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.