Emetophobia is an intense, irrational fear of vomiting, including a fear of seeing vomit or watching the action of vomiting. Undoubtedly, no one enjoys throwing up or seeing another person in the process, but for some, including me; it can be absolutely petrifying and almost debilitating.
The first time I saw someone vomit, I was at the boardwalk on the New Jersey shore and a teenage boy got off a ride and threw up a few feet from me. My mother inadvertently led me in that direction, literally inches from it, and I was so shaken by it that though I was only 3 years old, I can recall it vividly. It was terrifying.
Throughout life, I’ve worried about being in the vicinity of a person who throws up. I’ve gotten slightly better at dealing with my fear of vomit over the years, although I will still do absolutely anything and everything to prevent myself from vomiting (I can count on one hand the number of times I actually have thrown up). I was never the friend who would hold your hair back for you during the act, and I don’t check on my husband when he’s in the midst of a battle with food poisoning.
When I had my son, I immediately felt an immense sense of selflessness. I would do anything in the world for him and loved him more than life. Still, I worried over how I would deal with this fear of mine. I got through the baby vomit stage just fine, but when he started on solids I started to obsessively worry about him getting the stomach flu. How would I handle it?
The stomach flu is not actually the flu, but rather one of many viruses (such as norovirus and rotavirus) that attack the gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. According to the Center for Disease Control, it is spread by eating contaminated food, touching contaminated surfaces, or having direct contact with an infected person. Daycare centers, schools, and cruise trips are common outbreak settings (you will certainly never catch me on a cruise).
The impossibility of avoiding vomit
One winter morning when my son was about 18 months old, we walked into the Andersons market to do some shopping. Without warning, it happened. He threw up as we were entering the store. I was startled, but incredibly, I did not feel rattled or anxious. There was no time for that. He, on the other hand, was crying, extremely frightened. My only instinct was to comfort and reassure him. I was amazed at the ease with which I handled this.
I added another notch to my belt last summer during a family trip to New Hampshire. We flew the first leg of the journey and drove the remaining 200 miles. The narrow, winding, mountainous roads were making me queasy; I was begging my husband for the umpteenth time to slow down when a distressed cry of “Mommy!” came from the backseat. I turned around just as my son got sick all over himself. Once again, I was able to put my own discomfort aside to focus on my son. Even better, this time my husband was there to help clean him up and change his clothes while I did the consoling.
So far this winter we have been lucky, but exposure is inevitable. The preoccupation I have endured for so much of my life is slowly letting up. I do stash towels under his crib for easy access and keep a barf-cleaning kit in my car (which I made certain had a leather interior because it’s easier to clean). We always wash our hands the minute we get home from any outing, and I am a bit obsessive with hand sanitizer usage when on the go. Unfortunately for me, vomit is something you really cannot prepare for with a toddler. I take a bit of comfort in the knowledge that I’ve handled it twice now, and am confident I will do so again throughout my son’s childhood.
- Keep a carpet cleaner’s number handy
- Draw a smiley face on the bottom of a bowl and tell them to aim for it
- If they don’t make it to the bathroom, tell them to stay in one spot (it’s easier to clean)
- Have your pediatrician call in some Zofran
- Offer ice chips instead of fluid until they are well- tolerated
- Lots of cuddles and extra love are in order