I've been sick. Very sick. This week, I met gastro face to face. And even though I liked it about as much as I like a person who brings out a calculator to divvy up a dinner bill, I am kind of grateful it visited because, weirdly, I learnt some stuff about myself.
I was talking to my friend Mel about the dreaded lurgy. We had our babies a few weeks apart a year ago, and she had a long and spine-chilling labour. She gives a softly spoken warning before she tells anyone about it because if it was a movie, it would be classified by adult themes, horror and obscene language. And even she said, "Proper gastro is like childbirth. It makes you crazy. If someone offered you a choice between death, or living through it, there's a chance, in your rank stupor, that you could quite easily take the former." She has a point.
Being out of action when you have small children is terrible. I was holed up in my bedroom, acting like whatever that was that lived under the stairs in The Munsters. I was drifting in and out of consciousness, snatching small conversations with my three-year-old, who would tentatively enter the room, climb on the bed and engage in conversations like:
"Mummy ... are you okay?"
"Not really, no. I have a bug."
It is refreshing to find that, despite my belief to the contrary, I am not the centre of the universe
"Is it a ... ladybug?"
Then he'd scuttle away and I'd hear him saying in an adult voice to his dad, "I don't think Mummy's going to make it."
I wanted to assure him I would, but I was out of it again, flattened like a wounded sea horse, in my nest of towels. Remind me to burn those, okay?
My one-year-old, we decided, was not to be touched by me at all. I knew I might be contagious and wanted desperately for this little angel to be spared 24 hours of acting like something from The Exorcist. So he would come in in his dad's arms, catch sight of me, then be whisked away Sophie's Choice-style, screaming with arms outstretched. I would mutter something like, "Trust me, kid, this is not the mummy you want today." But it was terrible. Just terrible. The great news is that after approximately 40 dry heaves and feeling like I'd done three days of ab crunches, it passed. Just like that. And I could enjoy Saladas for fun, not survival.
My family is my kingdom. I spend every waking hour making sure they have a beautiful, kind, comfortable and enriching life. It is my life. It is ours. I am present in it every minute of every day. It is my very favourite thing to do. My very favourite place to be. So it is very odd to be absent. To step down. I found it a bit confronting. I don't think I'm a control freak. I just felt like I was missing out on something. Meals were prepared. Eaten. Baths taken. Hair washed. Stories read. Even Buzz Lightyear crises were averted. In the distance, down the hallway at lunchtime, I heard the fridge open and in my head I was screaming, "There's a chicken, sweet potato and chia stew I made for baby Kit in resealable tubs!" But, as in a bad dream, nothing came out.
The world, to my surprise, did not end.
I am not a sickie-taker, either, but I took TWO whole mornings off my brekky radio show. I warned my boss with a text message at 11pm. It was simply a photo of my current view: the toilet bowl and the words, "Something evil this way comes." At 2am I texted again, this time from over the kitchen sink, and said I didn't think my 4.30am alarm would be obeyed. Not this morning. Or the morning after, as it turned out.
But guess what? The radio show went to air. It was great. The world didn't end.
It is refreshing to find that, despite my belief to the contrary, I am not the centre of the universe. Despite the well-thumbed and scribbled-upon pages of my old-fashioned paper diary, I can put a big fat red cross through two or three whole days and nothing diabolical happens. One rogue microbe, lodged in my gut, taught me that it's okay to let go occasionally and that people will cope.
Thank you, gastro, for letting me give the incredible people around me a bit more credit for their roles as oarsmen in the canoe of our life. Because sometimes that bossy one who rides along the shore on her bike screaming into a megaphone can hit a rock and come a cropper. And guess what? The canoe will still slide through the water just as it always has. Thank you, gastro. Thank you.
Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally. She's also on twitter.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.