Leona O'Neill: Bug made Christmas the family holiday from hell

Ah, Christmas, a time of celebration and togetherness – at least that's what it's supposed to be, but having been struck down right at the wrong time by a severe winter bug, it wasn't the season of good cheer for one family in Derry, writes Leona O'Neill

Leona spent the Christmas holidays looking after her sick husband and children then being sick herself

IT'S a good job I don't put much emphasis or importance on having the perfect Christmas, for this year I would have been bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

I have just this day emerged, blinking into the sun, from the worst winter flu bug I have ever experienced, and that was after three solid weeks of looking after my children and husband with the same condition.

The first to fall was our youngest girl. She had been cast as angel number three in the school nativity play and was tasked to deliver the crucial line 'I bring you good news' – much like her mum – and I could see from the back of the room that either the teacher had been a little too enthusiastic with the blusher or she had a roaring temperature. It was the latter, unfortunately, and the child was laid up on the sofa in her angel costume for the rest of the day binge watching Cartoon Network.

Next day I spent nine hours covering an Apprentice Boys parade in the town in the cold and in the rain and went home to find her coughing like a 60-a-day smoker and wheezing badly, in the throes of a chest infection. I didn't even bother taking off my coat. I took her straight to the hospital and sat there for several hours until she was given oxygen and medicine to help her breathe. We got home at 4am.

At 7am, the youngest boy arrived into our room and declared that he too was sick. Before long our living room took on the feel of an old people's home, with people wrapped up in blankets coughing their lungs up, demanding cups of tea every three minutes and complaining about it being cold and there being nothing good on the TV.

A week was spent nursing the patients day and night and working to deadlines and making sure Santa was sorted as well as normal life that had to be lived. The smell of Vicks hung heavy in the air, eradicating the expensive sweet cinnamon candles I had bought when I thought I might have a normal Christmas.

Two weeks before Christmas the middle son came down with tonsillitis. Of course, the symptoms didn't reveal themselves until 8pm. Why would anyone get sick in normal doctor surgery opening hours? If you think about it, where's the craic in that? So it was another trip to the hospital out of hours surgery in the middle of the night with a flame-faced child with his head in liquid-catching receptacle and falling into bed at 5am for a few hours sleep before work.

When kids are sick they don't just feel sick quietly in their beds. I find they prefer to provide a running commentary of every symptom they are experiencing at all hours of the day and night, along with a long list of demands. Such was the case with the now three sick children. The total hours of sleep slept that week was five, and not all in the one block.

Then the husband got the lurgy. And everyone knows that when a man gets any form of illness it's always at least 30 times worse than anyone else's symptoms but still he will refuse to attend the doctor, in case the medical profession or anyone he might encounter on the way to the surgery might think him weak.

So we had to endure days of advanced complaining. One night the man's fever rose so high he got out of bed, walked out into our hall, switched on the light and stood there staring off into the distance, like a character in one of those horror films. When I shouted out to him if he was OK he asked me if he was still in bed, could I check, because he wasn't sure if he was or not. That man was marched to the doctor's surgery first thing the next morning and furnished with a course of antibiotics.

Four people were now sick, a week before Christmas and I thought I had escaped. The day before Christmas Eve I had to come home from a shopping trip as I felt faint. Then I was gifted the razor blade throat and the intense fatigue. Then came the coughing and the banging headache. The husband, who had ceased speaking in tongues and was the only man still able to get up out of bed, was dispatched to get the last of the Christmas presents. He made it as far as the petrol station down the road before having to give up and come home.

People wont forget this year's gifts from the O'Neills, that's for sure. Who doesn't love a fir tree air freshener?

On Christmas Day I dragged myself from my bed to sit at the table along with my poor, miserable, sick family. I tried my best not to expire before the Christmas pudding and crawled back to bed. On St Stephen's night I found myself in the out of hours doctor's again, wearing an oxygen mask as opposed to a party hat while my friends posted pictures on Facebook of themselves swilling Champagne and wine at various festive celebrations.

Christmas 2016 was a nightmare. I don't want to see another one for at least 12 months.

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