THE BLOG

Field Notes From the Front Lines of the Stomach Flu

It seems this season's stomach flu has been particularly widespread and vicious, at least in our house. Over the course of eight days, every one of my four young children, as well as my husband, succumbed to the tummy bug.
03/22/2016 06:06pm ET | Updated March 23, 2017
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It seems this season's stomach flu has been particularly widespread and vicious, at least in our house. Over the course of eight days, every one of my four young children, as well as my husband, succumbed to the tummy bug. I was the last to fall, my mama-immunity holding out just long enough to get the family through. During that horrible week between the thirty-odd loads of laundry, side-stepping cups of re-hydration fluid strewn alongside my ailing loved ones, and tending to multiple concurrently sick kids, I honed some best practices for what I hope will never ever happen again. Or at least until all our kids can aim at a bucket.

When our first child fell ill, I made the mistake of lumping all the laundry together. Any of you who've endured a similar cleaning up process know what I did wrong -- I ended up having to rinse everything rather than just the offending spots. This prolonged an already disgusting process and sucked up the precious little time between kids needing help. In a fit of fatigue inspired brilliance, I began to isolate the yucky bits in plastic bags, laying the clean parts of sheets and clothes separately. The laundry room became a triage area with items grouped by how dirty they were. I also figured out I needed to limit what items the kids were allowed to be near -- like quarantining the new fluffy fleece blankets I had bought only days before. By learning quickly from these errors, I was able to lighten the load of work.

I also learned that winning this fight required tactical changes. Our typical cleaning regiment includes very simple products influenced by our family's growing ecological commitment. It became evident this approach was simply less effective against our household outbreak. I called in a mercy mission, texting a dear friend for a drive by bleach wipe drop. Hunting down a pair of rubber gloves, I wielded those acrid smelling wipes and scrubbed anything and everything during periods while everyone rested. My husband later observed that if there was such a thing as a bleach bomb, we would probably have temporarily cast aside all of our green-living practices and laid waste to our home with an onslaught of sanitation shelling.

As the week continued there were nights of running between bedrooms, waking disoriented in various rocking chairs, and daytime's of logging temperatures and measuring doses. To keep from feeling overwhelmed I had to maintain a long term focus: to win a war, some battles must be lost. To win the war of keeping my sanity intact, I had to lose some serious laundry battles, admitting I was beat and just throw some things out. The collateral damage included no less than three pillows, a couple pairs of pajamas, some underclothes, and a set of sheets and mattress protectors. I did wonder in my altered state whether I should have alerted our local trash collectors that those bags should have had bio-hazard labels.

As I've shared before, the key to wholeness in our big family is teamwork between my husband and I. We would fail horribly if we did this parenting thing without each other's help. When we have moments we aren't able to be the best teammate, it's easy to get disproportionately frustrated because very little lies between chaos and calm in our house. So when my husband admitted he felt queasy as he rocked sick child number two and recalled that he had shared lunch with patient zero days before, I almost expected myself to fall into rage. Instead I truly felt bad for him, knowing exactly what he was facing having seen the pattern laid out by the first couple of kids. When he recuperated in time to help with sick child number four I was all the more grateful to have my partner back and bore no guilt for being or feeling angry with him. Though it was a war -- love and compassion truly were the secret weapons.

When recovery finally came and appetites returned, I went out on a bland-food-themed grocery run. You know life has been disrupted when the Whole Foods staff stops to ask you where you've been. And though they each took successive steps backwards as I explained in brief what we'd just endured, I felt victorious having come out on the other side of our literal viral spread of the tummy bug. As other families face this shared infectious enemy, may you be brave, learn quickly, stay sane and compassionate, and come nowhere near my family until you're well again.