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Mum’s the Word – counting my chickens before they’ve hatched

Massive columnist Taryn Dryfhout looks at how to juggle a ‘study mummy’ life, at the same time as working, raising children, volunteering and maintaining her sanity throughout.

Having been parents for ten years, and not having had any of the kids come down with chicken pox, we had hoped that the dreaded illness might be one bullet that we could dodge. Unfortunately, last week, the odds were against us.

Early on Saturday, Miss Six had complained of a few itching spots, which we assumed to be bug bites after playing in the garden. By the time I bathed her that night, she was covered.

Having some fairly serious health issues, and no previous infection of chicken pox made me a really good candidate for serious complications if I was to contract it myself. With these risks in mind, my husband and I decided we needed to act. Our plan was simple, keep me away from the infected child.

My husband immediately took time off work to care for the kids so that I would have less chance of becoming infected, but the plan was flawed. Since we don’t have any chicken-pox immune relatives or friends close by, there was no option for me but to stay within the house. With my daughter touching everything, sitting on everything, and sharing the one bathroom in our house, it soon became clear that it was going to be near impossible for me to keep my distance. After several sleepless, panic attack laden nights of Googling ‘adult chicken pox’ and convincing myself that I had about seven more minutes to live, I took myself off to the doctor. Due to my health conditions, having the vaccine was not an option, so the doctor sent me for an immunity test. The 24 hours it took for that test to come back were the longest in my life.

Turns out, I don’t need to write my will just yet. The test came back positive, indicating that I have immunity through being in contact with an infected person at some point without having gone on to contract the disease. What a relief.

This allowed my husband to go back to work, and for me to be able to focus on my daughter, who by this time, had the pox on her scalp, in the waterlines of her eyes, and in her ears. However, this time at home was not easy. It took three hideous days for the welts to scab over, but even when they did, we were about as welcome as an envelope full of anthrax. We couldn’t go to school, church, swimming, or gymnastics, and were banned from visiting family as they had not contracted it before. This stuck us at home.

The chicken pox soon gave way to cabin fever. Having four children stuck in the house while it poured outside for ten days very quickly resulted in restlessness, and at times, unruly behaviour. Every toy was played with, everything on Netflix watched (twice), and every board game brought out, all within the first few days.

If this experience has left me with nothing else, it has astonished me at the general flippancy over chicken pox. I have known many people who hosted, or attended, a ‘chicken pox party’ or playdate in the hope that their children would acquire the infection as quickly as possible. While I understand that this is done out of the belief that it’s best to get the disease as a child, I wonder if people realise that there children will be miserable, look like infectious zombies for a fortnight, and that it can be serious, and even fatal.

With my daughter now recovered, out of her contagious window, and off to school on Monday, all that’s left to do is wait out the 21-day incubation period to see if my boys are going to get it. Having been through it with one child, and seeing what a struggle it is, I am hoping and praying that our boys will escape the terrible disease, and certainly wouldn’t be taking any measures to infect them deliberately.

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