My Thanksgiving sucked more than yours

Perhaps you had a rough Thanksgiving this year. Maybe you disagreed with your family over the outcome of the election, or you sat in slow-moving traffic for hours with whining children, or Aunt Brenda overcooked the damn turkey again.

Well guess what? My kids got hand, foot and frickin’ mouth disease (actual medical name: “hand, foot and f*&king mouth disease) and we spent the holiday in the hospital.

I’m not writing this to make you feel sorry for me. I did plenty of that while eating my Thanksgiving feast of Tic Tacs in the ER. If anyone deserves pity it’s my kids, who spent several days looking like syphilitic sailors from another century.

No, the point of sharing this is more along the lines of: ain’t life just a series of kicks to the nads? I mean, you either laugh or turn into a bitter, whiny jackass. I’m still laughing.

I’ve long held that my children are like used cars a week past their warranty: anything that can go wrong with them will. Over the years they’ve been treated by geneticists, neurologists, oncologists, gastrointestinal specialists, opthalmologists, ear, nose and throat specialists, developmental pediatricians, dermatologists and, of course, speech, physical and feeding therapists. They’ve been on the receiving end of MRIs, MIBG scans, and one colonoscopy, and had surgeries to remove adenoids and insert ear tubes.

The original purpose of this website was to rate the waiting rooms of pediatric specialists in the greater Charlotte area.

My poor daughter has endured the brunt of this medical treatment, and has a frightening knack of not only picking up every virus going around, but getting a monstrous version of it.

Most kids with hand, foot and mouth disease will develop spots and a mild temperature and recover over several days of rest and pushing fluids. My kid came down with a 104-degree fever, vomiting and tremors. She was admitted to the hospital and pumped full of IV fluids and acetaminophen to bring down her fever.

A doctor explained to me that some kids can develop encephalitis, even meningitis from this. Luckily, she didn’t.

Perhaps the hardest part of all this is that we weren’t at home. In a bid to bring some magic to my children’s lives, I took them for a short trip to Disney World. Although not a fan of the rides, they love meeting the characters and the general “Holy crap, it’s Disney World!” atmosphere of the park.

My husband stayed home to work. He says Disney World is fake and plastic-y and for some reason doesn’t like that. Missing out on the holiday is no biggie for him as he is British.

On Thanksgiving morning, my children were going strong in the parks, riding the carousel, exploring the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and hugging Ariel in her grotto, when quite suddenly my daughter ground to a halt. Usually energetic and talkative, she went quiet and lethargic and felt warm to the touch.

I took her to the first aid center in the Magic Kingdom, where the RNs on duty are well schooled in the art of Not Getting Sued. No doubt for liability reasons, they avoid treatment for anything other than scrapes, instead offering to arrange transportation to a hospital or delivery from a pharmacy, if “that’s what you want.”

As someone firmly in the “You’re the medical professional, tell me if I should be panicking” camp, it was frustrating, although I get it. After my daughter rested I opted to take her to the doctor and the rest is medical history.

That night was frightening and long. My son camped out with us in the hospital, as even though my parents were staying at our hotel, he didn’t want to be separated from me.

I finally drifted off to sleep sometime in the early morning, an arm resting on my daughter, the beeps from her monitors ringing in my ears. A few hours must have passed, because I awoke with a start to hear a tiny voice singing a song from the movie Trolls:

I’m not giving up today

There’s nothing getting in my way

And if you knock knock me over

I will get back up again

My daughter sat, hair sticking straight up, lips dry and peeling, looking at me. When she saw I was awake she grinned and croaked “Can I go swimming?”

She was discharged later that day. Her fever came back. We made it home to North Carolina the next day, and then my son came down with a fever. They’re both recovering nicely, pink spots like child acne dotting their faces.

I guess you could say we missed out on the holiday, although that’s no heartbreak for my kids since they hate eating and Thanksgiving is, for the most part, about food. It does leave me worried for the upcoming holiday.

See, all bad things come in threes and my daughter has a terrible track record. For Easter she got bronchitis. At Thanksgiving it was hand, foot and mouth disease. What’s next for Christmas? She’ll explode?

Hospital food kicks a**: and 4 other things I forgot about life on the children’s ward.

Charlie and I recently spent some time in the hospital, although it wasn’t for anything serious. The poor kid has a hair-trigger gag reflex, which means that the tiniest amount of post-nasal drip can cause her to start vomiting. (She even throws up in her sleep, which is both impressive and unsanitary. It’s like living with Janis Joplin.)

As a result, a little cold can land her in the hospital, as she becomes unable to keep any medicine or fluids down on her own. Last year she was hospitalized five times for colds, so we feel lucky she’s only needed one stay this year.

During her cancer treatments, we pretty much lived at the hospital. Each surgery or round of chemo meant a stay of several days to several weeks. We got to know most of the people who worked there and easily slipped into the rhythm and routine of the children’s ward whenever we were back.

What surprises me when return these days is not how familiar everything seems, but how much I have forgotten. You spend that amount of time in one place and you assume the details will be etched in your memory forever.

But I’m middle-aged and have the memory of a goldfish.

During our recent stay, I was reminded of the following aspects of hospital life:

1. The food is amazing.

Our hospital makes its own pizza and has a sushi bar. A friggin’ sushi bar. On the children’s floor, the staff stashes candy, ice cream and cookies to cheer up the tiny inmates.

If you can get past the fact your child is bedridden in a hospital, it’s kind of like being on a cruise.

2. Someone is always giving you stuff.

People feel really sorry for sick kids and are constantly donating stuff to the hospital to cheer them up.

Within five minutes of arriving last week, Charlie received a board game, a stuffed animal and an Irish Dancing Barbie:


I think this proves once and for all Barbie really has held every job in the world.

3. Pranks are good for morale.

Time really drags in the hospital, so it’s important to entertain yourself.

Sometimes when an earnest teenage volunteer stops by, I slurp apple juice from an (unused) urine specimen cup.

“Toddler pee!” I’ll say. “Great for the menopause.”

They are usually backing out the door before I can add, “Hey, where are my manners? Let me shake her u-bag and get you some.”

When passing a nurse at a computer station, I’ll say loudly, “Why are you looking at porn?”

They are never looking at porn. They aren’t even browsing eBay or checking Facebook. They are always, always, always immersed in the never-ending purgatory of onscreen paperwork known as patient charts.

Even so, most of them will freeze and then glance frantically at the screen, terrified that dosages and vital signs have somehow been instantaneously replaced by “”

Not only does this game pass the time, it guarantees the nurses will recommend my kid for early discharge. Score.

4. A little dose of perspective never hurts.

Sometimes, even if you’re only there for a short stay, hospital life can get you down.

When I start to feel sorry for myself, I always encounter someone who helps me get over it stat. (That’s hospital jargon for, “As soon as you finish those charts.”)

Last week it was the cheerful mom in the parents’ room who told me she and her son had been on the ward for eight months.

Nothing makes you suck it up faster than someone who has it worse but is bitching less.

And finally, I was reminded that:

5. People who work in hospitals are much stronger than I am.

During our time on the pediatric floor, I have witnessed doctors, nurses and nurse assistants get hit, kicked, spit on and yelled at.

And that’s just by the parents.

Understandably, not everyone is at their best when their child is ill, and the staff bears the brunt of this anguish with admirable calm.

What I find more astounding than their composure is how they continue to open themselves up emotionally on the job.

Occasionally on the children’s ward, you will hear the keening of a mother whose child has just passed away. There are no words for the agony and sorrow expressed in those cries.

It doesn’t surprise me that nurses and doctors also weep during these times, although it’s touching to know that they care.

What is more incredible is how the next day they will celebrate with a family who has just received good news. They don’t let the difficulties of their job shut them off from joy any more than they do from pain.

It takes an remarkably strong person to do that day in and day out, and the hospital halls are crawling with them.

And not one of them is looking at porn on the job. I swear.