Thursday, April 28, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Phobia

Everyone has a phobia, or at the very least a strong distaste for one thing or another. Even the mightiest and bravest among us have an Achilles’ heel, something that sends them squealing like little girls at its mere mention. For the most part, people are pretty understanding about the fears of others. When someone is upset over spiders, heights, or plane rides, we tend accept it as a human flaw and look the other way. But this communal sense of understanding does not seem to extend to those of us with slightly less common phobias.

Like me, for example. My phobia is vomit. Puke, hurl, upchuck, blowing chunks, throwing up, however you chose to say it--I want no part of it. I am confident that I am not the only person in the world with this affliction, mostly because a definition of it exists on Wikipedia ("Emetophobia" - an intense, irrational fear or anxiety pertaining to vomiting )It’s not just the mess, not just the sound, or the smell, or the germs, but rather a revolting combination of it all. It produces a primitive “fight or flight” reaction in me over which I have no control, causing me to bolt from the scene knocking over any man, woman, or child who stands between me and an exit. My hair stands on end, I feel ice cold from head to toe, my heart pounds, my throat closes, I cry, I shake. In short I am utterly ridiculous. I have been this way as long as I can remember--as early as kindergarten, I recoiled in horror whenever a classmate would erupt in the lunchroom--and it has stayed with me throughout my entire life. In my early twenties I even plotted escape routes upon entering bars, convinced that every drunken frat boy around me was waiting to regurgitate their Natty Light all over my shoes.

I knew early on that I had no hopes of a future in the medical field despite my natural desire to help others, because although I can handle blood and gore with the best of them, at the first sign of a dry heave I would shove my patient’s wheelchair into the nearest elevator and go cry in the break room. Which ultimately made my chosen profession that much more heroic. People with a fear of bees don’t usually harvest honey, and people who are afraid of the water don't often work as lifeguards. But somehow, despite my vomit phobia, I ended up with five spontaneously spewing children. I did take my unique “situation” into account before I chose to start a family, but when I’d ask for advice, everyone looked at me as if I was insane. They assured me that it would be fine, promising me that “it’s completely different when it’s your own child.”

Well. They were wrong. 

Even as they wheeled me in for my first C-section, asking if I had any concerns about the procedure, I answered with “Well, actually yes, I’ve heard that some people vomit from the anesthesia. Can I go without it?” I discovered early on that I could handle baby spit up, and I thought this was a sure sign that I had grown out of my strange fear. But the first time my toddler projectiled peas and I threw him on the couch and ran out of the room, I knew I had a long way to go.

Amazingly, my kids don’t seem to take offense to me leaping away from them when they let out a particularly startling burp or being shoved off my lap when they hiccup. Each child eventually learned to call for daddy when they felt sick because they know that when upheaval strikes, I cannot console them; I cannot hold their hair and rub their backs. These jobs are left to my husband, who doesn’t exactly enjoy vomit either, but seems to realize that this is one “mommy moment” for which I am utterly useless. The best I can manage is to plug my ears and yell “it’s okay, you’ll be okay” once I’m a safe distance away… Behind a barrier of some sort… Curled up in fetal position.

Luckily, I was blessed with children who have iron-clad stomachs, and the vomiting incidents only occur once or twice a year. But I know that as soon as the first babe barfs the rest are sure to follow. Soon enough, it becomes my own personal rendition of a horror movie: retching and heaving from five different directions, hurling children chasing after me leaving a trail of revisited dinner in their wake. Avoiding the five-alarm puke scenario is impossible (believe me, I’ve tried), so I’ve adopted a fairly simple warning system derived from the U.S. government in an effort to prep for a vomit emergency as efficiently as possible.  

Threat of Vomit Levels

Blue: Conditions are prime for vomiting to occur. I raise to Alert Level Blue in early fall, mid-Christmas break, and at the onset of spring. Alert Level Blue may also be triggered at the first sign of fever or during particularly mucousy colds. Action taken: Surrounding children must be watched for signs of impending vomit, including but not limited to: lethargy, upset stomach, and consumption of any brightly colored beverage. Under a blue alert, children are banned from sleeping with me, standing over me, or approaching me without warning.

Yellow: A stomach virus has been confirmed in the area, including household members and neighborhood children, or upon hearing tales of observed puking on the school bus. Action taken: Toys are moved out from around the beds and a path to the bathroom is cleared from every possible spot in the house. Caution is exercised not to serve any particularly spicy and/or messy foods (spaghetti, pizza, etc). Under a yellow alert, children may sit near me for only short periods of time and all of my extremities must free and available for a quick exit if required.

Red: Vomiting has occurred. Action taken: Vomiter is quarantined and remaining household members are strictly guarded. Daddy is called in for active duty and Mommy is, ideally, moved to a more secure location. Buckets are placed on sheets of painter’s plastic at every bedside. Bedding is stripped and replaced with old sheets. Plastic mattress covers are checked for signs of wear and replaced as needed. Pillows are placed in garbage bags and covered in old towels. Bedrooms are cleaned and toys are placed up on shelves to reduce the risk of being vomited on and, consequently, thrown away immediately. Hallway paths are cleared of debris that could potentially trip a puker midway to the bathroom resulting in premature eruption. Reminders are issued to minors about proper bucket-use technique. A liquid diet of broths and flat ginger ale is observed. Under a red alert, maternal contact with children is strictly on an as-needed basis until 24 hours after the last upchuck.

If all of these precautions are observed, I can usually make it through a bout of the stomach flu emotionally unscathed and, more importantly, uninfected. Because if there is anything worse for a puke-o-phobe than caring for five vomiting children, it is vomiting yourself while caring for five healthy, rambunctious children. There are times that I feel guilty for letting my fears get in the way of being there for my babies when they need me most, but I remind myself that if I were perfect they would have nothing to laugh at me about once they are grown. Part of being a family is to accept each other's strengths and weaknesses, flaws and shortcomings, and love one another all the more for it.

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  1. Priceless..... I love the coding system

  2. The coding alert always made me laugh - especially when I first saw it. Most of my kids make it to the toilet - I have them trained that way. Ittle little still has a little work to do on it. I hate puke too, but it isn't a phobia. If it makes you feel better, I don't stay with them in the bathroom. I cover my nose with my shirt and then hand them some water. I check on them after a few minutes, but other than that, I don't hold their hair or rub their backs...I would end up puking too.

    Love the post!!

  3. My children were always armed with old cool whip containers, because I too, cannot be around vomiters. I gag with the best of them and also reveal my last meal. I understand. Thanks. It's nice to know I'm not the only one.


  5. Michele Matoushek-Propes6/19/11, 11:44 AM

    Wow, sometimes I think you and I are long lost twin Sisters. I have hated puking myself or anyone else since I was a small child. I would do anything not to puke and never got the relief that my Mom told me would come if I just stopped trying to hold it in and throw up because then I would start worrying when I would have to do it again. I even swore I would never have kids if it meant I had to go through morning sickness and only enjoyed my 7 years as a day care aide because I had a deal with the woman who hated snot. I cleaned up all the snot and snotty noses as long as she cleaned up the puke. I have such a fear that I always had a saying for friends that went out drinking with me and thought they would drink lots and mix drinks and not worry that they got sick. "You chuck your F*****!" My one friend didn't listen and I closed the door as he was throwing up on the highway and tried to get my husband to step on the gas and leave him saying, "He knew what he was getting into!" I have trouble watching Deadliest Catch because of all the puking and I know just how much I was a Daddy's girl because I would go on his sailboat with him and be sick to my stomach the whole time. God has a slightly twisted sense of humor because when we brought our first adopted child home had (of all things) reflux and would projectile vomit like the exorcist several times an hour. I handled that pretty well because it was just formula which smelled just as bad going in as it did coming out and she didn't make that horrible strangled noise. Just opened her mouth and shot it across the floor. I could just hear my Mom laughing her butt off in heaven each time. I'm doing pretty well and found I have a puke radar for most of my kids. The hardest though has to be my 9 year old who has Reactive Attachment Disorder. Even my 2 year old attempts to make the garbage or linoleum and has never puked on me but I swear my A enjoys it to the point that she makes sure if she's going to puke she comes and stands next to me. If not for my awesome puke radar she would have thrown up all over me a million times. RAD kids are known for trying to push their parents away and she found the best way ever. I will push her next to the garbage when I see she's going to puke on me and right in the middle of puking she'll turn around to do it on the floor next to me. She also had acid reflux as did my youngest adopted child. God's idea of a funny joke but it has helped me because now at least, most times I can handle it without puking myself. Gotta love my 8 year old (our first child) who has learned to always make it to the toilet or garbage. There have been times she threw up and didn't even tell me because she knows I don't handle it well and I've sent her to school only to have them call and say she was throwing up and said she had done it before school but didn't tell me. That's my good girl! I love your blog! It's like my life!

  6. Michele Matoushek-Propes6/19/11, 12:01 PM

    I had to read this again for my husband because it's just so me! I also asked the same exact question when I had my first C-section. They looked at me like I was a nutcase that I was about to have my stomach cut open and another human being ripped out of it and I was more afraid of puking than that. I actually told them I felt nauseated so that they would give me some of the medication BEFORE I needed it. I also always plot out my location in a bar or at a party and find any and all safety exits in case of someone vomiting. I will even hold my pee all night or walk back to my house (my Brother's bar is 1/4 a block away) so as to not get caught in the bathroom and have a vomited, vomit me into the bathroom. If that happens I will be crawling out the tiny little window at the top of the bathroom never to return. I'm going to use this code system. We did all this stuff before (you throw away one expensive gaming system because of vomit you learn to keep everything off the ground and make sure no one will be tripping before they make it to their target. I am so glad it's not just me! I actually had a nightmare about this last night. A stomach virus was going around and everyone was puking. Give me a good old fashion murder nightmare any day over the puke ones! When my kid pukes it reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where George is at a kids party and he smells smoke and knocks over all the kids and elderly to get out first. That's me! I guess I'm in good company!

  7. LOL Michele, that is SO funny. I've never known anyone to be as freaked out as me. I have nightmares about vomit too, aren't we weird? LOL

  8. Michele Matoushek-Propes6/30/11, 10:34 PM

    I just think great Momnesia minds think alike! My Nieces were here the other night and my kids were a bad influence. Kept them awake all night which makes my Niece sick to her stomach. Her Mom picked her up & I was thrilled that I didn't have to call a code RED until her Mom had her outside of the house and half way down the sidewalk. Had to call in the hubby hazmat team to destroy all evidence. Then when she came back (my Brother had been in the hosp and we were watching them) I was so worried I tried to stay away from her as much as I could while still assuring her that her Daddy would be ok. I REALLY tried hard to comfort her because she was so afraid about her Daddy (as was I) and I managed to squeeze her and hug her and comfort her but I did quickly run to decontaminate myself immediately after she was calm!

  9. I discovered early on that my oldest son cannot handle any sort of vomiting. Upon seeing it, or hearing someone else heave, he immediately begins dry heaving, which ultimately results in him vomiting as well. If I know someone may vomit I immediately evacuate my son from the area. Nothing worse than dealing with multiple vomiting children.... Other than perhaps vomiting yourself.


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