Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

How To Survive An Outbreak: A Survivor’s Tale

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“You feelin’ alright

I’m not feelin’ too good myself”

-Joe Cocker, Feelin’ Alright

I don’t want to be an alarmist. And there’s already enough hysteria floating around like airborne microbes through a misting fan. But you guys- it was bad. Fever. Puking. Other stuff that polite southern women don’t talk about.

Four out of five Kelly’s were sick. No, it wasn’t Ebola. But I feel like I kind of understand it, from both ends. And no, I’m not being coy, I mean I was both patient and nurse. Because I’m a mom.

Patient # 1: It all started with the little one. So innocent and cute. She didn’t understand what was happening. She peppered me with questions in between yakking. She didn’t understand that correct protocol does not involve breathing directly into my face after emptying the contents of her stomach all over the bed.

Patient # 2: My son. Thirteen years old. Vibrant, strong boy. Which means that he gives new meaning to the word “projectile” as the contents of that night’s dinner make a second appearance. The victim: his bedroom rug. This is when things get really ugly. This is when you realize you failed at containing the virus. This is when it’s time to get serious. Luckily for you, I’ve been through it and I’ve come out on the other side to help you. Hopefully you won’t be affected or infected, but in case you are, take heed.

  • First, you must maintain composure. As you turn for help and see your husband’s retreating back, you realize you’re in this alone. You’ll want to panic. But you can’t. This is it. This is no time to lose your shizzm. The faster you act the better. Don’t allow time to think or smell. Paper towels and trash bags are your friend. Do the best you can with these tools. You will likely realize that you have held your breath and squealed and sympathy-vomited through this stage of cleanup only to realize you’ve barely scratched the barf covered surface. Time to improvise. Grab the oldest towels you can and cover that rank. If you can’t see it it’s not there. Truth.
  • Second, employ those killers of the environment, the plastic grocery bag. Yes, you feel guilty that you have an entire closet in your laundry room stuffed with them. You tried reusable grocery bags and you really liked them, but your husband “accidentally” threw them out and you’ve been too lazy to buy more. Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. Dealing with children who’ve suddenly turned into Linda Blair from The Exorcist. So yeah, those pesky little bags you’ve been hoarding can now be “recycled.” Line the trash can that you put by your kid’s bed with a triple layer of these. Just like lining a roasting pan with foil. Clean up will beย easy.

Except it’s not. Your methods are necessary but clean up will be treacherous at best. The worst part is the nausea you feel just from seeing and smelling things that can’t be unseen or un.. erโ€ฆ not smelled. But you must forge ahead. The rest of the family is counting on you to keep them safe. Especially your husband who’s snoring from the bedroom. It’s time to disinfect.

  • Before this step you must protect yourself. You have to keep yourself well or things will really fall apart. You know, take oxygen before you assist fellow passengers. I don’t make these things up. You’ll want a face mask. Surely you have these on hand for the impending pandemics that crop up yearly, right? Good. You’ll need rubber or latex gloves. And an old shirt – or your husband’s favorite t shirt – whatever’s handy. If wretching is still in progress (how much did those kids eat today?) you may want a hat or scarf to cover your hair.
  • Now you will need a bucket and bleach. You will need to coat all door handles, light switches, faucets, toilet handles. All of it. Don’t listen to that crap about 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water. You want to show this virus who’s boss, right? We ain’t playin’ around. So you go halfsies. Your eyes will burn and your house will smell like ย an indoor kiddie pool with poor ventilation, but that’s ok. The bonus here is that your nose will be incapable of smelling the foul smells that emanate from those towels on your son’s carpet.
  • The next step is laundry. While still suited up in your homemade hazmat suit, grab the comforter your son managed to soil as well as any washcloths and towels that may have been contaminated. But NOT the towels on the floor! DO NOT move those! You will want to shove as many of the offending linens into your washer as humanly possible. Put in extra soap. Lots of it. Wash on highest heat, sanitary setting. Side note: anything that needs rinsing before putting in the washer needs to be thrown out. I don’t care if it’s wasteful. There’s nothing that is so special that can’t be replaced. Seriously, I don’t care if your grandmother’s wedding dress got caught in the cross fire, there are limits to what one should be expected to do. Throw that shizzle away.
  • Sometimes your methods are met with a little hiccup. A little stumble if you will. In my case it was water seeping from under the washing machine. It’s ok. Freaking out about what curse has been placed upon your pure heart is not going to help. Take a deep breath. Backup plans are in place for such breaches. Take all remaining contaminated laundry that has not been stuffed into your washing machine like a Paula Deen pork chop and dump it on to the floor of your garage. It is out of the house, technically, which is the important thing. Until the washing machine gets fixed, your family can practice holding their breath as they dash through the garage to the car. This is a healthy exercise that will only save them from possible drowning one day.

Congratulate yourself on a sanitized and clean environment in which your family can safely ride out this harrowing ordeal. Rest easy as you drift off to sleep with the comfort that you’ve protected the people you love with your knowledge and fortitude in the face of utter grossness. Drift off to sleep with the last few precious hours left before daylight.

Except you can’t. Because you realize that the nausea you’d been feeling wasn’t imaginary. You’ve been infected. As you race to the bathroom to take your turn at the hurling olympics, grab a towel. That tile’s cold and you’ll be laying on it until this passes.

Eventually the fever wears off and the nausea calms to a quiet roar. You emerge from your oddly comforting enclave curled up next to the toilet, to realize that no one realized you were gone. As your son recovers from the worst of it upstairs, your five year old seems remarkably well and full of all kinds of fun energy. The family went about their business in the few hours since you cleaned and painstakingly disinfected. You try not to be irritated that it looks like John Belushi just hosted a toga party in your kitchen. Because look at them. Healthy. Blissfully unaware. This is why you do it. Then you see your husband. He’s looking a little greenโ€ฆ

Just turn around and go back to bed. You’ve done your part. It’s every man and child for himself now.

Do stomach bugs freak you out? Have you been traumatized by cleaning up your kid’s puke? What are your tips for surviving an outbreak?

38 Responses

  1. OK, Guaps wins the internet today.

    I think I am the only person in my office not freaked out over Ebola, but stuff like this? Yeah, keep away from me the minute you cough or whatever.

    1. He totally wins!

      I’m not really freaked out about Ebola either. I’m a little freaked out to see how inept the CDC and that hospital in Dallas are. But Ebola’s not on my list of things to panic over just yet. Stomach bugs always freak me out. I’m the biggest baby when it comes to that stuff! And if you have it or have had it or think you might get it, stay far far away.

  2. Ugh. I’m so sorry. That is really the worst. And I don’t know about you, but whenever I catch whatever my family has, I always seems to get it worse than everyone else. And yeah, puke clean up. I’d rather eat my eyeballs.

    Hope everyone is on the mend!!!

    1. You are too funny! I’d totally rather eat my eyeballs too. I contemplated many options. Burning down the house did cross my mind for just a second.

      This time my son had it the worst. I probably got off the easiest. Well, actually, my husband did. But my boy, it was real bad for him. I felt helpless watching him get sick, and he was sick all night long. Ugh.

  3. I have what I call vomitphobia, although it’s not as bad as it used to be. When our first was born, I made clear to my wife that I would do everything — dirty diapers, laundry, cook, get up in the middle of the night to feed — but I would not be able to handle vomit. So, the kid is a few months old and my wife goes out for an evening with friends. He’s a happy little baby and I put him down for the night. Forty-five minutes later, he’s screaming like you cannot believe. I run into his room — there is throw-up everywhere. Now, fortunately, he was at the age where he was still just living on breast milk so it’s not like it was the worst of the worst kind of vomit. But still, it was everywhere. All over him. All over the crib. Everywhere.

    I’ve never recovered.

    I’m a firm believer in isolating the sick. I want nothing to do with them. Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t. So, when one of the kids gets sick, they’re right there with us. ๐Ÿ™

    1. Yes! I have vomitphobia too! Seriously, it completely freaks me out. Just writing this or talking about it makes me start to gag a little. That’s how much I love my kids. If they ever question my love, I’ll just point to all the times I cleaned up their vomit. Seriously, I wouldn’t do it for anyone else. I don’t know how nurses do it. You couldn’t pay me enough.

      I also believe in isolation. I don’t want a sick kid in bed with me. But I did put my five year old on a blow up mattress on the floor in my room. I needed to be able to help her and wanted to sleep in between vomiting and chatting.

      And I give you props for being a good daddy. Diaper duty and night time feedings are signs of a good dad/husband in my book. But my question for you is, what did you do when your son got sick? Did you take care of him AND clean the vomit soaked crib? No judgement here, just curious! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Of course I did. For two reasons. First, my wife wasn’t home. Second, I’m one of his parents and it was just as much my responsibility as my wife’s to live him and care for him. So I cleaned it all up. Even if she was home I would have helped.

        The worst thing in your post is your description of seeing only your husband’s back as you dealt with all of this. That makes me sad and angry for you and for your kids. I’m sure he has many great qualities but the idea that gets to excuse himself from this aspect if caring for them …

        1. That is awesome. I’m not trying to imply that because you’re a guy that you wouldn’t, but I know a lot of people (especially those freaked out by vomit) who would clean the kid up and leave the rest for their spouse (women included).

          As for my husband, just to be clear, he is a really good caretaker of the kids when they’re sick and he did take care of me. And he is totally a hands on dad- diapers, night feedings, even when I was nursing he would get up most times to be with me and change the baby’s diaper. But he didn’t help clean up the vomit. If I wasn’t there he totally would have done it. And to be completely honest and fair? It’s also me wanting to make sure things were done right and my son’s room wasn’t disgusting as he was left to lay in there and be sick. Not that I did a great job, not at all, but I had intentions of cleaning much better. So, yes, for comedic and dramatic license I probably made him look a little worse. He was sleeping though. As I was disinfecting he did go to bed. That’s on him. ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. Thanks for the defense of your husband. I was about to come find him and set him straight. ๐Ÿ˜‰ As for the isolation, as my kids have got older I at least have been able to tell to find a spot in the family room and to stay in that spot. They don’t get to go from recliner to sofa and back over again. Grab a spot, build a nest, and don’t move!!!

      2. When I was a kid, we were sent to our room when we got sick. We ate our meals there. We lived in our rooms until we were better. My kids get free run of the house when they’re sick. Absolutely drives me crazy.

        1. I know. That’s how it was when I was little too. And I don’t know why I don’t enforce it with mine. It makes much more sense, doesn’t it? I don’t remember a stomach bug ever hitting every member of my family when I was little. I may need to rethink my whole approach…

  4. Oh, I am dying laughing – but with you, not at you – because I have SO been there! I remember one fateful night when a child of maybe 4 climbed into my bed and said “Mommy, I feel like I’m gonna…” And then, of course, we know what happened. And for some, strange, maternal reason, my impulse was to catch it with my hands. You know, to keep the bed clean. I cannot explain or take back that moment. The best thing I can say about it is, it only got better from there.

    1. I have done that too! I’ve tried to catch it with my hand! Why? Like you’re going to be able to catch it all? It’s an instinct maybe? I don’t know! These kidsโ€ฆ they have no idea the things we do for them!

    1. Yes, I have anxiety about it too. Anything that includes vomiting really freaks me out. I almost feel bad about writing this post because just someone mentioning that they or their kids or anyone’s had a stomach bug I get nauseous instantly and sweaty and am convinced I have it. I’m a big baby.

      And thank you so much for the Sunshine Award! I really appreciate it!

  5. Ohhhh you poor love! Bless your boots! I’m sorry, but I could almost *see* you standing by your washing machine, cursing (very genteelly) in that lovely Southern accent of yours, and wondering what on earth your pure heart had done to be so beset by a plague ‘o your house.

    I hope everyone’s all better now.

    And you’re SO RIGHT – old towels, and JUST THROW THINGS AWAY!

    1. Ha! I’m going to go with your version of me cursing and bemoaning my situation. Yes. That’s exactly how it was. *fans herself with oversized fan*

      We’re all recovered. Just crossing my fingers my oldest daughter doesn’t get it. She’s very smug about being the only one unscathed. ๐Ÿ™‚ And those old towels absolutely did the trick. Until I had a carpet cleaning company come clean his rug. Totally worth it. $60 and it’s good as new!

      1. Ouf! What a relief it’s over and done with. And I really, really hope it *is* over and done with, because good grief, no-one wants to deal with that ONCE, never mind thrice and then again!

        Nice call on the carpet cleaning company.

  6. Oh My God that’s awful. There is nothing NOTHING worse than vomit, but the whole family with a stomach flu??? NO. just no. You’ve paid your dues, sistah. You can now collect your one million dollars. Cuz that’s what moms deserve after vomit-duty. And poop duty. Or I guess that would be doody duty. hahaha

    1. YES! I deserve something! At least a medal or something, right? These people really have no idea what I do for them. Well, my husband appreciates it, but the kids have no idea. Anyone else would have walked out of my son’s room and never returned. Only a parent has that kind of love to walk in there and deal with it. And nurses. They deal with that stuff all the time. Nurses are amazing. I almost feel like an honorary nurse. Like I totally get what they go through now. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I hope your little ones are feeling better ๐Ÿ™‚ Mine is sitting on my foot and coloring in a coloring book with a magic marker while I do the blog thing. I’m not sure what that’s about but it’s a thing kids and puppies do. Sit on your foot.

    i’ve had a bit of a day on the social media and don’t have the energy to do a real read and do it justice, but: perfect timing, great headline, and that art is wonderful. I love the “#@*!” scrawled on the mask.

    The way I knew you published it was I saw it on Facebook. My feed over there is a mess. I am in the process of subtracting stuff from it, though. Eventually, all I will see is bloggers.

    1. That’s so funny you say that! We just got a puppy last weekend (cause there’s nothing more than house training an 8 week old puppy while everyone’s sick!) and he sits on our feet any chance he gets and our youngest- the five year old- has always done that too! In fact, we used to refer to her as our puppy because she had so many puppy-like tendencies!

      Glad you like the picture! My daughter helped me with it. I’d love to start doing more of my own photos and artwork for the blog pictures, it’s just a matter of taking the time! But it’s so difficult to find the right pictures that are licensed for sharing that it makes more sense to do it that way!

      My FaceBook is both personal and blogging. I hesitated to mix the two, but there are a lot more bloggers in my feed now which does help to drown out some of the annoying FB whining and random comments and inflammatory stuff that FB is known for. I’m actually enjoying FB again lately since connecting with bloggers! And I figure if I’m following someone on Bloglovin’, WP, Twitter and FaceBook I’m more likely to catch their posts and read them!

      1. I’ve enjoyed it more since I restructured it yesterday than I ever have.

        I couldn’t go back to blogging without my own photos.

        I’ve got a bloglovin’ account, but don’t use it because it’s one more thing to keep up with. Is it worth posting the link on your blog and trying to collect follows over there, do you think?

        1. I may be wrong, but I think Bloglovin’ is good for following blogs on different platforms like WP and Blogspot. I started using it so I could have all the blogs I follow on one reader. (plus the WP reader sometimes drives me crazy). I set up an acct just for those readers who may not be on WP. I’m trying to follow all my blogs I like to read on every platform so I don’t miss anything. As far as engagement and collecting follows on Bloglovin’, I don’t really know anything about that and it’s not something I’ve pursued. Of course I may not be the best person to ask!

          1. Hmm. Interesting. I more or less gave up on using it as a way of keeping up because it seemed like it was going to end up being one more thing to keep up with.

            Agreed about the WP reader. It’s pretty annoying. I use it mostly to scan posts and give likes. I’ve decided that, for keeping-up purposes, I’m keeping a very carefully-curated private list on Facebook and a few on Twitter. Most blogs I follow closely have one or the other.

            I also have about 70 blogs bookmarked in folders so that I can open 5 at a time, but rarely have enough time to do that kind of reading. Just the keeping up with the the three dozen or so people that like every single post and comment often is about as much as I can manage, reading-wise.

  8. I just imagined a 13-year-old boy projectile vomiting on his great-grandmother’s wedding dress; why was the dress near him in the first place? Because your family ran out of clean tablecloths and had to improvise! Thanks for the laugh, Gretchen!

    1. Ha! I’m glad you managed to make a connection to Grandma’s wedding dress and my son’s vomiting. It was a totally random thing but you made it work! If anyone asks I’ll just point to your comment and say “See, she get’s it!” I’m glad this gave you a laugh!

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