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The Curse, Revisited

January 12, 2014

The Medieval Fair at Lincoln Elementary was the ultimate event of a child’s seven years at that institution. Every year, the sixth-graders would each research a different medieval occupation, dress the part, and set up their own booth in the school gym. There were jousters, minstrels, bakers, candle makers, blacksmiths, and many others. All the gradeschoolers would visit the fair, and at the end of the day bring their families. You could go and try the maypole or the rack, get lost in the maze, and get a painted coat of arms. From kindergarten on up, all the children looked forward to the year that they would get to host the Medieval Fair.

I was no exception. When my turn came, I chose to be an artist and proudly took my seat at one of the on-stage booths. But we were less than an hour in, when I felt the all-too-familiar churning of my innards. In full costume, I ducked under the table, ran out of my booth, off the stage, across the gym, and barely made it to the girls’ bathroom in time to barf. That is how I spent the rest of my day, at home, while the Medieval Fair carried on without me.

That was, in fact, how I spent many of the most eagerly-anticipated events of my childhood. I had a propensity for drumming up a severe stomach bug just when something really exciting was about to happen. Once, when I desperately wanted to attend a family reunion, I spent the entire day vomiting. The next day I was barely strong enough to walk, but I begged my mom to let me go. Such was my childhood. I outgrew that unfortunate tendency…or so I thought.

December 2013, you have proven me wrong.

It all started on a Tuesday. Two days after we returned home from The North Country after Thanksgiving, I noticed a strange rash on Asher’s arms and legs. It didn’t seem to bother him, so I didn’t worry. Soon thereafter he developed a nasty case of diaper rash, such that I had no other choice but to let him spend a good deal of time each day running around his bedroom naked to air out his little bottom. His room is the only finished room in the house with a door and without carpet, but he didn’t seem to mind the confinement as long as I was with him. He quickly decided that this was the ideal time for both numbers 1 and 2, and frequently he did both. I groaned a little every time, but kept a stash of paper towels and cleaning rags handy.

On Thursday I noted that Asher had a couple of strange blister-like sores, one on a hand and one on a foot. All day I mulled over his strange consortium of ailments, but none of my Google searches seemed to match up. On Friday I sent my sister an off-handed text describing the symptoms, and her immediate response was, “Hand Foot and Mouth?”

In 30 seconds I had confirmed it. The pictures, the description of the onset of symptoms—I had little doubt that Asher had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Just to be sure, I took him to the pediatrician’s office that very morning. I knew that there was no treatment, but I wanted a confirmed diagnosis. That night was my friend’s long-awaited Christmas party, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything less.

“Yes, it definitely appears to be Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease,” said the cheerful PA. “But he shouldn’t be contagious once the blisters have healed. I’d give it a few more days, but he’ll most likely be better within a week.” I worried a little that I had been so thoroughly exposed alread. HFM is highly contagious via coughing/sneezing, fecal-oral transmission (I readily remembered the many Asher-paddies I had wiped off the hardwood), and even through the blisters, if one should pop. And considering that the incubation period could be as long as a week, it would be quite awhile before I could stop worrying. But everything I read and everything the PA told me reassured me that my odds of contracting HFM as an adult were very low.

It was a blow, but I was grateful that I would at least be better by the next weekend. I had a full roster, and I couldn’t bear to miss all of that. I hadn’t had a kid-free date night since Asher was born. In fact, I hadn’t had a single date without Asher in the past year, besides one temple trip when Asher was just a few months old. That next weekend I would have TWO date nights with Ragnar. The baby-sitters were all lined up. Ragnar had been given two suite-level tickets to a thursday-night Broncos game, and we were going to his company Christmas party on Saturday. It’s a little silly to admit, but for a stay-at-home mom of one baby, an adults-only, “cocktail attire, please” event made me feel like Cinderella going to the ball. I’d never been to a cocktail attire event. I wasn’t even really sure what “cocktail attire” meant. But I’d been scheming about what to wear for months, and I was soooo excited. I was also looking forward to meeting Ragnar’s coworkers that he’d been talking about for years, whom I frequently mixed up. The first year we lived in Denver Ragnar had been callously overlooked for an invitation (he always worked out of town and they forgot about him); last year I had been a jillion months pregnant with Asher so we both sat it out. Finally we would be able to go!

Of course, the truly BIG event was Asher’s first birthday party. He would be turning one year old on Saturday, and that afternoon I planned to have friends over for a party. Nothing elaborate—just some cake and ice cream and gifts from Ragnar and myself. Perhaps a few balloons and streamers. But I had planned to have a party that day pretty much since Asher was born, and I was looking forward to getting together with friends that I’d hardly seen in months. As a bonus, both of Ragnar’s brothers were going to be in town from out-of-state, along with a sister-in-law, a nephew just a few weeks older than Asher, and my brother-in-law’s fiancee.

I counted the days and the blisters. The blisters waxed and waned along with the rash, and the days dwindled to just a few until The Big Weekend. It was tedious to quarantine Asher for that entire time, as it also meant staying home myself, save for a few brief outings to the store when Ragnar was home.  HFM was not a serious illness for Asher. Except for the diaper rash, a little more clumsiness than usual, and a small decrease in appetite, he was mostly himself. But I had heard of someone who had lost her baby shortly after birth because she had been exposed to HFM while pregnant, and I shuddered to think I could do that to someone else. I washed my hands obsessively to prevent spreading the disease, washed them until I could no longer ball my hands without my knuckles turning white, my skin cracking and bleeding. The house would have to be disinfected before Saturday.

By Tuesday, Asher appeared much improved and I declared him healed. I was so happy to be free again, and eager to prepare for Asher’s party and my out-of-town guests. My rejoicing was short-lived. On Wednesday morning I woke to find four inconspicuous but tender sores on my hands. “No, NO NOOOO!” I screamed in my head. I’m pretty sure I looked something like this:
z luke-skywalker-noooooo
Even though my hand just looked like this:
Image

I hoped it was a fluke. Something else. Maybe my hands were having a bad reaction to the expired steroid cream I’d dug up the day before, an attempt to remedy my tortured skin. But as the day passed, more and more of the sores sprung up and the early ones began to grow and hurt. There was nothing else I could do. Asher’s birthday party, Momma’s night out on the town, even the ward Christmas party—I would miss it all. Save for my Hawaiian adventures, it was my most exciting weekend of the year, and it just wasn’t going to happen. I was sick with disappointment.

The next night, Ragnar took a friend to the football game, and I stopped counting the sores on hands around 40. They made it downright painful to grip anything, and soon they were joined by even more painful sores on my feet. Those ones were near impossible to see, but in walking I felt as if I had a couple-dozen very small pebbles stuck to the bottoms of my feet and toes. I understood now why Asher had been so clumsy—those suckers hurt! The silver lining to not being able to leave the house was that I wouldn’t have to wear shoes. Any shoes I wore were quite painful. I hobbled around the house feeling very sorry for myself that Friday, and informed all of my friends and family that the party was off.

I held out the slightest glimmer of hope that I could somehow make it to Ragnar’s work party the next night. Maybe my fairy godmother would appear and I would wake up miraculously healed? Maybe I could make a fashion statement by wearing gloves! I wasn’t sneezing and coughing and obviously I had outstanding hand-washing hygiene….what if I just didn’t breathe too close to anyone? What were the odds, really, that I would give it to someone when I felt perfectly fine? I’d been soooo good, behaved myself through a whole week of quarantine already—why not be bad just once? I doubted that most people would have been so well-behaved. But could I pretend for a whole two hours that my feet weren’t killing me? I decided that I would leave it in Ragnar’s hands. If he didn’t really want me to go, then it was selfish of me to persist in the face of infecting others. If he did, that was my excuse. He had told me he wasn’t even going to go if I stayed home.

“Hi, Hon. Say, how badly do you want me to go to your party?”

“Oh, not really that badly. If you stay home it gives me an excuse to get out of it.”

That was it. I had no justification.

“Umm….okay. I guess…if you don’t really care…”

“I mean, it’s not like I don’t like my coworkers. But I see them all day during the week, and I don’t really want to spend my Saturday night with them.”

“I guess I won’t go then.”

“Are you, uh, crying?”

“Maybe,” I sniffed. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ragnar is a country boy, and he does not like fancy parties downtown or getting dressed up. But when a trip to Walmart is the only thing that gets you out of the house all week, it feels like canceling a vacation to miss such things.

“Well having a pity party won’t help.”

“A pity party is the only party I’m allowed to attend!”

And so it was. I made cupcakes for Asher’s birthday, which he didn’t really like. Ragnar worked all evening on a paper for his master’s program. Once I put Asher in bed, Ragnar and I spent our “date night” at the kitchen table trying to figure out how he was supposed to apply Chicago Style to his citations.

As the next week rolled around, the pain in my hands and feet faded. On Tuesday I declared myself “safe.” It was time to prepare for Christmas and the Shaggybritches’ next sojourn to The North Country. We were to embark Friday for our first ever Christmas spent with Ragnar’s family, followed shortly by Ragnar’s youngest brother’s wedding and our nephew’s baptism. With Christmas less than a week away and our departure much sooner, I had a lot to do. I hurriedly set about my last minute shopping, relieved that Asher and I were finally well at last. That night, Asher cried and cried in the middle of the night. Usually an excellent sleeper, I couldn’t understand why he took so long to settle back to sleep.

The next morning when I entered Asher’s room, his sheets were stained with green vomit. To this day I don’t know how the child produced green vomit when I hadn’t fed him green food, but honest-to-blog IT WAS GREEN. He was pale as I fed him his bottle. Almost immediately, he upchucked all eight ounces right back onto himself and the floor. I had never seen him truly throw up before, and it was a spectacle.

For the next two days he continued to vomit theatrically, and eventually he began to erupt similarly from the other end. During the day I would sit with him in his room each time I fed him a bottle, waiting to see if the contents would resurface. At night I would rush out to finish my shopping as soon as he was in bed, trying to compensate for my home-boundedness during the day. I joked with my sister that it would be just my luck to get this bug too. But really, even my luck couldn’t be that bad.

On Thursday night the shopping was done and the bags were packed. We were at last ready to leave for Ragnar’s folks, to escape the prison-like confines of the house. I prayed that Asher would be well, that he wouldn’t regurgitate all over himself on the eight-hour car ride. Ragnar and I enjoyed a particularly sumptuous meal of my homemade Chicken Tikka Masala.

“Something is different about it this time,” Ragnar noted. “It’s richer, has a lot more flavor. It’s better!”

“I know, right?” I had been waiting for the praise. “I think this is the best I’ve ever made it!”

We enjoyed our last dinner at home, and gave Asher his bedtime bottle. But he was acting a little funny—both Ragnar and I could sense it. We rushed to him, but Ragnar got there first. I think he tried to get him into the bathroom, but too late. Asher spectacularly hurled all over the wall next to the bathroom door, and I narrowly avoided a direct hit. The sour slush cascaded down the wall and splattered at our feet. Hot, steaming, and horrifying. As I had done so many times recently, I cleaned it up and tried not to think too much of it, even as Ragnar and I mopped ourselves off. But I do believe—and so does Ragnar—that that vomit was our undoing.

When I awoke early the next morning, all was not well. The innards….the churning. That horrifyingly familiar feeling of Get-thee-to-a-toiletness.  After an extremely brief visit I collapsed back into bed. My twisting, aching stomach kept me on the verge of consciousness as this cycle repeated itself. Eventually I became vaguely aware that I was not the only tousled-haired specter trudging from bed to toilet to bed. The bathroom door had become a revolving one, and Ragnar was on the other side.

“You too?” I asked.

“Unnnghhhh,” was his tortured reply. I inquired no further.

Ragnar was the first to vomit. I held off a few hours longer, but was no less fervent. No matter how excellent the previous night’s dinner, I had not wanted to see it again so soon—so recognizable and yet so degraded. It made me sniff a little. Or maybe that was just the barf in my nasal passages. Ragnar kindly hurried in to hold my hair for me, but I had seen it coming and got my hair tied up in time. Nontheless, as my desperate fingers fumbled behind me to wipe the dangling paprika-hued spittle, I knocked the toilet paper to the floor. He saved me from my predicament, and it was as sweet a thing as a dozen roses.

Asher awoke, and we switched off caring for him even as we switched off in the bathroom. I fed him and then laid myself on his bedroom floor to supervise until I deemed him safe to enter the carpeted areas of the house. He busily pattered around his room as if nothing was wrong, occasionally pausing to pound on my stomach. Once, he tried to sit on my head.

The amicable feeling between Ragnar and myself disappeared as the day wore on. I began to shudder with fevers, chills, and body aches. Ragnar was hit harder in, lets say, other ways. More vomit came to pass. For a five-hour stretch, Ragnar disappeared into our room, and though I heard him periodically exit and enter the bathroom, I didn’t see him. Eventually Asher did barf, on the rug in the kitchen. And himself. And the cabinets. When Ragnar finally reappeared, I asked him—in a voice as sour as yogurt-based vomit—“Did you even think to check in on me in the last five hours?”

The conversation sort of deteriorated from there. Eruptions of various sorts occurred, punctuated by bickering. I drank the Pedialyte that Asher had thusfar refused, and realized that he was merely demonstrating good taste. Pedialyte is awful. At Ragnar’s request, our blessed home teacher delivered some groceries. We didn’t have much to eat, considering that we had planned to be gone for 13 days.

Then again, I wasn’t exactly eating much anyway. This proved to be very problematic when my hands started shaking. I realized that a mental fog was descending around me. Before my hands stopped working entirely, I googled “hypoglycemia” and decided I most likely have it. I made myself drink and eat a little, but still my hands cramped to the point that I could no longer use my thumbs. Eventually I fell asleep, and the last thing I remember was Ragnar kindly covering me with a blanket.

The next day was better. Only Asher vomited, and our other eruptions were becoming less frequent. I was weak and tired though, and we opted to stay another day. On Sunday I felt human again, and equal to our northward journey. Ragnar felt less so, but was brave. And so, with copious towels and cleaning rags at hand, we ventured forth.

Around hour three we hit snow. Asher was crying, and so I sandwiched myself into the backseat to calm him while Ragnar drove. It was a mostly useless attempt, as the only thing wrong with him was that he wanted out of his carseat. At the halfway point we stopped to refuel both ourselves and the car. Out of idle curiosity, I googled “contagious window of gastroenteritis.” I wish I hadn’t. The results: “Adults sick with gastroenteritis are contagious three days past the disappearance of symptoms, and children are contagious up to two weeks.” I suddenly pictured us getting the groom sick the day of his wedding, and the wedding being canceled. Ragnar’s family had not all been together for four years—what if we got all of them sick?

“What are we going to do Ragnar? We shouldn’t have come.”

“I dunno,” he replied. “Get a hotel? Turn around and go home?”

It appeared that we were only capable of transmitting the illness by our poop, and potentially vomit. Ragnar and I could easily keep such things to ourselves, but Asher? Of course everyone would want to hold him and kiss him. How would I ever keep him contained?

Ragnar decided to call his mom and clear it with her. She was concerned, but reassured us that we should continue. So we did. Hours more of slow travel through snow-packed roads, Asher wailing next to me. If he did fall asleep, Ragnar would have to stop and use the facilities, which would wake him up. Asher threw up. It was the longest drive to Ragnar’s homeland to date.

When we finally arrived, most of the household had gone to bed. Weary but relieved, I performed Asher’s nightly routine hours later than usual. We were staying in my teenage sister-in-law’s room, and I laid down with Asher on her bed while he eagerly sucked his bedtime bottle. But no sooner had he finished it, than he threw up all over himself. And me. And the bed. I was at my wits’ end, but I had just enough presence of mind to remove my own top layer of clothes, strip Asher naked, and throw him in the tub. My mother-in-law helpfully fetched new bedding, and I tried to calm myself down as the tub filled with water.

It’s okay. I thought. It’s going to be okay. 

But it was not okay. Because that’s when IT happened. $#it happened. Though Asher had only done it once before in his whole life, he picked that moment to poop in the tub. The tub that the groom was using. I panicked. I freaked. I nearly screamed. I couldn’t believe it.

“Ragnar! RAGNAR!” I called through the cracked bathroom door. “Asher pooped! He pooped in the tub!”

Ragnar burst into the room, witnessed my improbably horrible predicament, and he laughed. Oblivious to the open door and my semi-clothed state, he just stood there and laughed. It was a wonder that I didn’t deck him. Thankfully my mother-in-law appeared momentarily with a roll of paper towels and bleach spray, but I did not demonstrate my gratitude.

“Can you at least  shut the door!?” I hissed at Ragnar. “I’m not dressed!”

We both stood there, waiting for the tub to drain. There was something wrong with it, and it took an interminably long time. (It was not just my perception at the time–I later found myself calf-deep in bath water when I took a shower.) Ragnar laughed and laughed, and I spun from him to Asher and back again, scolding.

“Can’t you do something? Don’t just stand there!”

“No! Asher! NOOO! Don’t play with your poo! That is soooo disgusting!”

“Why aren’t you helping? What is wrong with this drain?”

“What am I supposed to do?” Ragnar replied with mirth.

That was a good question. Both Asher and the tub needed disinfecting, but as soon as I washed one the other would just re-contaminate it again. There were probably bits of poo stuck under the bath mat, so I couldn’t fill the tub again with Asher in it. Covered in poo water as he was, Asher should not leave the tub. That was as far as I got in my reasoning.

Eventually, the water did drain, and I scooped the blobs of soggy poo out of the drain. I sprayed everything—except for Asher—with bleach. I then gave him the most aggressive scrubbing of his life, rinsed him off in the shower, and passed him to Ragnar. Once Asher was out of the picture, I was free to scrub every inch of the tub and mat. At long last, I removed the rest of my vomited-upon clothes, and disinfected (showered) myself.

The next morning, I still could not shake the smell of bleach from my nose. Whether it was a physical or psychological artifact of the night before, I could not tell. I committed myself to living every moment of the next week in a state of hyper-alertness, ready at a second’s notice to swoop down on Asher and clear the perimeter of civilians should he erupt. But he calmed my nerves that day by not vomiting. After six days of barfing, I thought maybe he was finally better.

But the next day, he did it again. With all of the family together for once, we were having family pictures. I had shopped carefully for matching clothes for all of us, but no sooner had I dressed Asher for pictures than he threw up on himself and the carpet. The carpet got the worst of it, and I wiped Asher off and carried on. At that point I decided that, as Asher seemed to feel fine and his vomiting was infrequent and often right after eating, it must just be that his tummy was feeling sensitive. He wasn’t really sick anymore.

But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t contagious. I soon learned that Asher’s six-year-old cousin (Ragnar’s sister’s daughter) was throwing up. “I am so sorry!” I told Ragnar’s sister. But “sorry” doesn’t cut it for such a serious offense. She seemed to be a trooper about it, but I felt terrible. I prayed that the buck would stop there, that there would be no outbreak. But I was not hopeful.

The next day was Christmas. I don’t think I saw my brother-in-law the whole day, as he was in bed the whole time with the same affliction. The poor guy almost never gets vacation, and here he was spending it flattened with this abomination. I felt even worse.

The next day, my teenage sister-in-law reported  that she had thrown up the night before. “I think yesterday’s lunch didn’t sit well with me,” she reassured. “I’m not sick.” But any reassurance she offered was superseded by her sleeping the rest of the day. Even Ragnar’s father claimed to feel unwell, though he’s the stalwart type and I could never discern just how ill he was. Thankfully, everyone was well enough that night to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding reception, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

On Friday, Ragnar’s sister reported that she too had been hit by the bug. She was a trooper like her daughter, but I continued to apologize. It was the day of the wedding, and I was immensely relieved that the groom, at least, had avoided getting sick. The wedding was lovely, as all temple weddings are. I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders when it was over.

There was only one last hurdle to cover before our departure, and that was my nephew’s baptism on Saturday. Just as my ill-fated stars could have predicted, he fell ill with the abominable bug that day. But when asked, he insisted that he wanted to be baptized. He did not do as I would have, and vomit all over in the font. All went smoothly, and finally I could breathe again.

With the curse now visited upon the heads of my family, I wonder if it has been exorcised. Am I finally free? Or will the curse merely lie dormant again for years, ready to rear its ugly head when I am again faced with a series of important events? Time will tell.

And maybe, with time, everyone will forgive me for getting them sick.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael permalink
    January 14, 2014 2:08 am

    June is only 5 months away, although it may be the longest 5 months of your life. Take the rocks and sand back with you. Grab Steph’s while you’re at it.

  2. Sarah permalink
    January 14, 2014 8:32 pm

    That has got to be the most miserable experience I have ever read. Holy Cow!!

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