Tis the season…for strep and high fevers and mopping vomit off the bathroom floor. I’m feeling a little melancholy this year. Like the song at the beginning of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Sad and slow. Christmas is two weeks away. I’ve done some shopping. I’ve hidden presents in various places around the house. We’ve put the Advent wreath in the center of the dining room table, and we light it every time we eat dinner together. Lately, that hasn’t been a lot.
The week before Thanksgiving, Rebecca started with strep. My oldest daughter never complains about her health unless something really bothers her. “Mom,” she said one morning before school, “my throat hurts.”
“Does it hurt like strep?” I asked. Rebecca usually has strep two or three times a year.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “It just really hurts when I swallow.”
“Open wide,” I told her. I gazed into Rebecca’s gaping mouth, past the braces to two bright red fleshy arches connected to her tonsils.
“That looks like strep,” I told her. “I’ll take you to the doctor today.”
We got an appointment midmorning. I dropped Angela and Lucy at school. Johnny and Ben came with Rebecca and me to our pediatrician’s office. Annette, the nurse, greeted us warmly. “How are you guys?” she asked. “We haven’t seen you for a long time.”
“I know,” I answered. “We haven’t been in since last strep season, have we?”
Annette shook her head. “Everybody’s getting so big,” she said.
“I’m free,” Ben volunteered.
“Three years old,” Annette said. “Imagine that.”
In the examining room, Annette swabbed the back of Rebecca’s throat. “The strep test will take seven minutes,” she said. “Then Dr. Gross will be in.”
While we waited, Johnny and Ben took turns leaping from the round, rolling doctor’s stool to the examining table. “Look, Mom,” Johnny said. “I’m a Rescue Hero.”
“Be careful, Rescue Hero,” I warned.
“I’m a Rescue Hero, too,” Ben said.
When Dr. Gross walked in, he smiled at the boys. “Someone in this room has strep,” he said. “I guess that would be Miss Rebecca.”
“I’m a Rescue Hero,” Ben told the doctor.
“Good job, Rescue Hero,” Dr. Gross replied.
After examining Rebecca, Dr. Gross prescribed some antibiotics. “If anyone else in the family gets a sore throat within the next week, just let us know. We’ll call in another prescription so you don’t have to come back in.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Good bye, Rescue Heroes,” Dr. Gross told the boys.
Within the week, Angela and Johnny were downing pink Amoxicillin liquid twice a day. “I hope Ben doesn’t get it,” I told Jack. “You know how well Ben takes medicine.”
Jack rolled his eyes. My youngest son hates medicine. The few times Ben has had to take medicine, Jack and I have had to hold him down and force the offending liquid down his throat. I’ve tried hiding the medicine in juice, in strawberry milk, in ice cream. Ben spits them all out.
Before I could worry too much about Ben getting strep, Jack got stomach flu. Saturday after Thanksgiving, we celebrated Rebecca’s 11th birthday. She invited four friends over for a “mini-spa” experience. The girls gave each other manicures and pedicures, and I gave them each a facial. Jack took Angela, Lucy, Johnny, and Ben to SeaWorld to get them out of the house.
When Jack and the kids got home, Jack walked into the house bent over like an old man. “I don’t feel good,” he told me. “I’m going upstairs.”
I didn’t see much of Jack for the next day or two. He lay in bed shivering with chills or burning with fever. The few times he ventured to the bathroom, I stayed far away. “Is Daddy sick?” Angela asked Sunday morning.
“Really sick,” I answered. “Pray he gets better.”
Monday after Thanksgiving, I took Ben to the doctor. “He’s got a little fever,” I told Annette. “And he says his throat hurts.”
Ben had strep. The doctor gave him a shot so he wouldn’t have to take medicine. Jack’s flu hung on a long time. He tried going back to work Tuesday but ended up back in bed on Wednesday. Tuesday night, Johnny threw up all over Jack’s and my bed. He threw up and ran a fever for the next two days. Thursday, I got a call from school. “Lucy just threw up in class,” the secretary told me. I left Johnny and Ben with Jack, who was still home, and drove to school to pick up Lucy.
I found Lucy in the office looking pale and sheepish. “I’m so sorry you’re sick, sweetie,” I told her. “Did you make it to the bathroom?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Thank God. Let’s go to your class and get your backpack.”
In Lucy’s classroom, Coach B., the PE teacher, was scrubbing out the bathroom with a bucket and a mop. “She told me she made it to the bathroom,” I whispered to Coach B.
“She made it to the bathroom all right,” he whispered back. “She just didn’t make it to the toilet. I’ve never seen a kid throw up so much.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
On the drive home, Lucy asked, “How long till Christmas?”
“About three weeks,” I answered.
“Will we be better by then?”
“I hope so.”