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A nasty stomach virus barrelled its way into my home earlier this year. It struck my youngest daughter, who was 18-months-old at the time, first. She puked up her yogurt onto the breakfast table. Her confused look seemed to ask, “What’s happening to my body?” From there she threw up dry cereal, toast, water, Pedialyte, and anything else we tried to feed her. Eventually having nothing left in her belly, she convulsed and dry-heaved for a day.
That night, my wife and I were putting sheets in the wash and our eyes locked for a moment. We hugged by the Maytag but said nothing. We knew. It was only a matter of time before both of us ⏤ and our 7-year-old daughter ⏤ would be puking our guts out. I considered staying with friends for the next week but knew that was the cowardly way out. There was no escape. The house and its residents were contaminated.
The next morning I took my dog out back and threw up in the yard. It was loud and painful and I had absolutely no control. I could only succumb to the virus’ will as it forced my body to bend forward. I took in the cold comfort of the bathroom floor. My wife was not far behind. Over the course of four days, we barely saw each other as we took turns tending to the children and finding spots to vomit. We only knew where in the house the other person was by the sounds of their retching.
It had been nearly a week and my 7-year-old remained untouched by the virus. Maybe she would be spared, I thought. Then again, maybe not. At 11:14 pm, I heard a loud thud and crying coming from the upstairs. I bolted up the steps, ran down the hall, and flung open the door to her room. I switched on the light. I gasped. It looked like a Salvadore Dali masterpiece painted in vomit. Puke dripped from the top bunk down to the floor where my daughter sat covered in her own gooey insides.
“Are you ok?!” I screamed.
“I fell!” she yelled back, wet with tears and puke.
She had been sleeping on the top bunk when the urge to throw up hit her. She tried to climb down the step ladder but was already spewing and turning rungs to turn into a slip-and-slide. When her foot hit the first step, she tumbled and landed in a pool of her own puke. I hugged her. When you have kids, you become immune to their puke, pee, and poop.
I looked for a garden hose to clean her up, but no luck. I settled for a bath towel and wiped her down. My wife came up and sprung into action. She got our daughter undressed and ripped off the sheets. Our utility bill would be excessively high this month. We gave her fresh clothes and let her sleep in our bed with a bucket nearby, which she filled over the course of the night.
For the next two days, while my daughter recovered, my wife and I cleaned the crevices of the bunk bed. Puke had dried inside the mesh holes of the guardrail. It was disgusting. And it will forever be etched in my brain. The chunks pouring down from the top bunk that night is now the stuff of legend in our house, and we refer to it every time somebody gets sick. It’s known simply as that time we went to Niagara Falls.
Gabe Capone is a writer, improviser, and father. You can see more of his work at gabecapone.com.
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