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Under the Weather
We’ve had a bit of a time of it lately - health wise. Thinking back, I wonder when was the last time we were all (and by all, I only mean the three of us) in full health. It was probably Christmas. For one reason or another, January, February and what little we’ve seen so far of March, have taken our immune systems to the cleaners. It’s not that we’ve all been sick with the same thing at the same time, either. Every time one of us recovers, someone else is taken out by something slightly different.
I think Jasper has fared the worst - he’s the only one who has needed antibiotics. He’s had several days off school, many of which were spent lying on the sofa watching Teletubbies or being pushed around the garden in his buggy like a cantankerous old patriarch barking orders at his minder (most often Seema, sometimes me, and on occasion, Dylan.) He has been to the doctor three times, and each time has been given a minimum of four different remedies, all of which he refuses to take. The higher his fever, the more vehement his resistance to modern medicine. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting in the bathroom at 3am trying to convince a two-year-old that if he takes some paracetamol solution, not only will this benefit him physically - reducing his fever and his stuffiness and enabling him to sleep - but it will also benefit him emotionally if his parents are sufficiently well-rested to tolerate his non-stop whining. I have tried bribery. I have tried trickery. I have tried gentle coaxing. I have tried leading by example. I have tried reverse psychology. I have tried leaving it with him in the hope that he’ll come round in his own time after a few contemplative minutes alone in the bathroom. He never does, and I find sticky patches on floors, doors, clothes and body parts for days after. As a last resort I have tried force - which went very badly and more came out than went in.
The first time Jasper got really sick in this recent run of things, he attached himself to Dylan like a limpet. I think it was probably because of how hard I was trying to ‘encourage’ him to take his medicines, or maybe it was because he doesn’t see as much of Dylan, but whatever the reason, the result was Dylan and Jasper stuck to the sofa from 9pm to 3am one night, while Jasper refused to come and sleep in our bed, or to go to his bed, or to take his medicine to bring down his 39.9/ 103 degree fever. I lay there in the other room, banished, but listening to Jasper coughing and Dylan grunting in discomfort for several hours before Dylan finally coaxed Jasper into our bed, and we all grabbed the two hours sleep we would fuel ourselves with the next day. With Jasper’s fevers come stress dreams - his worries tumble out of him in clear, agitated sentences as he tosses and turns and kicks me in the face. What I have learned from listening to him cry out with fear is that under everything good in his life, he harbours deep anxieties about people stealing his food.
After this particularly bad night Jasper skipped school and we headed to the doctor while Dylan floated through his work day. The doctor described Jasper as a “very sick-looking baby”, and I’ll admit, he was being kind. Jasper looked dreadful - drunken-eyed, rosy-cheeked and shaky. He barely even resisted the finger-prick blood test, he was so out of it. The one thing he was able to communicate was that he needed cheese puffs: unnaturally orange balls of dusty puffed corn which are seemingly all he has appetite for when he’s under the weather. Our cream carpet and white walls fear his bouts of illness as much as my sleep-deprived brain does.
Every time we visit, the doctor seems to chalk it up to ‘a viral’. A viral what, exactly, I am not sure. But everyone talks about ‘having a viral’ here, so I go along with it. The antibiotics he was given (and which I managed to convince him was a special kind of juice for a few days) were to avoid a viral turning into a bacterial, which we think was a successful evasive plan. After a few days on the sofa, Jasper was well enough to return to school and just in time for the dress rehearsal for his school concert. We needn’t have worried about him making it to that practice, it turns out. Jasper had his own idea of how to perform on the day and it didn’t involve any of the carefully choreographed hand actions that his class had been working on for months.
High off his stage debut and with a four day mid-term holiday ahead of him (and undoubtedly bolstered by his antibiotics) Jasper then watched as Dylan was taken out by a fever, a tidal wave of snot and a deep, barking cough that could be heard from a good few hundred metres away. Dylan blamed Jasper, of course, but he could just as easily have brought it home from work. If there is one thing I am not, in this family, it’s the leaky bucket as far as our herd immunity is concerned. This has nothing to do with my own superior health and wellbeing, and more to do with my complete lack of interaction with anyone outside our compound. While I see only the same handful of mums, nannies and children every day, Jasper doubles his chances of catching something by heading off to school each morning and Dylan does the same by sharing air with his team at the office.
That said, just as Dylan was returning to his human form after his own attack of a ‘viral’ I fell under the spell of what a neurologist has diagnosed as a two week migraine. After an initial aura migraine one weekend (one severe enough to prevent me from forming recognisable words for half an hour or so), I spent the following fortnight reeling from the pounding in my head every time I changed level which is something that’s difficult to avoid when you are ruled by a two-year-old toddling tyrant who requires you to go from lying on the floor, to kneeling, to being a horse, to standing, to sitting, to kneeling, to being a horse again and back to lying (so he can inspect your back - an odd obsession at the moment) seven thousand times a day. I was so sensitive to light that I had to do the washing up wearing sunglasses for fear of a sun ray catching the tap at the wrong angle and sending me running to a dark, quiet room for several hours. I set all my device screens to their darkest settings and avoided looking at anything shiny. I even dug out an old pair of glasses to check if my eyesight had inexplicably and suddenly deteriorated. In two weeks of staring at the floor (but not a tiled floor) and living like a mole, I almost forgot what it was like to feel complete and functional as a person, let alone as a mother or a wife. And then I went to a neurologist.
I don’t like being told by someone, no matter how medically qualified they are, that migraine management requires ‘lifestyle changes’. It’s not that I don’t agree, it’s just that there aren’t all that many changes left to make given that I know my triggers to be ‘stress’ (which roughly translates as overthinking things which have not gone my way) and ‘excessive sport’ (which I have most certainly not done any of lately given the sickly nature of our family unit). I can avoid the sport, but I can’t avoid the loosely defined concept of ‘stress’. I can’t stop my brain from working overtime, and I can never be quite sure which of the many minor worries is the straw that breaks my proverbial brain-camel’s back. It could be Jasper’s never-ending parade of virals, it could be my part time job (doing marketing for a hedge fund in Singapore which I am very much enjoying), it could be launching into a marketing plan for my book which I have almost completed (more on that soon!), or it could be the fact that I haven’t had time to go for so much as a jog for over a month because of all of the above. I find myself answering the question ‘how is your sleep?’ a lot here. I tell the acupressurist, the physio-slash-chiro, the doctor and even the health insurance provider that I go to sleep early (by Indian standards at least) but that I sleep with one ear open because I have a sickly toddler. Again, not much I can do about that from a lifestyle perspective.
The neurologist’s plan is to check that I haven’t, in what I think were his words, ‘had a small stroke’, given my loss of speech during my latest migraine, and the lingering headaches afterwards. My MRI should have been last week, but the hospital called to say the machine had broken, so now it is tomorrow. And once they rule out a minor stroke, I assume I’ll be called back into the neurologist's office to discuss some changes to my lifestyle. The same lifestyle which this week sees me sleep deprived having been up half the night with a feverish Jasper whose latest visit to the doctor this morning revealed that he now has an adenovirus. This has caused boils on his throat that are making it painful for him to eat. I feel especially sorry for my back-up dinner offering last night, after he turned down mexican chicken wraps. He told his nanny this morning that ‘vegemite makes my mouth hurt’.
Adenovirus aside, which the Indian news tells me is very much a nationwide issue, the people of Mumbai have their theories on why everyone here keeps getting sick and why collectively, nobody is able to shake anything fully. Some people believe we are all still COVID-weak. Others blame the change in the weather (something I have never been able to get on board with because in these Asian countries it’s not as though there are dramatic swings in weather. The heat creeps up slowly and steadily until you suddenly realise you are the same temperature inside your body and out). But the prevailing theory relates to the Air Quality Index (AQI). Worryingly, Mumbai was rumoured to have overtaken Delhi last week as the most polluted city in India, and unsurprisingly, India doesn’t score well against its global peers for air quality anyway. Despite the fact that we can see the Arabian Sea from our apartment, and that there is a middling to strong breeze across the football field every night, it lurks in the back of my mind that we might all be doing better if we wore masks. Or moved to the countryside, but that’s a lifestyle change that we are not in a position to make just yet.
For now, we will have to take comfort in the fact that in a little over a month for Jasper and I, and in a little less than three months for Dylan, we will all be breathing in big, fresh gulps of virus-free sea air in Jersey.
Photo: One morning I dragged Jasper our for an author photo shoot where, little champion that he is, he did is absolute best to look chipper even though he was headed for another full day on the sofa afterwards.