Gastroenteritis, the hellacious stomach flu, has worked its way across my family like a wave. Phil flat out refused to stand and participate, so it somehow skipped him. First Lucas, then Abby, then their caretaker: mama. I feel as if I’ve been squeezed really hard, like a tube of toothpaste from the middle. You know it’s bad when you bring out the BUCKET. Unlike the kids, I had it everywhere. What’s worse, I had a fever, so my life consisted for a while of groaning and begging for a cold washcloth.
When I’m not sick, I’m on go. I’m not terribly affectionate, say, compared to my sister or certain touchy-feely friends, who navigate the world through touch. My sister Lea, on an ordinary day, wants you to touch her, pet her head, “love me.” I roll my eyes and do so reluctantly. Even as a little girl, if I didn’t snuggle her or pet her arm or head, she’d question my love for her. “You don’t love me,” she’d whine. My mother tells me that I wasn’t built that way—that I never wanted to be touched unless… I was sick. When I’m sick, I’m vulnerable and needy. And I consider this a gift.
“Phil,” I say, “You should really take advantage now.”
“What? I’m serious. Appreciate this needy side of me while she’s here.”
Phil hates my needy side. He refuses to massage my fevered aches and pains away, won’t give me back scratches. He’s anti-touch, whether or not I’m sick. This makes me feel sad and deeply deprived, especially when I’m sick. It really bothers me. Thankfully, sweet Lucas is the opposite.
“Mama, what can I do to make you feel better? Want me to scratch your back?” He’s the best! Before he leaves for school, he puts his cool hand on my forehead. He is heavenly. “I’ll take good care of you,” he says. And when he returns from school, he races straight to my room to see what he can do for me. Do I need more to drink, can he get me anything, am I ready for a back scratch or foot rub? Abigail, less so than Lucas, but still, wants to be loving, crawling up beside me to say, “I know how you feel.”
“I know you know,” I say, then growl. We both smile. She rubs my arm then puts her cool hand on my hot neck. I am so thankful for touch.
Before I fall asleep, Lucas drowns a washcloth in cool water, wrings it out, then spreads it across my back. It feels like relief. “Today I told my teachers that I was going to take care of you,” he says. “I told them that you have diarrhea.” And now, I want to die.
Nearing six in the morning, I beg Phil for liquids. Low-calorie Gatorade (7 carbs vs 22), specifically. While I’m desperate, I’d really prefer not to have sugar, but I need electrolytes in a big bad way. “Just call first so you don’t waste a trip,” I say. But he doesn’t. This is how he shows love, by going out half-asleep to try to find me low-carb Gatorade. He returns will full-sugar Gatorade. “They didn’t have it,” he says. And at this point, I don’t care. I’ll take what I can get.