For three weeks, my twins suffered from what can only be called Pompeii Plague. The children erupted, oozed, and sprayed. I tended, soothed, wiped, and winced, trapped under layers of laundry and phlegm. Ever trying to assert their individuality, they refused to be sick at the same time or with exactly the same disease, causing them to re-infect each other as they stood three inches from each other’s faces and compared symptoms.
What a fine morning it was when I finally took down the isolation chamber around my house. I had glorious plans to air out the house, ignore phone calls asking me to run the school bake sale, make an inorganic meal for supper, and steam the children-shaped dents out of the couch. All folly, of course, for the moment they left the house, I felt the early symptoms. A little tired. A twinge here. A twitch there.
I fought valiantly for 15 seconds, but just like every time I am in an icy parking lot in front of a lot of people, I was destined to fall. I’d been in too-close contact with patients zero for too long. Since I had a family relying on me, the only responsible decision to make was to merge with the comfortable furniture. I sank into the couch. I couldn’t say exactly what illness I had, though. Progressive scurvy, perhaps?
The first few hours of illness (beriberi, probably) were the best. I made noises not heard outside of an elementary school band’s first rehearsal. I clutched, wheezed, snarfed, snoozed, and moaned in utter serenity. I was miserable and loving every solitary minute of it. Keyword: solitary.
Then my husband brought the twins came home.
“Mom?” they yelled in tandem just loud enough for me to hear in case I’d made an unexpected trip to Outer Mongolia.
“I’m resting,” I called meekly.
“I’m resting” was a siren call for my children to suddenly need advice, hugs, buttons sewn, friendship advice, first aid, and economic theories of 19th century London because one has a book report due the next day and hadn’t started the report yet. Or the book.
Unable to find me by screaming “MOM!” for 20 minutes, they took a seat on the couch.
“Ouch!” I cried.
“Why is this couch so lumpy?” asked one.
“And noisy?” said the other.
Twin A pulled back the blanket I was hiding under. “Gross, mom, you’re going to get us sick again.” They shifted slightly but didn’t move from their positions on my spleen and tibia, respectively.
“I think my cholesterol is failing to thrive,” I said, hoping one of them would muster a coo of sympathy.
“I’ve never seen her like this,” Twin B said to his brother. “You know, horizontal.”
Twin A nodded. “How exactly did this happen, Mom?”
I recounted their elaborate Dance of the No Handwashing, complete with Towel on the Floor flourish. I waxed poetic on finding and disposing of their tissues crammed in couches. I wrapped up with a performance piece called “No”: No vegetables, no hats, no long pants when the temperature dipped below 45 degrees, no idea how germs spread.
“Is it any wonder I’m sick?” I concluded, draping myself delicately over the arm rest.
A nervous look passed between them. They called for their father.
My husband emerged from wherever he goes to avoid these types of conversations, and the children ran out of the room before I could tell them that of course I don’t need help, I’ll just lie here in agony. You go and play. I’ll be fine.
My husband eyed me warily. “Is this because I left the lid off the Tupperware again?”
“I have whatever plague you all had,” I glare at him. “Plus, I’ve got deep vein anxiety.”
My husband tried to assess the situation. “Are you cold?”
I was under three blankets while wearing a velour jumpsuit, a ski hat, and a mastodon pelt. “A little. I’m achy. I think my uvula is sprained. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that means I have either a fungal mood disorder or existential gout.”
For 20 minutes my husband brought me things he thought would make me feel better. Tea. The remote. Warm socks. By the time he lugged out a corkscrew and an exercise bike, I realized he was hoping that by building a ziggurat of all of our earthly possessions right in front of the couch, the gods of maternal health would spring into action and heal me. To ease both of our sufferings, I accepted his suggestion that I take some medicine.
Relieved, he headed down the hall. Moments later I heard general rummaging and specific grunting coming from the general direction of the medicine cabinet.
“Which one?” he called.
“Whichever one is good for a sore throat, toxic wrist, asymptomatic reflux, degenerative altitude sickness and opportunistic acne. Grape flavor.”
He brought me an aspirin and sat next to me, groaning impressively. “Could you move over a little? I think I’m coming down with something.” He sniffed pathetically.
I sighed, passed the blanket and my aspirin to him, and peeled myself off the couch.
“You can stay here, too,” he said.
“What, and get sick?”
This post is part of a series of essays by the contributors to our second anthology, Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Twin Years. Subscribe to get new posts on your favorite reader as and when they’re published.
Jackie Pick is a former teacher and current word monkey living in the Chicago area with her husband, three children, and a very fuzzy dog. She is a contributing author to Multiples Illuminated, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real about Motherhood, Here in the Middle, as well as the literary magazine Selfish. Her writing has been featured on various sites including Mamalode, The HerStories Project, and Scary Mommy. Jackie is also the co-creator and co-writer of the upcoming short film Bacon Wrapped Dates, and occasionally performs sketch and musical comedy in Chicago. Find Jackie on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.