Taming The Retch

For the last week, we here at Doc Gurley headquarters have been experiencing a 24/7, one-after-the-other, family-wide puke-o-rama. If you didn’t know better, you’d think we were joyfully re-enacting a cruise-ship Norwalk virus outbreak – perhaps for a rapt CDC audience. You know what it’s like – one day, you’re busy with your many tasks. Then the next, a part of you that’s supposed to be pure plumbing has decided to dance the rhumba – backwards. There’s nothing like managing a little stomach misery of your own to remind you of some very important health tips. So here are a few for you to file away (hopefully unused) in this season of maximum germ spread, aka school:

1) Wash, wash, then wash some more. Washing hands is undoubtedly a data-proven way to decrease the spread of viral gastroenteritides [gastroenteritides=plural of gastroenteritis: what a – gag– mouthful]. Besides the usual wash after toilet, also wash before preparing foods and after clearing up vomit (duh); wash dishes in the dishwasher with the dry setting active. Keep in mind, however, that close contact can spread some kinds of GI “flu” – and, frankly, there’s no way I’m refusing the sad, limp hug of a wee sick kid…so if you’re like me, be braced to perhaps get it, even if you’re a washing fiend.

2) The mainstay of treatment is…fluids. Drink, drink, then (when you’re not hand-washing) drink some more. Antibiotics (as in many cases of GI infections), actually make things worse. But if you’re supposed to sip between bouts of bowing to the porcelein goddess, it’s really frustrating to go to the drug store, buy bottles of pricey Oral Rehydration Solution (or even Gatorade) and then be sick of the stuff (blurp) after just a mouthful or two. Instead, why not make your own? It’s easy, cheap, has no chemical aftertaste, and allows you to mix small portions. You can vary the taste/temperature until you can keep some sips down. None of us could stomach (urk) more than a few sips of any flavor before it got to be too much, so here’s the recipe for small portions: Mix together 4 teaspoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, plus half-a-liter bottle of fluid. How much is half a liter? If your measuring cup doesn’t mark 500cc’s, most everyone has one of those 500cc water bottles floating around that you can use. If you want even smaller portions, use 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 250cc (half your water bottle) of liquid. What liquid do you use?  We used herbal teas (herbal black currant was a relative hit with us). You can also use rice-water, mint tea, lemon-zinger – you name it. Some flavors were better warm, some were better on ice. You also can make popsicles of the solution easily. Just mix a flavor up, give it a try for a few sips, then toss it or try another flavor.

3) Keep an eye on the pee – if your kid has been puking for more than 24 hours, and there’s been no pee for over 12, it’s time for more powerful help. Sometimes dehydration can make nausea worse, and pretty much any doc or nurse can tell stories about how one bag of IV fluid helped someone “turn the corner” – no other intervention needed. Sometimes a drug can help you keep things down. Dehydration can be a serious complication – especially in the young and elderly. And if someone gets pain, vomits blood, has bloody diarrhea or runs a high fever – it’s time to get help right away.

4) Finally, just to be really explicit- when it comes to sipping fluids (when you’re barely a heartbeat away from blowing grits), variety is key. But so is going slow and steady. Wait 5-10 minutes after a vomit, and take small sips. Try offering fluids at different temperatures and different flavors – broths, popsicles, gingerale… fluid is the only essential ingredient. And, although the medical books say that hydration is the cornerstone of therapy, anyone who’s taken care of a person with this kind of illness knows that the cornerstones of therapy are actually: cajoling, cuddling, and concocting. Oh, and cleaning, of course.

Doc Gurley Blessing for You this Fall: May you only inspect the inside of your toilet bowl with a brush in one hand; may the only image that comes to mind be that of a flying Scottish pole whenever someone says the word hurl; may the road rise to meet you, and never the gorge; may you never, ever dance the gastro-rhumba – backwards or forwards.

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