The Sick Cycle

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I suppose every kid and parent goes through the Sick Cycle: A series of complaints and decisions woven into an intricate tangled ritual between patient and caregiver.

Phase One: Onset. Before the full-fledged fever comes on or the cough sounds horrific, the child will make subtle remarks about how he feels cold or how his head hurts. But because there are no overt, measurable symptoms, the parent administers a bit of Tylenol and calls it good. After all, they’ve both got busy days ahead of them.

Phase Two: Usually phase two likes to make a dramatic entrance in the middle of the night. The fever spikes, the cough has disgusting depth, and the parent becomes racked with guilt for not having taken the concerns of phase one seriously.

Phase Three: The patient honeymoon phase. Still stricken with guilt the parent rushes out to buy more medicine, juice, ginger ale, ice pops, rent movies, etc…Nothing is too good for her ailing invalid who is barely able to sit up and take nourishment. Poor baby. This may last for days.

Phase Four: Not well enough for school just yet, but not sick enough for yet another full day of “the honeymoon phase.” The patient walks, talks, eats, and sasses. He’s well enough for certain activities (say teasing and picking fights with his siblings, for a non-specific example) but far too weak for others (i.e., his homework assignments.) The fever has abated but the coughing continues…but it too is starting to sound a bit strained, suspicious even.

But because doses of Children’s Advil and cough syrup still deluge his tiny system, the parent is unsure whether his robust outbursts are the drugs talking. So she waits, the guilt of phase two still fresh in her mind.

(Dear reader, I have tried to bypass phase four before. You know, be tough. But it inevitably results in an embarrassing phone call from the school nurse around 10am.)

Then, finally, phase five: A new day. The patient showers and the sheets get washed. The patient has grown increasingly uneasy about all the work he’s missed at school and he longs to see his friends again. His white blood cells have done their duty. He wants to play in his soccer game and enjoy the sunshine, the last dregs of his cough be darned. He can’t stand the idea of being cooped up for one more day, and frankly, neither can the parent. Freedom at last for all!

So what’s the cycle part? Well, as the parent rears in her starting gate, ready to take on a new day and conquer a new to-do list, imbued with a new energy, another one of her children tugs on her sweater and whispers demurely,

“I feel cold. My head hurts.”

Hmmm, no fever. No swollen glands….

“Let’s just get you some Tylenol, sweetheart, and get you buckled up in the car. We’ve got a busy day ahead of us!”

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