In sickness and in health...
Sam Wilson looks at her family’s sick personality and decides that she is probably the weakest link.
(Tammy Gardner)
I remember the first time I got sick whilst staying at another family’s house. I was 8 years old and my parents had gone on a well-deserved 2-week holiday. My friend Michelle’s mother had been kind enough to take us in, and I had responded in kind by catching a cold.

‘Will my parents come home for my funeral if I die?’ I asked Michelle’s mom, feebly, letting one hand drop limply from out of the covers. (I am nothing if not a melodramatic patient.)

Michelle’s mom smiled at me and gave my covers a brisk flip, leaving me and my jammies exposed to the harsh morning elements.

‘Very funny,’ she said, looking genuinely amused. ‘Now up you get and off to school. You’ve nothing a good batch of tissues and some fresh air won’t fix.’

I looked at her with incomprehension. You see, my family had an entirely different sickness code to Michelle’s family. We didn’t trust fresh air to see us right... oh no. We trusted extensive doctors’ prescriptions and bed rest and hot water bottles and frequently plumped pillows.

I remember trying to explain this to Michelle’s mom, stressing the bit about the pillows. She was strangely unmoved as she got some oatmeal down me and sent me off in my little green uniform, to what I believed was almost certain death. Equally strangely, by lunchtime I had forgotten that I was deathly ill... and was playing around, albeit with a tightly clutched tissue, amidst my friends.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t necessarily think Michelle’s family sickness code was that much better than my parents’ approach. I may have got more learning in their way, but I wouldn’t swap those cosy unwell days of my well-spent youth for anything. I have such wonderful memories of my mum soothing my forehead with a wet cloth and straightening my blankets, before leaving a warm cup of Milo by my bed... how can such soul-comfort be a bad thing?

Or so I have often tried to explain to Andreas, who comes from a very ‘off-to-school-with-you’ family.

‘But his eyes are unwell,’ I’ll whisper to Andreas, as we watch one of our sons listlessly picking at his morning cereal.

‘What does that even mean?’ Andreas will hiss back. ‘Your family is forever going on about sick eyes – what is it that you think you can see? The Plague languishing, gearing up for the strike?’

Andreas is prone to a touch of melodrama himself.

‘If you were more sensitive to such things, you’d be able to see for yourself,’ I’ll sniff. ‘It’s, well, a certain opacity. Let me find something from my medicine stash and pop him back into bed.’

That’s another telling factor in any family sickness code – one’s willingness to reach for the kiddy-proof medicine chest. Needless to say, my mother and I are firm believers in having as complete and varied a medicinal arsenal as possible, as well as sharing a secret fondness for the phrase: ‘If two of these don’t work, try two of those.’  Sure you’re probably going to feel the need for a nap at some point of such a routine, but that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?

Andreas, on the other hand, has taken 4 Panados and a cough drop in the entire time that I have known him. I suspect he may have entirely missed the advent of Ibuprofen.

So what do you do when two competing sickness codes need to weld themselves together into a new family? It’s no easy process.

First off, children quickly notice the weakest link and present their feverish little heads to that side of the parental bed first. And sometimes, it's a good idea to tuck the little tyke right up with a hot drink and a cold cloth folded over his forehead... and many’s the time I have insisted upon it.

But equally often, Andreas has prevailed – and then got all smug of an evening when a snotty but happy kid regales us with all that he learnt that day.

Clearly, only a parent knows best. As to which parent that is, however, each home must figure out for themselves.

What’s your family’s sick personality? Do you believe in sick eyes?

Read more by Sam Wilson

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