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‘Phobias & Freakouts Fodder’ Category

  1. In Sickness and in Hell

    March 22, 2010 by Wendy

    On Friday, my sister went back home to Michigan after a three-week stay at our house. Saying goodbye at the airport was hard for all of us, but probably most so for poor Little Miss, who was her shadow for the entire three weeks. Even when my poor sister was deathly ill in the bathroom, Little Miss was camped outside the door, asking what she was doing and when she was going to be done.

    I will not go into further detail here about my sister’s illness that required a bathroom, in order to spare any fellow emetophobes (people like me who have an intense, irrational fear or anxiety pertaining to vomiting).

    Anyone who knows me well knows that I am emetophobia personified. I can’t be around it, can’t feel like it, can’t see it, and I’m even having a hard time writing about it right now. In fact—and I don’t mean this to sound as awful as it’s going to—this phobia made me hesitant to even have kids in the first place because:

    1. Pregnancy means “morning sickness” and pregnant women are notorious for vomiting.
    2. Kids puke.

    I am a firm believer in the saying, “God never gives you more than what He thinks you can handle,” because God has shown me that He. Knows. I. Can’t. Handle. It. That’s why He allowed me to have morning-sickness-free pregnancies (even with twin girls, who supposedly are the culprits behind more morning sickness than boys, because of the extra hormones). Also by the grace of God, my kids don’t get sick like that very often. (Knock on wood. No, really, please find some wood and knock on it.)

    My mom always said, “Don’t worry, that’ll go away as soon as you have kids because you’ll be forced to deal with it.” Well, she was only right about the “forced to deal with it” part. And she couldn’t have been more wrong about the going away part. It has not gone away one bit. The best way I can think to describe it is that when someone vomits, to me, it’s exactly like witnessing a bad car accident. I get all shaky and upset and traumatized, but you also kind of can’t turn away. Especially not when you’re the only one on the scene and have to help your child. (Blech!)

    But perhaps even worse than the vomiting itself is the anticipation of it. All any one of my daughters have to do is say, “Mommy, I feel like…” and my heart starts racing, even if the sentence is completed with “going to the park,” or “I want something sweet.” Recently, Little Miss went through an entire week of saying the dreaded “I feel like I’m going to throw up” at least 10 times a day. At first, I thought she was really sick, and then after a few days of this with no, um, visible results, I started researching everything from gluten intolerance to various diseases involving the gastrointestinal system. It got to the point where she just carried a bucket with her. I still don’t know what the deal was there, but her sisters and father all thought it was for attention. This is what the week looked like:

    Don't worry, nothing ever came out.

    Don't worry, nothing ever came out.

    I was on edge all week, and I think I lost five pounds, because whenever anyone is sick in the house, everyone goes on the B.R.A.T. (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) diet, and I go on the Survivor starvation diet.

    I have had this phobia for as long as I can remember. The only thing I can trace it back to is one time when I was about 5 or 6, my parents used to force us to eat liver on Tuesdays. (Why on Tuesdays, I don’t know, but Tuesdays meant liver and onions, just like Fridays meant fish sticks.) Well, of course, we hated it, and one time my older sister was trying to get it down and she gagged it back up into her blue Tupperware cup, right there at the table. I think that’s what kicked it off for me. It was either that or the time when a kid in my sister’s 1st grade class threw up Fruit Loops on the carpet during circle time. I wasn’t even there; I just heard about it and that was enough for me. I also never ate Fruit Loops because of it.

    And although I am blessed with the fact that I don’t do it that often myself (again, knock on some wood NOW), growing up, my two sisters seemed to quite often, which is why I always kept a Sony Walkman by my bed to block the noises of it anytime they were sick in the night. And if I ever saw a pile of it at school or anywhere (and you always knew that’s what it was when the janitors covered it with that sawdust stuff), I’d be shaking and upset for the rest of the day, and wondering who did it and why and where they are now. It’s still like that to this day.

    If anyone around us has been sick, they’re going to be interviewed about it by me, and then we steer clear of them for at least a week. This is one reason why we will never go on a cruise again (too much norovirus!) or go to Mexico (too big of a risk with the drinking water and getting a parasite). And if I or anyone in the household has been sick, whatever was eaten prior to the episode is not cooked or consumed again. Ever. This is why we will never again have Cornish hens or pork tenderloin, and why I haven’t had a chicken chimichanga since college after a very bad bout of food poisoning.

    By now, you should be getting the idea how deeply this phobia runs. And before you think I’m off my nut, or that I need some serious help, it’s really no different than other more “normal” phobias people have, like of spiders or heights or birds. This is just my “thing.” And I realize it’s really annoying to other people, especially when they feel sick around me. My younger sister and I have an understanding. Her fear is kidnappers and murderers, and if I happen to be around her when she or any of her kids are feeling ill and I get annoyingly anxious, I tell her, “Picture if you’re stuck in a room with killers and kidnappers. That’s what I feel like right now.” Then she totally gets it and just sighs heavily at me.

    For some reason, whenever someone who knows me really well has been around a public vomiting episode, they always feel the need to tell me. If my mom or my sister starts a conversation with me by saying, “Oh, guess what happened, you would’ve died…” I already know it’s going to involve vomiting and I say, “Who threw up?”

    And now going back to why I was writing this post in the first place: After we dropped off my still-not-feeling-well sister at the airport, I needed to stop at the mall for a couple of things and decided that a stop at the Disney Store was in order to cheer up Little Miss. She had been wanting “the squishy Princess Tiana” for a long, long time, and I decided this would be a good time to get it for her. It made her very happy:

    Princess Tiana to the rescue.

    Princess Tiana to the rescue.

    Well, little did we know that the Tiana she selected had a little stomach bug going on. When we got in the car, Little Miss kept saying how she couldn’t wait to get home so she could “play doctor” with Tiana because she was sick. I didn’t know how “sick” she was until we got home and Little Miss said, “I didn’t want to tell you but Tiana was throwing up in the car all the way home.”

    Oh, I love an imaginative child, but really, couldn’t Tiana just have a cold?

    Of course, my mind starts racing that maybe it’s actually Little Miss who doesn’t feel well, and even though I try to conceal my phobia from my children, they pick up on things and maybe she thinks she can’t tell me. So I say, “Well, do you feel OK?” and she says, “Yeah, but Tiana doesn’t and she needs a doctor.” All night and into the next day, we had to hear all the fine details of Tiana’s illness. “She has a fever now,” or “She says her stomach hurts,” were common phrases.

    The next evening, we were going out to dinner, and as were leaving (Tiana in tow, of course), Little Miss ran back inside, saying, “Oh, I need to bring her a bucket in case she throws up in the car again.”

    Oh, brother. It’s not enough we have to bring a doll to the restaurant, but now we have to haul a vomit bucket along, too?

    She emerged from her bedroom, carrying a little blow-up pool belonging to Polly Pocket. And here she was,  putting it to use:

    It must've been the frog legs she ate.

    It must've been the frog legs she ate.

    In the car, she kept shoving the pool/bucket at her poor older sisters, saying, “Clean up her sick!” or “Open the window and dump out her sick!” Of course, they patiently played along and I tried to ignore it, silently wondering why  Tiana couldn’t just need a Kleenex or some Tylenol or something less gross like that.

    Fortunately, Tiana is all better now. As for my sister, we don’t know yet until she goes to the doctor tomorrow. Surprisingly, I didn’t freak out too badly about her being sick around me, probably because we didn’t think it was a virus or anything contagious, as she has had these episodes before due to having a lot of scar tissue in her guts from previous surgeries. However, it wasn’t pleasant for either one of us. I felt so bad for her, and I said to her a few times, “There’s nothing worse than being sick away from home…oh, wait, yes there is—being sick at my house.”

    In between her moaning, I did hear her saying more than a few times, “Of all places to be sick.”

    Still, even she said I handled it amazingly well. I didn’t bug her about if/when she was going to be sick next. I brought her crackers and Gatorade and fixed her chicken soup and responded to every request that she’d text me from across the house.

    And, unbeknownst to her, I sanitized like an OCD germophobe. (I said like one.) The TV remote, the phone, the blankets, the bathroom, the air. Oust and Purell were my BFFs all week long.

    And luckily, no one else has been sick. Well, except for Tiana.

    Knock on wood. Real wood, and knock hard. Thanks.

  2. Recall Panic

    January 20, 2010 by Wendy

    Another day, another recall. Every day it seems, there’s another recall and for some reason lately, it always seems to be something that we have in our possession.

    Today, it’s Graco strollers. I’m not so freaked out about that one, even though I’m pretty sure the stroller I have is one of the models being recalled due to finger amputations and lacerations. We don’t use the stroller very much anymore, so I’m not going to freak out about it. Plus, vomiting is not listed as one of the dangers, which, as anyone who knows me, knows that is my biggest phobia in life. (Another post, another time.)

    It was a different story last week with the whole Tylenol/Motrin/Benadryl recall issued by Johnson & Johnson. People were vomiting from taking Tylenol! That’s all I needed to hear to get me in full panic/research mode. We have a lot of Tylenol products in our medicine cabinets. Thankfully, we don’t take it a lot (well, I do) but when it comes to bringing down a fever, it’s a miracle. I have no idea how it works, but it does.

    Ironically, I was actually looking up how much Tylenol it takes to damage your liver (as I probably take it more than I should to manage my headaches) at the exact moment when an email from my dad with a link to the recall story dinged in my mailbox. Isn’t that ironic? Or is it coincidental? I don’t know, BK is always pointing out my improper use of the terms interchangeably, but let’s not worry about that now.

    So back to my recall panic. The word “recall” always perks up my ears and sends me immediately to the computer to research it (especially when vomiting is a side effect), and then to my medicine cabinets/pantry/garage/kids’ rooms or wherever the offending product may be lurking. So here’s what my desktop looked like last week:


    There I was, typing every lot number into the site’s search box to see if it had been recalled. Of course, this was after opening every bottle first and taking a whiff to see if I could detect the “moldy smell” that was being reported as the hallmark of these tainted products.

    “Does this smell moldy to you?” I asked BK with each bottle opening. “They need to define ‘moldy’ better. What’s ‘moldy?’ Or is it mildew? I don’t know if I’ve ever smelled mold before. This smells kind of chemical-ly, is that mold?” I asked, I guess to no one in particular since no one answered me.

    Come to think of it, I pulled out a lot of drugs from the medicine cabinet that day. And that was only from the kids’ bathroom. I didn’t even do ours yet. (Hmm, could this ample supply be the reason for my need to Google “acetaminophen and liver damage” that day?)

    My friend Candi can so relate to this, but I’ll bet she has me beat in the arsenal of meds she’d be able to haul out of her cabinets. She was out of town for the weekend so I couldn’t call her and share my panic about whether I’ve given my kids these tainted medicines, seeing as they’ve been on store shelves for two years, according to some of the articles I read.

    When I read the side effects of ingesting these moldy meds—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea—I thought back to the times my kids did vomit after I gave them a dose of these meds. Exactly twice, but I think one had swine flu that may have caused it, and the other time was more like three years ago. Did I poison them? Is it already too late? Has damage been done? All this went through my mind as I typed in those lot numbers.

    None of them came up as the offenders, but how do I know they’ve all been tested? How do I know the company is telling the public everything? How do I know the site information is accurate?

    Sometimes it’s so hard to live with myself.

    When a product has been recalled, it’s pretty much banned for life in our house. (Just like if I or one of the kids vomits, whatever was last eaten is never to be eaten again, i.e., pork tenderloin, chicken chimichangas, Cornish hens, etc. But like I said, another post another time.) I still can’t bring myself to buy fresh spinach, I freak out if someone puts alfalfa sprouts on my sandwich at a restaurant, and the recent peanut butter recall? That was the worst.

    That was a particularly busy day, and I had grabbed a few packs of those Austin peanut butter crackers for the girls and I to snack on while we were at some practice or a game. That night on the news, I heard “peanut butter recall” and waited for the brands to be announced.

    Oh, good, it was just the industrial kind used in schools and hospitals, and my kids never buy school lunches so I figured I was in the clear.

    Until they said it’s also sold in Keebler-brand cracker products. I knew ours were Austin, sold in that huge box at Costco, so I thought we were OK. But then during a commercial break, I decided to double-check and walked into the pantry.

    There, in small print on the box, it said, “distributed by Kellogg’s.” It might as well have said “Danger: Contains deadly arsenic. Do not consume.”

    Of course, I freaked, and it went something like this:

    Me: “The girls and I ATE those TODAY!”

    BK: “So?”

    Me: “So, they might have salmonella in them!”

    BK: “Oh, the chances the ones you had are tainted are so miniscule, and then even if they were, you won’t get sick.”

    I’m so not like him.

    Already feeling nauseous, I immediately consulted my BFF Google to find out what to expect if you’ve ingested Keebler crackers. My research indicated that the incubation period of this salmonella contracted from the peanut butter was 1-5 days. Those five days were the worst. It was the only time I envied people whose kids had a peanut allergy, because they certainly didn’t have anything to worry about with this particular recall. I was on high alert for the onset of any symptoms from any of us, and when we all came through without as much as a single stomachache, we celebrated on Day 6. No, we really did. I think we toasted at dinner. (Well, I did. No one else really seemed concerned.)

    I’m still stressing about the recent recall of cheap children’s jewelry imported from China and sold at Claire’s because it contains toxic cadmium and lead, because, well, I have twin tweens! Are there any tweens who don’t covet that cheap stuff from Claire’s? Their jewelry boxes are loaded with the stuff!

    Here’s what BK says about that: “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine, as long as they’re not putting it in their mouths, which I don’t think they are at this point.”

    “No, it’s even if it touches their skin!” I say, adding “Clean out girls’ jewelry boxes” to my to-do list.

    This is almost as bad as the whole Polly Pocket recall a couple years ago, after which we decided to just throw everything away if it said “Made in China.” We didn’t though, once we realized that would be enough stuff to furnish two entire toy aisles at Target, and poor Little Miss’ toybox would be empty!

    What isn’t made in China? Didn’t Walmart once have that campaign touting that everything they sell is made in the USA? What happened to that? I’m pretty sure most of their inventory comes from China. A lot of it has that “Made in China” smell.

    And there is a definite smell. A few years ago when I was hosting Thanksgiving, I bought a set of chargers from Costco, and was so proud of my Martha Stewarty table. But when we all sat down, everyone kept saying, “What’s that smell?” and “I smell gasoline.” After we figured out it was the chargers—which sure enough, had a “Made in China” sticker on the bottom—we discarded them immediately. The table was less pretty, but it sure was nice to smell stuffing and turkey rather than bug spray and petroleum. From then on, I’ve been able to detect that smell, whether it’s on a toy or even a pack of stickers or greeting cards.

    But now I’ve got more lot numbers to type into drug-recall site. If you want to join me, you can find it at the McNeil Consumer Healthcare site. If anything, it’s a good excuse to clean out your medicine cabinet anyway. I actually found some nasal spray that expired in 2004 and some Nyquil from the 1900s. Well, it was only 1998, but I wouldn’t risk it. It might cause vomiting.