Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Four

It has been a terrifying time for Sissy. While recovering from the last in a long series of crying jags, she stares at the computer screen. The power is on and she should be thankful. The few times she has heard the phone ring, she has simply been too busy, too tired, or too scared to answer it. She is able to get her server to respond and after a desultory perusal of her email, she realizes that she needs to do something to let people know what has been happening. She has already spoken with her parents, but knows that there are people that she needs to let know why she hasn’t been responding to their emails and phone calls.

She isn’t sure exactly what she will write, but knows that it will probably help her to get things off her chest. She doesn’t have anyone that she can talk to around here. God, to have been so careful and to still have this happen. She isn’t even sure what "this" is yet, just that it has been as bad as anything she has ever faced in her whole life.

Dear Everyone,

I can tell by the size of my inbox that all of y’all have been worried ‘cause you haven’t heard from us. I’m just too tired to answer all of the emails right now so I hope you don’t mind getting a group reply. As soon as I can I’ll answer each of you individually.

I just finished talking with Mom and Dad, letting them know what’s been wrong. They want to come down but I think the worst is passed and there really isn’t any good, safe way for them to get here anyway. I wouldn’t even know if they could get passed some of the security checkpoints on the I75. I’m sorry, but this may come out kind of long and rambling. Forgive me.

A little over two weeks ago I noticed Scott was just really tired. It was at the end of a day when he had gone to the apartments so I put it down to that. I sent everyone to bed early, even though the power was on ‘cause no one seemed quite themselves. The days when Scott goes to the properties are hard on everyone. Normally when the power is on we try to stay up and play a game or watch a video. Everyone was kind of listless and grumpy anyway. I figured it wouldn’t hurt any of us to get some extra sleep; we had been working so hard. I had the pressure canner going so had to be up a couple more hours.

I had just finished cleaning the last utensil and drying out the canner when Scott came out of the bedroom looking really bad.

He was running a sky-high temp. I got him some Tylenol, made him drink some Gatorade even though he hates the stuff and made him as comfortable as I could. I guess I had been so busy getting him taken care of that I hadn’t started thinking the obvious yet. He certainly didn’t seem to be thinking straight either.

I cleaned up, got myself ready for bed, and was checking all the doors and windows for the last time. I walked into James’ bedroom and found him awake. I told him he should have been asleep because tomorrow was a school day. In barely a whisper he tells me he doesn’t feel good. Sure enough he is running a temperature too. About then Johnnie starts crying. I run to keep him from waking Scott and he too is running a temperature.

At that point I felt the first, sharp prickles of fear.

I spent the remainder of the night trying to get my three guys’ fevers down. I noticed that as the sky lightened that the girls were all sleeping later than normal; we had all gotten into the habit of waking at dawn. At first I was grateful as I’m too focused on the toddler whose fever had started to spike. But then I started to worry. This wasn’t right. Surely one of them would have been up by now. I then run to their rooms. I find Sarah trying to take care of Bekah who was quietly crying . . . and running a temperature. The eleven-year-old seems OK, but Rose is very, very hot and lethargic and barely responding to my efforts to wake her up.

I would have sent Sarah to another room, but I figured whatever it is, she has already been exposed. So had I. I still refused to think the obvious.

About then it seems they all started vomiting. I was running around like crazy with buckets and rags. I had to switch to diaper wipes after a while. Sarah started to get really freaked at this point so I tell her that if she wants to help that she can make up some of the powdered Gatorade that we have. I also pull out my recipes for homemade ORS (oral re-hydration solution, that stuff that I showed some of you how to make at the family reunion) and all the ingredients for it in case we need them later.

The vomiting seemed to go on forever. For the rest of that day and night I was running from person to person trying to stay calm. I’d spend a minute spooning some ORS down this person’s throat, then I’d run to that person and do the same. I was sponging everyone down as I went. Then the diarrhea set in.

Eventually, the vomiting started letting up, but they were still heaving. Their fevers, however, weren’t letting up. And then Sarah got sick. They were so miserable and there wasn’t much I could do to make them feel better. I just wanted to stop time so I could sit down and cry. I was so tired and I felt so nasty dirty from taking care of six people whom had been vomiting and having diarrhea non-stop. I tried not to think what would happen if I came down sick as well.

This was one of my worst nightmares come true.

I was going on 48 hours without sleep. I found I had to work smarter. I threw several plastic shower liners on the floor in my bedroom then I would move one person and their mattress. Luckily I keep everyone’s mattresses already covered with a plastic liner or it would have been a disaster. I sprayed the pillows down with Lysol really well and then put a plastic cover over them. I wish I had thought to put plastic liners on their pillows sooner. I don’t know if I’ll be able to salvage all of them.

Then I put my "sick room" plans into effect. I put flat sheet, plastic sheet, flat sheet, plastic sheet until I had about five of each on each mattress. Hubby was the most difficult to move. He was really, really out of it. It wasn’t easy to move the kids either, but I managed to drag them into my bedroom by putting them on a comforter. Our master bedroom became my "hospital ward."

I also pulled out the tub of stuff that I had set aside for just this purpose. Why I hadn’t thought of it before that point is a mystery. All I can think of is that I was running on autopilot trying to not think too much at all.

Between sweat, vomit, and other bodily fluids things were starting to get rank so I opened up one of the heavy duty air fresheners from my supplies. I also started sprinkling everyone with cornstarch and unscented talcum powder.

Around the third day there was a pounding on the front door. Turns out the Public Health people had come by to check on families that were quarantined three streets over from us and someone had told them that Barry’s family was down sick. That had eventually led them to our house.

The bedside manners of these people really, really stunk. After nearly 72 hours without sleep I was in absolutely no mood for anything. And I was scared to death they were going to take my family off someplace and I wouldn’t be able to come or to find them. I was ready for a fight. They had on those space suits and they were scary as hell, pardon my language. But they were.

"Where are they?"

"Just who the heck do you think you …," and they just pushed me out of the way and proceeded to do some kind of swab test on each of my family. The baby would have been screaming if he hadn’t been so out of it. As it was they set nearly everyone but Scott to crying. Hubby was unconscious the whole time. That really frightened me ‘cause y’all know what he is like.

They took their samples to the counter and did some kind of chemical thing with them. I can’t imagine that you can get any kind of real test done that quickly but apparently they could do something. Either that or they were playing with my head. I could believe anything anymore.

"Its not showing positive signs for panflu." That’s when they started standing down a bit.

To be honest I nearly fell down. I hadn’t yet admitted it to myself but that is what I thought was happening. I’m still not sure.

"There is a virulent virus going around."

"No kidding," I said.

Ignoring my sarcasm, "Are you aware that your husband’s co-worker has a son who is a Sheriff?" After my affirmative nod he said, "Most of the substation where he works has been down with it. He probably transferred it to his father’s family who then gave it to your husband, so on and so forth. There are a few other households on this street that appear to be suffering from it as well, though not as many as we expected."

I said, "This can’t be norovirus. We’ve had that before and though we were as bad sick as this, at least a couple of us had started to get better by now."

"We aren’t certain what this virus is at the moment but it is virulent and mimics some of the symptoms of Norovirus. The only thing you can do is keep your family hydrated and comfortable. Watch for symptoms of upper respiratory involvement and do your best to deal with it the virus begins to manifest itself in that way."

They proceeded to give me information and advice that I was (1) already aware of and (2) already doing. They didn’t offer to help. They didn’t offer any medication to help alleviate symptoms. They just talked. I just wanted them out of my house so I could have a good cry in peace.

They could leave. I still had my family to take care of.

After five days, James started getting better. Then the girls, one-by-one, started to be able to keep down some broth. Finally, after a little over a week Scott and Johnnie started to keep down something besides ORS.

It’s been two weeks since they started to turn the corner. Everyone has lost a lot of weigh; even me. They’ve been sleeping quite a bit, I haven’t really been sleeping except in catnaps. Besides the actual taking care of them part, I’m still too freaked. I keep startling myself awake and running to check on each one. I catch myself constantly checking the doors and windows.

Chores haven’t stopped either. The power has gone up and down as usual which means that I’ve been trying to keep all of our water containers full. I was forced to use a lot of our stored water while everyone had the fevers. On the days that the power is on I try and get them into a bath or shower if they are able to stand. I’ve had to take care of all the laundry that piled up the best way I could . . . and there is still a ton left to do. I just can only do it when the power is on as I’m too tired to manage it otherwise. The house is just plain gross. Thank God that I prepped all of that soup and made those instant meals up from that freezer bag cookbook I sent some of you copies of. Those cases of baby food have also helped. About all Johnnie can tolerate is mashed bananas and rice cereal and he hasn’t eaten baby food in three years. About all the poor little munchkin does is nap and play with his Spiderman figures.

I cry a lot. And you know that isn’t like me.

Barry’s son stopped by yesterday to check on us. I think he still feels bad for the way he acted at Christmas. He looked beyond haggard. His three little girls are still not doing so well. He had to rest before he walked back to his dad’s and as all my family was sleeping, we sat and talked for a minute.

He said he had heard from a contact at his station that it was very possible that what everyone had had was a panflu variant; that the virus is still mutating. They had discovered one strain out in some little town in Texas called Centerville that was 100% lethal. The problem was that it was so lethal that it didn’t have the chance to jump much. Ninety percent of the town’s remaining citizens were dead in under a week, but as the town had been so closed off from the rest of things, the virus strain didn’t have a way to survive after the last person died. It was weeks before anyone had investigated and by then the whole town was a biohazard of decomposing bodies. The description reminded me too much of Night of the Living Dead. The strain that we had apparently went the opposite direction; milder but extremely transmissible.

If that is true, its possible that we might have some antibodies against the major panflu strain that is going around, or at least Scott and the kids might. I’m not going to count on it because it is just as possible that we don’t. And I don’t care what they call it, my family was so sick and miserable they could have easily died. That more than anything is what is keeping me from sleeping well. I’m scared my waking fears will turn into nightmares while I sleep. Barry Jr.’s face says that we are comrade in arms; we’ve faced the dragon and lived to tell about it, but we know that it is still flying around out there and might not be done with us.

Barry’s family isn’t as well set up as we are so when he left I gave him some powdered broth and a couple of other instant foods that I had. He didn’t want to take them, but I said for him to think of his little girls. I told him he could return the favor some day or pass it along to someone else down the road. "Do unto others . . . " and all that. He was relieved, I think things might be worse off than he was letting on.

The neighborhood has been unnaturally quiet. After I get this email off to you folks I’m going to go to the neighbors’ houses and see what I can see. I’m not sure I really want to know, but it has to be done.

Thank God I can still say "Love from all of us"

Sissy and family

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