School had been in session here going on six weeks now. Plenty of time to spread those germs around. It happens every year…the change in weather, the sniffly noses and coughs next to classmates, hundreds of hands touching doors and fountains…only a matter of time before our school kids come down with their first illness of the season. Except, for those kids with sensory issues, being sick is extra difficult.
We got a call mid-morning yesterday from the nurse at J.’s school. He had a fever and headache and needed to be picked up. Our first thoughts were along the lines of – Ohh that might explain his edgy mood and difficult behavior the last few days. I had sent J. to school that morning thinking that his snarky comments and impulsiveness would likely get his choice card sent home, but instead we got the call that he was sick. When there is extra stress on J.’s senses, his ability to function goes down a little more.
There was a miscommunication on the phone with the nurse and we were under the impression that J. had a very high fever. It was, in fact, not as severe as we had thought. He was a little mopey, but handling not feeling well surprisingly well, considering past experience (more on that in a minute). A dose of Tylenol, a nest of pillows, blankets, and loveys on the couch, and some cartoons…he seemed good. He ate his packed school lunch with decent appetite and rested.
After awhile though, it was evident he was feeling much worse. He was complaining of his eyes, head, and throat hurting and whining more. By that time, little brothers were home from preschool and being loud and silly. J. actually asked to go rest in his room where it would be quieter. That was a first. I coaxed him to sleep with massage and back rubs and he took a nap. A second surprise. He woke up every now and then and whined and whimpered and was quite pitiful. The fever had increased. He didn’t want to be alone and kept crawling into Daddy’s office and curling up on the floor. More Tylenol. J. came down to the couch to eat a few popsicles, but said his eyes and head hurt too much to watch TV or be in the lights, so he went back to his bed. I made him toast and Daddy took his dinner plate up and ate with J.
About the time that younger brothers were getting put to bed, J. was crying and calling out. He was very hot with fever and kept saying Oww. OW! My hands! My hands huuurt. They’re so hot. And my EYES! He could not tolerate any lights being on. Even the dim night light had to be unplugged from the wall socket. He couldn’t open his eyes for very long and kept calling out Mommy! Daddy!? Where are you?? We put a cool cloth over his face and I stayed with him to try to calm him down. He felt dizzy and that sensation was scary to him. He felt queasy, but barely had the strength to sit up with a garbage can. Lots of shush’ing and massage and back rubs eased him back to sleep for awhile.
We made it through the night without too much trouble. J. woke up early and grumpy, with only a very mild fever, but still lots of aches and a sore throat. School policy is to keep them home until they are fever-free without Tylenol for twenty-four hours, so J. was home from school the next day. This change in routine was not without its own challenges. If J. was bored or sleepy or unsure of what to do, he became agitated and more moody. We called the pediatrician to rule out strep throat (which was ruled out), but that was a whole other level of stress – being in a waiting room, waiting for the doctor to come, getting poked and prodded, cursing and clamping his lips shut in protest of the strep test, testing limits with aggression or being silly due to nervousness.
There is a comedic skit out there called “The Man Cold,” that was shared with me several years ago. Perhaps you are familiar. If not, it’s on YouTube. I remember this video being shared around among my Mommy Friends, and eventually, when one of the children in the group was incessantly whiny and grumpy and having the worst time of their little lives due to a stuffy nose or a cough, we said that particular home was victim of “The Man Cold, Jr.” Callous, perhaps, but moms in the trenches need some humor now and then to cope, when they are at their wits end.
When J. was a toddler and preschooler, our home definitely suffered from Man Cold Jr.’s. J. was the most miserable little thing to try to take care of when he was sick. Someone would say Oh bless his heart, the poor thing! It’s so hard when they’re sick,but at the same time I love being able to get those extra snuggles in! Hmm. Is that what it’s like in a normal house? Because my child is an absolute bear when he’s sick. There’s no snuggling. No tender moments. It’s just exhausting and you try to survive it. Now, post-diagnosis, we can understand why it’s such a trial to help J. get through a cold or other similar illness.
We can work our way from symptoms up to various medicines, the smell and taste of which is unbearable to a child with food issues. Getting each dose of Tylenol or Benedryl down that throat is akin to making a cat swallow a pill. You can forget even trying the cough syrup, because that will just be spewed out in your face or thrown across the room. And I will never forget the horror of having to put ointment in J.’s eyes, three times a day, when he had pink eye in preschool.
So here we were again on the brink of cold/flu season, with J’s first virus of the school year. We tried a warm bath after dinner, but that turned into a freak-out over “dust in the water!?!?” and being rinsed and towel-dried led to Mommy getting screamed at and punched. OK then. Relaxing bath = big, fat, backfire. He stubbornly resisted having a thermometer in his mouth for one minute to get a temperature reading, because when it’s there he “can’t swallow spit!!!” He equally fought against taking more doses of medicines that would keep his fever down and help his runny nose. Since the fever is hanging around off and on, J. was home again from school the next day.
I’m going to be honest here. I was dreading it. As I dread every other time he is sick, and especially sick enough to be home from school. I would love more than anything to be able to nurse him gently through his symptoms. I wish I had those tender, snuggly moments of soothing my child who doesn’t feel well. With J. that’s an ideal of motherhood I have to let go of.
I wonder if all sensory kids are this way?