Illustration: Kelsey Davenport


Both husband and child have flu. One of them is infuriating

Liz Dashwood doesn't mind playing nurse – it just depends on the patient

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On the one hand, I quite enjoy the simplicity of it. With both husband and child laid low with flu, it has been impossible to do anything other than take care of them. I’ve taken five days off work and returned to the treadmillery and tunnel vision of early motherhood: feed, change (sheets rather than nappies this time, at least), laundry, snatched meals for you, an array of tempting morsels devised for them, sleep when they sleep, shower yourself one day never…

On the other hand, the contrast between my two family members’ approaches to the same illness raises in me many complicated thoughts and feelings. Some of them nuanced, analytical and insightful. Some of them simply murderous.

My husband, Richard, is not a good patient. Not for him the philosophy of Stoicism: “Scorn pain – either it will go away or you will.” He moans. He groans. He writhes in bed, he clutches portions of his body in a manner more suited to a recent multiple-gunshot victim. And yet, somehow, he still finds the strength to mansplain to me that everything – tablets (“capsule-shaped, not round”), tea (“Not too hot. Four minutes’ brewing”), books, a cheese sandwich he thinks he could manage – needs to be brought on a tray (“For… stability… because a bed… is soft”) and to run through the tasks for the day he thinks I will overlook if he is not around to supervise. He is also able to give me a running, minutely detailed commentary on his current state. “It’s like there’s a cold fire burning inside me,” he said at one point, in the hollow whisper he adopted for the duration. “I know the feeling,” I said, as I stood at the foot of the bed, wondering about the days when men simply went out, worked 17 hours a day, fell into bed every night in silent exhaustion and quietly dropped dead without fuss after 30 years of harmonious marriage. “I know the feeling.”

He moans. He groans. He writhes in bed, he clutches portions of his body in a manner more suited to a recent multiple-gunshot victim

When my duties here are met, I go into the second room of the sanatorium, where my flushed and feverish little boy is quietly awaiting my return. “What would you like, my darling?” I say, stroking his sweaty head and promising myself I will start a campaign to fund research into how to siphon children’s virus into willing mother-host bodies to save six-year-old suffering.

“Can I have some Calpol, please?”

“I’m afraid not, angel, there are two hours to go before you can have any more.”

“OK,” he says quietly, closing his eyes.

“Do you want some milk?”

“Yes, please.”

“Hot or cold?”

“I don’t mind.”

“Would you like a story?”

“Yes, please.”

“Which one?”

“I don’t mind. Just stay.”

We read Harry Potter until a desperate cry from the next room disturbs us. I grit my teeth, roll off the bed and go in to investigate.

“I need more tissues,” he gasps. “Not the ordinary ones. The balsam ones.”

So, I murdered him. No jury in the land will convict me. And if they do, at least I’ll get some peace.


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Illustration: Kelsey Davenport
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despatches from the school gate

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