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How To Survive Stomach Flu… with Twin Toddlers, Too

Monday began not unlike every other in recent memory: drenched in vomit by one child, steeped in diarrhea by the other. The puke resembled rancid cottage cheese in both texture and odor. T barely reacted as it sprung from his mouth — he was too tired at this point to care. Meanwhile, Z lay docilely on the changing mat as I peeled the foul, poop-soaked PJs from his weary body.

C’est la guerre,” I sighed aloud. It’s war, as the French say. We were five days into the worst stomach flu I’ve ever encountered, and it had won. It definitely won.

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We just survived a really grim week. It began with an 8-hour delay to our 10-hour flight home from New York’s JFK airport to Honolulu, and continued with 5 straights days of stomach flu that attacked, one by one, each member of the family.

When Z started vomiting his guts out on Thursday night, I thought it might just be exhaustion since he’d barely slept on the plane, or maybe that he’d eaten something bad. But he continued to puke every hour for the next eight hours. Then the diarrhea began and lasted until Monday afternoon, the poor tyke.

Kiran started to vomit on Friday night. I got hit Saturday towards dawn. So both parents were knocked flat as Z continued to struggle, projecting disgusting fluids in every direction. Meanwhile, T bounded around from the time he woke up Saturday at 5am with his usual toddler energy. “Woohoo, Trucks! Walk? Eat?” Ugh! was my response.

I am incredibly blessed, as far as these things go: Kiran was a true partner every step of the way, suffering, cleaning, and caring for the boys just as much as I did. My mom was able to stop by Saturday morning with supplies – Pedialyte, ginger ale, bread, bananas, and applesauce — since we had nothing in our fridge after two months away. The nanny was even able to take T for a few hours on Saturday so he didn’t freak out at being couped up at home all day. We thought he’d somehow survived without contracting the virus… but NO! He started to vomit on Saturday night and had atrocious diarrhea until Monday night.

We all finally felt better on Tuesday. Phew.

I did some Internet research in the midst of all this, but it was texting my high school best friend Steph, now a pediatrician, and Naomi, an ER doctor friend, that really helped me through the crisis. I thought I’d share some of the key learnings from surviving five days of the stomach flu… with twin toddlers, too. I hope you never have to go through it, but am nearly 100% confident that you will!

1.Follow These Precise Rules of How to Deal with Vomiting

If you don’t, you’ll end up with another puke storm, guaranteed. As we did. Twice.

  • No food or liquid at all for one hour after puking.
  • Then begin to push fluids to prevent dehydration. This is not obvious with a toddler. Z wanted to drink an entire 12 oz of Pedialyte at once, and when he did, he vomited it up 10 minutes later. From then on, he screamed at me, “Agua! Agua!” and pointed at his water bottle. It was relentless and a new form of torture to deny him fluids. T, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with anything I tried to give him – Pedialyte, coconut water, tap water. So I followed Steph’s advice and administered 5ML of Pedialyte every 5 minutes by syringe, which he would take (I got the syringe from a children’s Tylenol package). After an hour, he kept that down, so we upped the “dose” to 10-20ML each time for the next hour, and gave it every 15 minutes. The third hour, I again pushed Pedialyte by syringe every 15 minutes. After six hours, your kids can drink as much as they like.
  • Give the little ones Pedialyte. My doctor friends were hardcore about this. Not coconut water. Not regular water. Pedialyte is best. You can also give your kids Gatorade, but water it down by half as it has too much sugar. For kids over 2, you can give Coca-cola or Sprite, but generally, we want to avoid giving children soda, so try with the Pedialyte. As I mentioned, the syringe technique worked great for us. So did freezing Pedialyte in an ice cube tray and giving them “popsicles” in those little mesh feeders we bought for them when they were teething.
  • Consider medication. Both Steph and Naomi recommended getting a prescription for Ondansetron (brand name Zofran), an anti-nausea medication. We went to the doctor on Monday morning and picked some up. It really helped T recover more quickly than the rest of us.
  • Re-start food slowly. Remember the BRAT diet? Bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. Still recommended. Only bland foods. Bone broth is great, too, full of nutrients. After 12-24 hours, you can start to give other food, but stick to bananas and apples for fruit and no dairy other than yogurt. Steph recommended yogurt, actually, for restoring probiotics to the destroyed digestive system. Our pediatrician told us that kids’ bodies can’t digest milk for up to a week after the stomach flu, so don’t go back to milk for at least 3-4 days after all symptoms have cleared.

2. Be Prepared So You Can Avoid Extra Work

We did 10 loads of laundry in three days. We were out of it or innocent enough to think that this wasn’t going to last, this couldn’t possibly continue. We were wrong.

I ended up stripping the boys’ beds down to the mattress pads and covering them with large beach towels. Then I did the same for the living room couch. The towels were more absorbent than the bedsheets, and could easily be stripped to put in the wash.

We also started keeping a large bowl in every room to contain our vomit. It actually worked pretty well. Even with the kids.

3. Ask Nothing of Yourself; Call in Favors with Others 

I really can’t stress this enough: Cancel all commitments, call in sick to work, and ask absolutely nothing of yourself as you go through this ultimate parenting trial. You will need every ounce of energy that you have to care for children and keep your house somewhat cleaned up from all the nasty fluids everywhere.

We try to avoid screen time, but let me tell you: When both Kiran and I were knocked flat by the flu, barely able to walk from bathroom to bedroom, the iPad became our best friend. We did a lot of watching truck videos on YouTube. It was not my finest parenting moment but it was all I could manage.

Also, don’t be shy about asking for help. I have family nearby who could bring us groceries. Ask your friends and family to do the same. A single mom friend of mine paid her nanny to keep her son overnight while she huddled over the toilet for hours on end. This is the time to call in favors. This is what friends and family and yes, paid help, are for. Post to Facebook if you have to. Reach out to get the support you need.

4. Remember: This Too Shall Pass

No matter how miserable you are, you WILL make it through. You WILL survive. And as my best friend Jen loves to remind me: You WILL look back and laugh at all this.

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