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We live in virus hell

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The first positive coronavirus test in our household was on October 26, and at first we were fools who thought it might be too fast – my husband was quarantined in the basement; maybe the rest of us would be spared. Five days later, I tested positive. Then our preschooler did. Then our toddler was diagnosed with RSV, which turned into a terrible cough, which turned out to be pneumonia.

After 20 days trapped together at home, during which time my kids started referring to their Pedialyte popsicles as “popsicles” because they’d watched 4,000 episodes of “Peppa Pig”, my son has finally returned to preschool. He lasted two whole days before contracting a new virus, this one accompanied by the sudden appearance of horrible red marks all over his body, which sent him to the emergency room just before midnight. In three weeks, we had gone from bad to worse to biblical.

Wasn’t this year supposed to be better? (Or was it just something we told ourselves as we limped towards the fading mirage of normalcy?) Instead, the onslaught of viruses this fall has been so monstrous and relentless that it seems like every parent I know – friends, co-workers, neighbors, everybody – has a story say. These are not good stories. They are stories told in a distinctly tired but frantic tone, and they always feature specific, memorized numbers: the precise degree of a fever, the count of days of school and work missed, the frequency of visits to the pediatrician or emergency care. or the emergency room.

“I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old who started kindergarten and third grade, respectively, the first week of September,” says Alexis McGrath of Parsippany, NJ, who described her experience. family by email. “Since then, there has literally not been a single week where at least two of us have not been sick at home.” So far, the siege has endured three upper respiratory infections, numerous high fevers, relentless congestion and two confirmed cases of conjunctivitis, she says. “I. A M. SO. TIRED.”

Kate Kearns wrote to me from her bed, where she was struggling through the seventh day of the flu: “My 3 year old is napping next to me, beaming with a temperature of 102 and moaning softly,” says- she. “We’ve only had two or three weeks since the beginning of September where both kids were actually in school/preschool for the whole week.”

“Last week was Langston’s first full week of school in November,” said Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge, who lives in Delaware with her husband and their 7-year-old son, who came home from school with the flu a few weeks ago. from. “It took 24 hours and three pharmacies to find his antibiotic.”

“I’ve been to the office maybe 10 times in the last two months — only twice in November,” Kelly Trout from McLean, Va., told me. Her family of four, including a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, have been sick almost non-stop since October 4; her daughter came home from school the week after Thanksgiving with a fever of 102 degrees and tested positive for the flu. Trout says she felt resigned: “I’m pretty sure we all have it.”

What’s happening to us? If, like me, you’ve scoured the internet through bloodshot eyeballs while listening all night to your child’s harsh cough, you already know that the information available isn’t entirely clear or particularly reassuring. This year’s ‘triple epidemic’ – the dreaded collision of covid, RSV and influenza – is unprecedented in recent history, its origins mysterious, possibly attributed to ‘immune debt’ or ‘interference viral” or how the masses have changed their behavior through the course of the pandemic.

Whatever the precise convergence of causes, the result is a full-fledged public health crisis and the worst flu season in more than a decade. Hospitals are overwhelmed, antibiotics and fever medication are in short supply, and parents – who have already been running around with fumes for literal years – have been reduced to tears and torrents of texted curses at 3 a.m. morning as another thermometer read confirms yet another fever. My dear friend and I once texted about weekend plans; now our discussions look like the end of time:

After my son had welts, I took him to the pediatrician for his fourth visit in three weeks. The nurse said to me, in a vaguely haunted voice: “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. I have never, never seen a fall like this. It didn’t make me feel any better, exactly, because no one wants to experience the Redux of the Middle Ages, but it did help me take it less personally – to know that ours wasn’t the only family slaughtered by an incessant barrage of plagues, that this was not an indictment of our personal hygiene or a sign that we had been cursed by a witch.

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Lexa Lemieux, a mother from Bethesda, Md., told me she had similar somber thoughts when she gathered with friends and family at a lakeside home over Thanksgiving. Her family had recently recovered from covid, but took her runny-nosed 4-year-old daughter to the pediatrician before the holidays just in case, wanting to be sure she was not a risk to their baby. friend. Everything seemed fine at first, but then: “We all started dropping like flies,” says Lemieux. “Everyone was coughing. Several of us were vomiting. The baby was screaming all night. A friend of mine completely missed Thanksgiving dinner. My mother, who had come to join us for a few days in our holiday home, fell ill immediately. The trip was dubbed Thanksgiving of the Damned. We started wondering if the house was located at the gate of hell.

Dealing with back-to-back infections is extremely stressful and exhausting at best; at worst, especially for parents of medically vulnerable children or those without the privilege of a flexible workplace, it’s downright terrifying. Meanwhile, even amidst tripledemics, babies and preschoolers are still plagued by the usual repulsive miseries: impetigo; hands, feet and mouth; lice; roseola – a litany of ailments that look and feel like they belong in a Dickensian orphanage. Add to that mess the horror of not knowing if you’ll actually be able to get your hands on children’s Tylenol, Motrin, or Amoxicillin, and of course the parents go wild.

When, we beg of you, can we take a break?

Kearns points out that the old rules don’t seem to apply: before that, you could usually count on a few weeks (or at least days) good health between illnesses; it seemed possible to discern whether a child was coughing because of a new bug or a persistent bug. “Now it’s constant,” Kearns says. ” It’s exactly [expletive] imbalance. When Lemieux was squatting in the bathroom, violently ill at the onset of her flu, she said she shouted out loud to no one: “BUT WE JUST HAD COVID!”

Despite this chaos, there is still work to do, children to raise, the relentless demands of daily life. Parenting means constantly looking for the upside, and so far I’ve identified two: 1. Sick children can be atypically calm and cozy, which is nice if they’re not. too repugnant; and 2. If society collapses and the resurrection of art and culture depends entirely on the memories of “Fahrenheit 451” style vagabonds who have memorized certain works, I’m all set to dictate “Encanto” frame for frame.

Now, winter vacation is right around the corner, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that everyone start masking up again, and people keep telling Lemieux, “At least you’ve had it all.” it before Christmas! It’s supposed to be optimism, but she hears it as an ominous foreshadowing: “I immediately want to knock on wood and light some sage.”

His words reminded me that my sister-in-law had actually given me a bunch of sage, as half a joke, after our recent bout of illness. I thought about how my son started coughing again this week and looked at the sage. Why not, I thought, and set it on fire, and waved it around. And then I inhaled the smoke and started coughing. And kept coughing. It’s been an hour, and I’m still coughing, but it’s just sage. It’s sage, right?

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