Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Ill Health. Sick Children. Two Year Cycle. The Gory Details

Those with whom I speak on a regular basis will know that my children are always ill and I talk about this a great deal. I am increasingly aware that this has become a vague and often dull topic that makes me sound monotonous, whiny and repetitive. I am also fully aware that I garner very little sympathy with this one and yet I persist in drawing people's attention to it, especially when they enquirer how I have spent my time or how my weekend has been. Of course, all children get ill, but it is the extent to which they fall ill and the frequency that this occurs over a prolonged period that has drawn me into a low depression. Semantics and perception are everything, so for the sake of creating a reference point, let's go back a couple of years and run through a high level summary...

In April 2014 Liv was born. Broadly speaking we can regard the first couple of months as being free from sickness, although if you consider the usual lack of sleep associated with a new born baby, you'll understand that our general wellbeing was under par. Then from June she showed signs of severe milk intolerance which developed quickly and spanned several weeks of screaming, rashes, sleepless nights and general misery which was eventually solved by the help of a specialist dietician and (very expensive) prescription milk. By that stage she had also suffered from the vomiting Norovirus which I had also succumbed to twice in this period. That took us to the end of the summer by which time teething started (see separate article on that one). We then had an emergency trip to hospital with Em to check out a suspect rash (blood tests showed there was nothing to worry about after a full day in hospital). Our carrot was a holiday to Wales during half term and yet any respite that might have provided was dashed when Em, who had started at nursery that term (and with it was plunged into a cesspit of germs and bugs), threw up and had to go to the local doctors with tonsillitis. She started to pick up at the end of the week just as Liv fell ill...

The following month Em had to go to the emergency doctors with a fever and was back on antibiotics. That was just in time for Liv to have her accident and break her leg, spending a week in hospital and Christmas and New Year in plaster. I’m going to bypass the details of that particular incident for reasons that will be become apparent at a later date (we can’t do it justice in this post). When that came off, Em developed a cough. This was a dry cough that lingered, manifesting itself with particular venom at night. Intermittently between February and April, both girls showed signs of developing chicken pox without it actually confirming itself. The effect of this was that they were both alternatively under the weather with coughs and colds and it was all we could do to hold them together whilst we moved house.

New house new start? Not a bit of it. Em's cough continued at night, now having developed a machine gun style with the volume increasing to unbearable levels (not sufficient to wake her but of course enough to wake everyone else). My spirits were low, however I held the view that at least with the summer ahead they would get a period of "non-sickness" for their bodies to consolidate and rebuild their immunities. Once again, that very simple hope was extinguished very quickly for two reasons. Firstly, Em started swimming lessons and with it a new source of germs. Secondly they both (finally) contracted chicken pox and spent the summer sick, thus cancelling all the plans we had during my time off. I should add that I was also badly ill and ended up on antibiotics at the same time.

We reach a new school year. In September Em picked up an ear infection and had yet another prescription. The chronic cough continued. Liv's teething continued in an intermittent capacity, often disrupting our nights over 5 or 6 times. Em had a cold and fever after half term (I’ve lost count of the number now) and that followed a week where I'd had a shocking cold and had lost my voice as a result of severe laryngitis. In December she missed more days off school with a stomach bug (nicely shared with the rest of the household), which takes us up to Christmas 2015. 

Enough? Time for a break? Think again. On the back of her stomach bug, Em promptly fell ill over Christmas with a really bad virus that was borderline flu. By this stage we had been advised that the cough was likely to be linked to asthma, so she had inhalers at the ready. As Em got over her virus, Liv then fell ill with an ear infection that the doctors prescribed with antibiotics, having indicated it was a "bad one." Liv’s ear improved within a few days, Em went back to school and then contracted conjunctivitis. Just as that improved, it was passed to Liv, who now has a bad case and is yet again on antibiotics. To compound matters, they both have a cold and Em's cough is now worse than it's ever been. Imagine a canon going off throughout the night and you're somewhere there.

Before I offer any theories on this, let me explain why this has caused me severe despondency. Firstly, consider the lack of sleep with this continuing for such a prolonged period. The constant disruptions throughout the night for two years. The stress of worrying about either one of them. The disruption of taking them to the doctors and to the hospital so frequently. The fact that we have been ill throughout the same period. The disruption to schooling, to weekly routines, to any form of plans, fun and any other activities. 

When describing these matters, those without children cannot possibly understand the intensity of these sorts of problems as it is simply too abstract. Those who had children years ago either didn't experience such problems or cannot recall the detail. Those with one child cannot conceive how it is with two to deal with. And those with several children probably have few such issues with their offspring (as evidenced by the fact that they keep on having new children) and therefore don't understand the problem (or don't want to). 

The reality is that it is grim. It is relentless. It is bleak. It is all encompassing. It sucks the life out of the family unit and replaces hope and aspiration with bitterness and lethargy. Surviving on broken or no sleep for two years leads to some pretty horrible consequences – panic attacks, joint pain, stomach cramps and sickness. You also age horrendously. These are not things that are desired or savoured. Once negative experiences are overcome they are easily forgotten and life moves on; the issue here is more that they cannot be overcome. These children have had a raw deal with health and whilst it lasts it is hard to escape the fact that life exists within a bubble that seemingly cannot be burst – at least not during the height of winter.

In many ways, it is the problem with young children in a microcosm. There are those who have “angel babies” (a proper term by all accounts) who naturally assume that all children are like their own. Even angel babies cause a modicum of disruption to sleep and routines, just enough that is to allow their parents to smugly accept praise from those around them whilst offering unwanted advice on how “with a little spot of patience and encouragement” all parents can be as great and successful as them.

Oh fuck off you sanctimonious bastards! Get back off your pedestal and continue expanding your wonderfully functioning family. When you deal with anything remotely challenging or unresponsive them come back with that point of view...

You can tell it grates me. As I say, I’m unapologetic. My sympathy goes to my two girls and to all the others who can’t break the cycle of illness. To the rest, I couldn’t give a toss...

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Lego Through The Ages

The end of another Christmas. Another year over, a new one just begun, as someone once sung. Despite both children being really quite ill, I am now contemplating the end of the holiday with a sense of dark despondency and depression which means it must have been good in spite of the health issues. One thing is for sure - it was a hell of a lot better than last year, though that wasn't hard. 

As I sit here in the lounge, trying desperately not to allow the bleak mood to be further soured by the sudden absence of lights and decorations, I can at least reflect on quite an interesting array of presents - the sacks were full and frequent this year. Emilia has a remarkably traditional dolls house that I managed to construct earlier in December - complete with replacement parts. Olivia has a new set of toys for the playroom and they will both be in receipt of a new swing for the garden in a few weeks time. Alison has clothes, trainers, chocolates and money to spend, whilst I have some new kit for my guitar, an adults colouring book and my first present of Lego for well over twenty years. 

Lego, it must be said, has qualities that transcend time, space, generations, moods, themes and purpose. When I was five, I had knights and castles. When I was eight it was pirates and space. When I was ten it was an entire city with harbour and fire station (not to mention custom built chair lift and ski slope). The gap that then ensued was a mere chapter of dormancy because I only had to walk casually down one of aisles of Toys R Us during a quiet weekend at university and within minutes I had treated myself to a small jousting set. Several years later, I was bought a Star Wars model by a work colleague for one of the first Christmases at Welconstruct. Several more years later I found myself on an agile developers course (a theoretical approach to an efficient way of planning and managing web development for the uninitiated) and we arrived in a very expensive Belgium hotel to a room full of Lego; apparently the best resource for learning the ropes. At that stage I believe Emilia was two years old - probably a little too young to appreciate the brick, but around fifteen months ago whilst on holiday in Wales we bought her a small set - Lego friends, specifically designed for girls. Now aged five she has around half-a-dozen sets and genuinely enjoys playing with them. 

I've never been in the habit of trying to impose my interests on my daughters and am more than satisfied in helping Em with the harder sets without trying to convince her that she needs a full scale replica of Minus Tirith in her room. However, those around me and especially my wife have decided (almost certainly wisely) that I need Lego in my life. It  took a mere five minutes of playing with my new set of bricks and a cursory glance at the Christmas edition of "Inside Lego" for me to decide that I need to embrace Lego once more. I'm going to create a super castle. It might take me months, but it's fun and I love it. 

Pictures to follow in due course.