The pox descended on our house recently, throwing family life into turmoil. We battened down the hatches for five days. We stayed inside, waiting for the blisters to scar and life to return to normal. I kept a diary.
Day 1: Denial I look at a spot on my eldest daughter’s back and one on her arm and another on her stomach. No, I think, that’s not the pox. Definitely not. That’s just some sort of allergic reaction. It’ll all be fine. I think about cancelling things the next day, just in case, but I’m convinced she’s had chickenpox before. It was mild. I happened to be away at the time, doing some work in America. She got through it. Done, we thought. All sorted. So I look at these spots, and think, nah, she’s OK. By 5.30pm she’s lying on the sofa complaining of aches and pains, her nose is streaming and one of those spots is now a fully functional blister. A trip to the pharmacist confirms that this is chickenpox. There’s no use denying it any more.
Day 2: Anger I stay at home with her. Apparently, we have to stay inside for five days because we don’t know who we’re going to come into contact with. But she has to come with me to drop the youngest off at nursery. And we’ve run out of medicine. So she has to come with me to the shop. In the shop, I quickly skirt the aisles, avoiding everyone, I’m terrified. What if we’re patient zero for some sort of outbreak? What if she high-fives someone with a weak immune system? What am I going to do with five days inside our house? I’m going to lose it. We run into her uncle and his dog. The dog licks my daughter. I hope the dog doesn’t catch the pox. We return home. I look at our hallway. I get a call about some work I’ve forgotten to cancel. Everything feels stressful.
Day 3: Bargaining The television is on so I can work. We manage a lacklustre game of hide and seek at her insistence. I get a phone call from a student who is interviewing me for their university magazine. “I need a poo,” my daughter shouts as she runs to the toilet. I hear the student laugh. Afterwards, as I clean up a delicious lunch my daughter can’t manage, I turn around to see she has made a bed for herself on the floor. She is asleep. I manage to get some work done. When she is awake, she has no energy. At all. She can only lie on the sofa and watch television. She manages to watch the same episode of Shipwrecked twice. Two of her blisters look infected. A friend suggests bathing her in bicarbonate of soda. There’s one blister by her mouth that is sore and has cream on it and old tomato soup and chocolate from the one bite of a croissant she managed. I’ve given up on work. In the middle of the night, I wake up to her crying. Going upstairs, I find her, confused, with a temperature, climbing into her Spider-Man tent, saying she’s going on a trip. I lead her back to bed.
Day 4: Depression It’s the sunniest day of the year and we’re inside. She has more energy in the morning. A somersault off the sofa takes it out of her and she spends the rest of the morning sitting on a chair in the shade, cuddling her bear, letting the calamine lotion seep into its poor, beleaguered fur. I make an excuse to leave the house. A trip to buy some milk. Fresh air! People are in the streets, smiling, chatting, drinking. The smell of barbecue is thick in the air. I take a long time buying milk. We convince her to have a bath that night. I don’t dare broach the subject of a hairwash. We manage three books before bed and then she’s asleep within seconds.
Day 5: Acceptance She is ready to go back to nursery. Her energy levels are up. She’s smiling, and spotty, but smiling, and off the sofa and the TV is off. It’s blissfully off. The first spots appear on our youngest that night. I start working out what work I need to manage, while standing outside my front door, gulping in the delicious fresh air of the outside world before another week of chaos.