It can be tough going when you’re up all night nursing a sick child.
My daughter and I are recovering from a nasty episode of chicken pox. I was at school to collect her brother when a teacher asked me how my daughter was. “She’s very tired and weak, after three nights with almost no sleep at all” I said. “You must be exhausted too” was the teacher’s reply.
I blurted out “yeh I feel like I have jet-lag. All the tiredness and confusion of a long haul flight but no holiday to show for it!”.
Several parents and teachers within earshot were commenting that this was a very good way to describe that feeling of disorientation you experience having been awake for several nights in a row taking care of a sick child. Slight delirium and fatigue, wanting to eat the wrong things at the wrong time, and very irritable.
It’s on days like this that you find the remote control in the fridge. And if, like me you have another child to take to school and complete homework with, you just have to get on with it.
When it comes to parenting sick children I’ve always been a single parent. After many years of ear infections, throat infections, swine flu, asthma, chest infections, chicken pox (twice now and done and dusted thanks be to God!) I finally have a strategy.
Six Tips to survive Mammy jet-lag
1. Just accept it. Don’t get frustrated. Try not to let the tiredness make you cranky with yourself or your child. This will not last.
2. Make life easy. Frozen pizza for dinner, housework and laundry can wait. Go easy on yourself, tiredness is a form of torture. You are fragile.
3. Prepare. Stock up on all the medicines your child might need over the next few days.
Before bed put the thermometer, measuring spoons, dosing syringes and all bottles of medicines you will need on a tray. Carry to the bedroom and have everything handy. You do not want to be searching in presses and kitchen shelves at 3am.
Have the number of a nurse or doctor on-call to hand. JUST IN CASE. Even if you never need to make that call, you will feel better knowing that the number is ready and you won’t be rooting around looking for it during the night in a blind panic.
4. Use Frozen treats. Have ice–cream and/or some frozen ice-pops in your freezer. When you’ve given the maximum doses of ibuprofen and paracetamol and your child’s temperature is still high a cold treat will speed up the cooling down process no end. These treats also help to keep your child hydrated during their illness. Especially useful at night when you want to get that temperature down asap so you can both go back to sleep.
5. Soothe your child. Whether it’s an ear infection or chicken pox, your child is probably not dying but may well feel like they are. High temperatures often come with all-over aches and pains and a general feeling of the utmost misery. This is not a situation that your child can fully understand. He/she is depending on you to be calm and in control.
In the dark of night, it can be lonely taking care of a sick child and perspective can be hard to find, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Children and babies are incredibly sensitive to parental stress. Soothe your child by acknowledging how awful they feel but at the same time reminding them that they will be betterif your baby doesn’t understand the words you are using he/she will be reassured by your calm tone of voice.
Just imagine yourself turning up at the emergency room of a hospital with a wound. You’re scared, sore and unsure of what is happening. Now imagine a doctor arrives at your bedside. He/she is very obviously panicked by your condition and seems unsure what to do. This behaviour just makes you feel a whole lot worse about your own circumstances.
Remember in your child’s eyes, you’re the doctor, the nurse and the surgeon. Try to stay calm, your reaction to the situation will affect your child’s reaction.
6. Snuggle. Chances are your child will be too tired to do much during the day. Try to relax with your child, snuggle up on the couch and watch movies together, you never know you may even get a nap together!
By Dr Joyce Rubotham
Dr Joyce Rubotham is a molecular biologist, Mother and blogger. She is currently a director of and volunteer with the national children’s charity, Children In Hospital Ireland