they’d take an extra holiday any day over the mundanity of normal life. A month ago I probably would have been one of them. But there’s extra holiday and then there’s being ready to go home and not being able to… A repetitive mantra which pounds into your head at 3am when your baby has reverted to sleeping and feeding patterns you thought were long behind you: Iwanttogohomeiwanttogohomeiwanttogohome. Knowing that saying it does nothing but make the feeling worse and yet you want it so badly you can’t not say it. Like being in the throes of labour but trying not to think about the pain.

Home. It’s such a simple thing responsible for so much mental wellbeing. Because no matter where you are there’s really, after all, no place like it. Not even paradise.

 

 

 


Mum of MUCUS (with the mildly helpful gadgets)

Life as a parent is all about tackling novel challenges, and last week I got to experience being a mum of Multiple Unhappy Children Unleashing Snot (or MUCUS, if you will) for the very first time. It all began when summer finally ended (yes!), Lara went back to pre-school (YES!) and promptly came home with the start-of-term lurgy (NOOOOO!) All I can say is that at least this illness didn’t involve the gastrointestinal bodily fluids of last term’s ailment. No, as colds go this one was mild, her temperature never got past the warmer side of 37.5 and, aside from an irritatingly persistent mental block against the act of blowing one’s nose, our pre-schooler emerged unscathed a few days later.

Husband didn’t catch it. I didn’t catch it. I thought, with the naïvety of only ever having cared for one small person at a time, that my super-fat breastmilk (not to toot my own horn but the child could smuggle walnuts in those cheeks of hers) would protect Baby 2 from catching it. Turns out, that theory only really pans out if the feeder has the cold and the ensuing antibodies, which of course I did not. And, being a mum of the Insta-Facebook-boast generation, I’ve never discouraged those cutesy photo op moments when their heads are smooshed close together and neither one is grimacing. Of course she caught the cold.

I knew it was all too good to last. The two hour naps. The newfound ability to sleep for six or even seven hours at a time (not every night, I hasten to add). At first I thought it was a(nother) growth spurt… Then the snot began to flow in entirely disproportionate ratio to the size of the nose producing it. I had forgotten just how pitiful the mewling of a mucus-filled infant lacking the ability to breathe properly could sound. I hate it when I can’t sleep properly because my nose is stuffed up. For a baby who doesn’t yet realise she can actually breathe through her mouth as well the experience must be all kinds of scary new torture. No wonder the poor little scrap woke every hour or so in a panic. And yes, there are the mildly helpful gadgets to offer some relief – the saline drops, the humidifiers, the chest rub, the nose-sucker-outerers*. I say mildly helpful because any small comfort is almost instantly evaporated when your child breathes in, smiles for exactly one second and then sneezes, unleashing a whole new nose-full of misery. Ultimately, as with almost every hurdle one faces with small babies, the only real fix-it is time and patience.

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Yep, the red bit goes in your mouth…

The websites say it can last a week or more. Luckily we only had a handful of bad nights and, though the snot is still far more of a present feature than one would like it to be in one’s household, normal service has resumed and both children seem to be well on their way to recovery now.

That just better not be a tickle I can feel in my throat.

 

 

*What you see here is the NoseFrida, which is not, in fact, a stern respiratory nurse of vague Eastern European descent beaten down by the damn patriarchy but still ruthlessly passionate about extracting mucus from small babies, but a device for clearing tiny nostrils using an entirely disgusting-sounding-but-surprisingly-effectual-and-hygienic method. Google it. If you dare.


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