The House of Ill Repute

By Peter McKay

January 3, 2012 5 min read

Over the holidays, everybody in my family got lots of presents. One by one, they also, like clockwork, got really sick.

From what I'm hearing, we're not alone. Almost all the people I talked to back at work had the same story — when you asked them how their holidays went, they'd wince, shrug their shoulders and tell you that some sort of bug had bugged up their celebrations. One guy spent Christmas Eve in the ER with a young daughter.

Around our house, I don't know whether it's the flu or some other virus, but the symptoms are as follows: The first day, you get kind of crabby and start telling people you feel really tired. The second day, you spend the entire day on the couch with a bucket, curled up in a ball under a quilt, emerging only to take sips of ginger ale and ask why it's so cold in this stupid house. The third day, you're up but walking around tentatively, like an old man who can't remember where he left his cane. You're still a little crabby, too.

It started with one of my daughters, who complained that she wasn't hungry on Christmas Eve. By Christmas night, she was curled up in a shivering ball. Before that daughter even got fully back on her feet, her twin sister caught it, taking over the couch and bucket like a shift worker relieving a colleague. Then, within a few hours, my wife had it.

Next thing we knew, we heard that our oldest son, who was heading home after the holidays, became ill on the plane ride home, most likely ruining the flight for other passengers. Our two other sons followed in short order, each spending time in the same condition.

I found this all especially unnerving because as a youngster, I had a bad (scarring, if you really want to know) experience with the flu during Christmas. The year I was 10, I came down to open presents Christmas morning feeling just a little queasy. I made it through all the unwrapping, but as soon as it was done, I groaned, held my stomach and threw up, projectile style, all over my Christmas presents, right there under the tree.

I still remember the shock and horror as family members scrambled to get out of the way. It was as if I'd thrown open my robe to reveal a vest covered in dynamite. I'm sure it spoiled Christmas for the rest of the family, but I personally had to deal with it for months. Every time my parents forced me to play with my G.I. Joe, I'd gag a little, even though they'd assured me he'd been washed thoroughly.

This Christmas, however, the only person who didn't get sick around our house was yours truly. By three days after Christmas, I was the last man standing. I could put it down to incredibly good genes and an outstanding immune system (which I secretly did) but in my heart, I knew I had just been lucky. It also meant that I've spent most of the past week going back and forth with ginger ale and buckets.

It put me in an awkward position, though. I love my family dearly, each and every one of them. They're incredibly warm, giving, engaging people. But we all have to admit that sick people are gross.

When loved ones falls sick, you're torn. Half of you — the good half — is concerned. You feel their foreheads for a fever, you make sure they have enough blankets, and you let them have the remote control. The other half of you — the more pragmatic half — is totally creeped out. Where just a day before sat a loving and loved family member, now you have a modern day Typhoid Mary walking around your house infecting everything she touches. You start to wonder if it would be OK to spread Purell on their foreheads before feeling for a fever. It's why my family members all ran like rabbits the Christmas I was ten. It's why my brothers refused to play G.I. Joes with me if I brought out the "pukey" one.

As I sit typing this column, I'm still the last man standing. I know, though, that it's only a matter of time. The bug is stalking me, waiting to pounce. When it does, I won't need a lot of hand-holding, and I don't like ginger ale all that much. All I need is a spot on the couch and control of the remote to ride it out.

It would be nice, however, if they moved my Christmas presents into another room.

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