A warm April evening, Albury. I lie in bed, my stomach churning. I need to throw up, but I’m next to Mum and David’s room and I’ll wake them if I rise. For half an hour I fight the nausea but it’s a futile battle. I head to the toilet. I’ve never used this bathroom, and I can’t find the light switch. In the dark, I kneel over the bowl and vomit, sweating and shaking. Mum quietly emerges, switching on the light “Can I do anything for you?” I look up from the floor “Could you please just bring a bucket to my room?”
My mother has visitors so that afternoon I’d moved my belongings from the guest room to the room her grandchildren (my nieces) sleep in when they stay. The last time I was this sick was when I was visiting last year. For three days I hibernated in the guest room – where I thankfully had a large bed and an ensuite. Tonight I crawl under Dora the Explorer sheets on a single trundle bed on the floor. I reach for my iPhone to check the time, and my hand hits a large plastic fairy castle. The street light shines through the Tinker Bell curtains. In stark contrast to my sickness, cheerful toys fill the room.
An hour passes. I heave into the rectangular yellow bucket. I should get up and empty it, but I don’t. I can’t. Another hour passes and I fill the bucket further. My hair hangs down, covered in vomit. Two hours later I wake; this time I need the toilet. Diarrhoea is joining the party.
If I was in my usual room, the guest room, I could stumble to the ensuite. Groan and heave privately in all my naked glory. But tonight I have to cross the hallway and use the main bathroom. Clothes are needed. My mother will be spared the visual battering of me giving up on dignity, and giving in to the power of a viral assault. Her guests will certainly be spared.
I put some clothes on my sticky body. The items are possibly on backwards and probably inside out. With bra-less glamour I greet the toilet. Eventually I return to my room …
The stench I’d left the toilet in is rivalled by the smell that hits me when I open the bedroom door; the bucket of vomit has its own life-force. Unbeknown to me, my ninja-quiet mother is in the doorway right behind me. I have no doubt she heard the recent toilet activity. She wants to help “Can I get you anything?” “No, but could you please empty my bucket?” (Somehow throwing up in it so often has suddenly made it “my” bucket).
Without saying anything she takes the offensive bucket, and I hear her rinsing and washing it repeatedly. She places it next to me and leaves, closing the door. She knows I need to fight this battle alone.
Morning comes and I hear sounds from the kitchen. I call to my mother.
Me: Have Audrey and Phil gone? (I’m not emerging unless they have).
Mum: Yes, they left an hour ago. How are you feeling?
Me: I’ve been better. Can you please ring Penny and let her know that I won’t be able to make it to Emily’s school assembly today? Tell her I’m really sorry, but I just can’t.
Emily gave me this virus, Eliza gave me the one last year. Ordinarily I could eat a rotten ferret without getting sick, but my nieces have the ability to infect me with unearthly illness. I’ve recently realised why sweet little girls are always so creepy in horror movies: they carry invisible plagues.
That same day, my father was driving to see me for the first time since my arrival. He was first turned away, as I was sleeping, so he visited my sister for a few hours until he was informed I was awake.
When he arrived, he entered my room, laughed and threw a plastic bag at me “I don’t care if you’re dying! It’s bloody typical of you to ruin my trip! Anyway, I’ve been to the chemist and got you stuff. Take them all so we can go out for lunch tomorrow. I don’t want you being sick and boring the whole time I’m here”.
It’s fair to say my mother and father have very different nursing styles.