I believe that viruses are the most powerful non-human creatures on the planet. I’ve never had to take a day off work in order to recover from an attack by a bear, shark, lion or wolf. Only viruses have the power to so casually disrupt our lives. Any large, fang-toothed creature you might think of has been shot, eradicated or caged. Yet despite all our modern technology, viruses have us at their mercy.
These microscopic creatures have been unwelcome visitors in our house in recent weeks. Despite the bad press they get, I have to admit that they are industrious and creative little fellows.
They’ve been hard at work in our family recently, causing a colourful variety of symptoms, ranging from vomiting, to high temperatures, to coughs, queasiness and generalised malaise. I suppose it’s a seasonal tradition that viruses display their newly-created ailments as winter approaches each year.
I used to think that the term, “It’s a virus”, so beloved of doctors, was a medical term derived from the latin for, “I haven’t got a clue.” However, my medic wife assures me that these seasonal colds and flus really are caused by various ever-mutating viruses, against which we can only rely upon our body’s own defences. The only way to fight these bugs is to give their victim rest, warmth, nutrution and the ever-vital TLC.
As I type, the latest casualty – our three year old daughter – is asleep at my feet on a mattress on the living room floor. Yesterday afternoon she became unusually quiet and developed the temperature of a small nuclear reactor. As her temperature hit 40 degrees, last night she actually began hallucinating. A parent’s heart melts as the temperature rises and a normally boisterous child is reduced to again being a babe in arms, helpless and suffering.
This triggers in us the instinct to wrap them in blankets, speak softy, and to give every comfort. All the normal rules are broken: she can have toast and jam in bed, screen time quotas are abandoned and a nest of comfort is built around the child.
I remember how as a sick child the greatest comfort came not from the paracetamol, or the lemsip, but from my mother’s many kindnesses. I even re-enact the odd sickbed rituals of my own childhood. Toast was always cut into soldiers when we were sick, as these were deemed to have curative properties.
I too cut toast into soldiers for our own sick children. In addition to any welcome placebo event, these little rituals show the sick child that they are loved, that they will be treated specially when they’re sick and that their parents will do anything that can comfort them.
The bond between parent and child grows stronger as they pass through a short illness. In feeling deeply cared for, the children are reminded that, when it comes to it, we will drop everything for them. It gives us slow one-to-one nurturing time with a child which we wouldn’t otherise get.
In our ever-busier world, perhaps those viruses are doing us a favour by making us slow down for a few days, and so giving us that rarest – and most healing of commodities – time.