Caring for the Caretaker


I have four kids and a dog with a finicky stomach, so I rarely go any appreciable length of time without someone getting sick.  I deal with snotty noses, I deal with coughing that sounds like barks, I deal with vomiting and potty problems.  I medicate people, I talk to the TriCare nurse, I prepare hot water bottles and make sure we're stocked up on chicken soup and Sprite.

And I quite often deal with these things on my own because my husband is either gone or completely engaged at work.  I'm not complaining about that - it's just a fact of life for a military family.  When I agreed to be a military wife, I also volunteered to pull excessive puke patrol duty.

So what happens when I get sick? 

I would like to take you back a few years - nearly seven, to be exact.  It was a hellishly hot day in early July and I was two weeks overdue to deliver my third daughter.  My Grandma, whose arrival at our house generally serves as an inducement to labor for me, had gotten to San Antonio that day.  My midwife had told me that everything was ready and instructed me to "think delivery thoughts."

It worked. 

At about 4 am my water broke.  The midwife barely had time to get to our house, where my husband was running around making sure everything was sterilized, in time to deliver #3.  She was born at 5:30 am - over 9 pounds of angry, screaming baby. 

Everyone was healthy, everyone was relatively happy.  I settled in to watch some funny movies and relax, luxuriating in my ability to finally take a full breath.  My grandmother made eggs for breakfast, and my eldest daughter took over dog poop scooping duty.

About 11:30 am, when we were all eating turkey sandwiches and Baked Lays for lunch, we discussed the fact that #3 needed a swing, and soon.  We were well versed in the behavior of babies who did not have swings and we wanted to fix that problem as soon as possible.  I suggested that hubby and daughter #1 head to Target and buy the swing, and I gave them very explicit instructions on what was needed.

Hubby said, "Well, you're coming too, right?"

I stared at hubby, stunned.

Hubby tried again,  "If I go by myself I'll get the wrong thing and you'll be angry at me.  I really need you to come, too.

I was even more stunned.

"Please?"  Hubby pleaded.

My grandmother, who has spent the last sixty years living on a working farm, looked at me as if going on a shopping trip at Target seven hours after giving birth to a rather large child was the most natural thing on earth.  After all, family lore has it that she was out mowing the lawn through the first and second stage of her labor with my uncle.

And that is how I came to be perusing the swings and baby  clothes at Target less than twelve hours after giving birth. It was what I consider a short shopping trip - we were only at the store about an hour and a half, and we stopped for lunch/dinner right after.

This basic "sick routine" has followed me down through the years with very little variation.  Depending on the illness that strikes me, I have a few different options.  During a bout of what I think - to this day! - was the Bird Flu last year, I knew what was coming at me early.  That didn't matter, though, as hubby's Region Commander was coming to the base and I had to get an early morning breakfast spread on.  I managed to keep myself together until I had sliced several pounds of oranges, baked several dozen muffins, set up coffee, and prepared a classy selection of different teas and sweeteners. 

After sitting through the awards ceremony (with my hair looking as though rats had slept in it and a huge hole in the butt of my jeans I wasn't previously aware of), I barely made it home to collapse on the couch and keep one eye on my teeming horde of children while I tried to semi-sleep my way off the step of Death's Door.  Every few minutes one child or another would come to stare at me.  Sometimes they would poke me to make sure I was still alive.  Occasionally I had bolt awake and scream at someone for touching matches, poking the dog with a fork, or creating an ingenious invention made of clothesline, two tall stools, and one of my bras in an attempt to rappel across the room. 

Thank God for Lunchables and my forewarning that I was going to be in the throes of illness - the kids had something for lunch!  When my husband was able to come home for dinner, he headed over through the stink of sick to the couch and asked me:

"Are you feeling okay, honey?"

I kind of grunted at him.

"Are you feeling up to making dinner?"

My answer was a series of barking coughs, wet with phlegm.

"Well, I guess I could go pick them up some Burger King...  I really don't feel like fast food, though."

I think I should probably clarify a few things about my husband - like the fact that he's wonderful.  No, really - inability to deal with family illnesses aside, I would put him up for the "Sexiest, Most Wonderful Man" award every year running.  He regularly gives me foot rubs, he pounds my back when the moist New Jersey environment fills my lungs with nastiness, he takes the kids with him when he runs to the store to buy me a soda just so I can have " a few minutes of peace."  He even still opens the car door for me!

I consider him the Best Husband on Earth.

God just did not design him with the ability to nurture sick people.

And so, even when I get sick while he's home (and it's usually while he's away, because of Murphy's Law for MilSpouses), I generally have to find a way creatively cope.

Luckily, I'm not alone.  I've talked to a few milspouse friends and they have related the same sorts of issues; after all, parenthood and marriage don't come with sick day benefits.  And somehow, knowing that other people are juggling the same thing makes it a little less lonely when I'm hacking up my lungs on the couch and giving my kids potato chips and cold cereal for dinner.


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