The Rockwood Files: Mom gone viral

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Friends, today is a good day – one I’m especially grateful for as I emerge from a three-day virus that reminded me how quickly a germ can reduce a person to a miserable blob of mucus, praying for relief.

This particular germ has become a frequent flyer at our house lately. In our five-person family, I was the fourth to fall victim to it. Our 17-year-old is the only one thus far to escape its wrath, and I’m pretty sure he’s safe because not even a virus wants to mess around with a moody teenager.

Like most viral illnesses, this one came on suddenly and began with what felt like a mild burn in the back of my throat – just enough to get my attention. By the next morning, there was no question. The mild burn had morphed into a raging throat fire no amount of cool water could put out.

Then came the tell-tale aches – the ones that seem to emanate from the center of your bones. Chills followed soon after, accompanied by fatigue and the feeling that there were bricks in my head, banging into each other every time I moved. Last to join the party was a deep, rattling chest cough that reminded me of the way a baby sounds when he has croup – an insistent, pitiful bark that refuses to quiet down.

As I bemoaned cruel fate and whined through my list of symptoms, my husband Tom did the slow nod of someone who had recently recovered from the same ailment. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Yep, you’ve gone viral – but not in the good way.”

I wish I could say he instantly transformed into a top-notch caregiver who patiently nursed me back to health, as I’d done for him days earlier. But the truth is that neither one of us is an especially good nurse. We’re pretty good at it when it’s one of our kids who is sick, but when a fellow parent goes down, the other one knows his or her job just got a whole lot harder.

When Tom gets sick, I’m sympathetic and helpful during the first 24 hours. I bring him food, drinks, medicine, and I keep him safely quarantined in a calm, peaceful bedroom, away from the noise and needs of three busy kids, two dogs and one cat. But after a day or so, his symptoms go from sympathy-inducing to somewhat… irritating.

When he blows his nose or coughs over every other line of dialogue in the show I’m trying to watch, the more impatient part of my brain begins to secretly wonder if he’s sick or if he’s just trying to determine how many coughs it takes before I lose my mind. Is it 50? 100? 500? By Day 3 of an illness, Tom and I both pass our expiration date on compassion.

That’s why I’m thankful my mother moved into the addition we built onto the house last summer. Unlike Tom and me, Mom always has a stash of ginger ale, Saltines and sympathy standing by, ready to use at a moment’s notice. When the virus ramped up to full-speed, Mom came over and made me a steaming cup of hot lemonade, which she swears has medicinal properties in addition to tasting really good.

Then she made her famous potato soup, which has a proven track record of staying down when nothing else will. She even did a couple loads of our laundry, which I appreciated as much as the hot lemonade.

I kept trying to shoo her away, worried that she might come down with the contagious bug, too. But she is fearless in the face of exposure when she’s in Mama Bear mode.

Finally, I woke up today and knew almost instantly that the virus had begun to pass, like a rogue wave washing back out to sea. My throat feels better. The chills, aches and painful head bricks are gone. If not for the lingering remnants of the cough, you’d hardly know I’d been sick.

The return to health makes me keenly aware of two things – the incredible strength and bravery of those who live with chronic illness or pain that doesn’t recede; and how miraculous it is when our bodies heal. I don’t know if there’s any real utility to being sick, but there’s no denying it brings with it a dose of perspective along with a sincere appreciation of what a blessing it is just to feel good again.

gwen rockwood the rockwood filesGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.