How the Stomach Flu Taught Me to Be Grateful

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Dear Parents of Critically Ill Children,

I’m sorry I didn’t get it. I just didn’t understand. 

I see your posts on social media. My heart aches with each return visit to the hospital or lengthy hospital stay. I read your words aloud to my husband and tell him how much I admire your family’s strength and fortitude.

In the midst of a move to another state, my son was struck by the stomach flu. The moving trucks had barely pulled off, and here I was in the trenches of my first experience with my toddler being sick. My son is about to be three. He’s had a common cold a couple of times, a cough that lingered, and some bumps and bruises but nothing that I didn’t feel in control of. I always said how blessed I felt that those had been the worse of it. I talked about how lucky I felt that we had dodged any significant viruses. That’s three years of good health when sometimes all that you ask for are a couple of good days strung together. I said the words, but I didn’t feel the true weight of how fortunate I really was.

And then it happened. In the snap of a finger my son and his boundless energy was a shell of his usual self. He writhed in pain, and he was barely recognizable in his suffering. I was thrown up on, changed sheets and blankets more times than I could count. We didn’t sleep. We were running on literally nothing. Of course, it was the weekend and just having moved we hadn’t even seen his new pediatrician yet so add uncertainty and anxiety into the mix. My heart lurched from my body each time he would look at me with those panic-stricken eyes right before he would get sick again.

I’ve never felt so helpless. 

I held him, bathed him, and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. Knowing there was next to nothing I could do except for comfort him and let this virus run its course. 

And then just two days later, we were at the zoo, and I felt like I could have walked on clouds with each smile and skip in his step. It was all over almost as soon as it had started and he was back to himself. That is when I thought of you. I thought of how hours roll into days and then days turn in to weeks. You pray for some healing and relief for your little one just as I did but all along I knew there was an end in sight. Healing was right around the corner seeing how most of these stomach bugs work themselves out in just a day or two. But you sit there learning new medical lingo or meeting new doctors each day. As soon as you see some light at the end of a tunnel, there is usually a new prognosis or setback that you handle with such grace. Always staying strong for your little one. At the time my only concern was his stomach flu. At the time it was the biggest mountain I had climbed but it is merely a pebble in what you face in your day to day. I didn’t have to worry about a medication he wasn’t able to keep down or if it would cause complications with a current condition he faced already. A cold in your household is not just a cold, the stomach flu is not just the stomach flu. 

I thought of you sitting there and wanting to do anything you could for your child and being able to do nothing but offer support and comfort. If you could take it away for them and on to yourself, I know you would just as I prayed for in those moments with my son. You’re their most prominent advocate and supporter, but a lot of it is just simply out of your hands. 

I was offered the tiniest glimpse of what you go through each day. A GLIMPSE. Consider it half of a step in what the marathon of your day is tending to your critically ill child. Your hero of a child.

I fell to my knees that night after spending a beautiful day in our new city with my healthy child. I thanked God for his health and healing. And then I prayed for you. I prayed for endurance and I prayed for some peace. I prayed for your child, I prayed for some comfort and solace. I prayed for healing. I promised myself to try to not take my son’s health (or mine for that matter) for granted like I had. How truly blessed I am to have a healthy child. And I know you wouldn’t want it any other way for me. But it is the ultimate dishonor to you and your child to not appreciate as many moments of his well-being as I can. 

I promise you, mom of a critically sick child, to make more of an effort to appreciate each healthy moment I have with my son.