Fear of the Walking Sick: How to Survive the Back to School Germ Apocalypse

Fear of the Walking Sick: How to Survive the Back to School Germ Apocalypse

Fuck. This. Shit. 

My daughter had a cold last week, she gave it to my husband, who in turn, gave it to me, and now my son is vomiting some horrible sludge into our toilet. I can hear my middle daughter whimpering and coughing from somewhere in the house. And I am thinking, "a few weeks into school and this is it. This is my fall and my winter and my spring.This is my life, and death, for the next 8 months." 

...Until the rational voice takes a hold and says, "Liz, get a grip. Remember your training. You have the 'Sick Stash,' we are going to survive this." 

Sick Stash?

The sick stash is the stuff we keep on hand to deal with household pandemics. Once the crud hits the house, you don't want to be running around in the middle of the night looking for supplies in a frustrated, panicked frenzy. Likewise, if you find yourself ill, you don't want to have to run out to the pharmacy for relief. What is in my sick stash, you ask? 

Grocery Items

Tea bags, honey, bland foods like mac & cheese, applesauce, saltine crackers, oyster crackers, & chicken soup, along with Gatorade, popcicles, and Coke. (Coke is the shit for propping you up the day after a gnarly stomach bug.) It's best to have all of this on hand for comfort. And don't eat all the popcicles beforehand, or you'll be doomed when everyone has a 103 degree fever and raw throats. Where are the POPCICLES, mom and dad??


Cough drops, Advil, Children's Motrin & Tylenol, Vick's Vapo Rub, and Benadryl. Some people get Zofran (an anti-nausea/emetic) from their doctors and keep a bit on hand for the times someone is getting too dehydrated for not keeping anything down. I don't have any, but if your kid (or you) simply cannot keep a sip of water down, ask your doctor about it. Might hep to avoid a trip to the ER for fluids. 


Old towels and a tarp (kids don't have the best aim), Washcloths (to wet and apply to heads & necks), Antibacterial/Anti viral wipes, Bleach (for norovirus, aka contagious vomiting), and, speaking of vomit, I also have handy-dandy barf bags. I get the blue Medline Emesis bags on Amazon, $11 for 24. They are great because they are portable, wide-mouthed, sturdy, easy to use and simply get twisted and locked shut - sealing off smell and germs and making them disposable without leaking. In my opinion, they are better than buckets for older children, because you don't have to keep rinsing them out and exposing yourself repeatedly. But, if you can't help but get your hands dirty, I also have a Costco box of sterile exam gloves! (Some of you may be rolling your eyes, while parents of small children are nodding their heads.) Also, maxi pads help when kids cannot get to the toilet in time. Gross, yes, but it cuts down on shit-soaked laundry. 

I stock up before school starts and keep all of this on hand all winter long. It provides piece of mind and quick relief, plus it keeps our infected asses at home, where they should be, instead of wandering through the grocery store, spreading our undead contagion. 

That's fine for once the plague hits, but how do we avoid it altogether? I don't want to be a zombie- not even a comfortable one. 

Boosting your immune system has got to be one of the biggest scams next to weight loss. Everyone starts popping things like "Emergen-C" or "Airborne," when, in fact, there is no evidence to support those supplements do anything besides make one feel better in the psychological sense. 

The Vitamin C craze was brought on by Dr. Linus Pauling, an incredible biochemist who was awarded two Nobel Prizes for his work. Then, he got sick and fell into a megadose Vitamin C quackery pit, proving even the Einsteins among us aren't right all the time. Still, his theories of Vitamin C curing everything from the common cold to cancer have persisted, even though they have been refuted, repeatedly, by science. That's how the internet works. The facts of the matter remain: we do not fully understand the role of vitamins on the immune system. We know malnourished people are at higher risk for infectious disease. We know healthier people are at less risk. We know adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals are associated with more robust immune systems. But we also know too much of these vitamins and minerals are associated with LOWER immune system response. Mega vitamin pills are just false hope, and might even backfire on you. They surely will not prevent zombification. Save your money.

The same goes for herbal supplements and natural remedies "they" don't want you to know about. (Those bastards!) Alternative medicines are not medicines. Honey will work better for a sore throat and cough than Homeopathic cough syrup. And just about any herb you can throw out there has zero credible evidence behind it. If it did, it wouldn't be called "alternative medicine," it'd be called "medicine." 

Instead, you can do these things, which are proven by evidence, to help combat and contain the outbreak: 


Moderate exercise has been proven to boost the immune system. Scientists are not 100% sure how this mechanism works, but it does. Perhaps the lungs and airways get flushed out, or blood circulates faster, maybe allowing for white blood cells to get a jump on pathogens, or because body temperature rises and inhibits bacterial or viral growth, or it could have to do with lowering stress hormones. Perhaps it's none of that. Still, exercise seems to work. So get up and get active, but try not to overtrain. Surprise, surprise, endurance athletes and extreme training has been linked to lower immune response. 

Wash Your Hands

Duh. But seriously, germs are not magical. They are not caused by Dark Age theories like blocked humours, misaligned chakras, sluggish chi, God's wrath, or curses. Germs and viruses are little organisms that look for hosts to survive. They are spread by sick people emitting infected particles into the air and onto surfaces around them, and then having healthy people inhale or touch the particles and then touch a portal to the inside of their body (nose, mouth, eyes, ears.) If you simply wash your hands thoroughly before you eat, before and after touching communal equipment, and a few times during the day, you are cutting your risk significantly. 

Eat Fruits and Veggies

Although megadose vitamins don't help, having adequate stores of nutrient does. Get more vegetables and fruits into your diet or take a regular dose multivitamin to fill in your nutritional gaps. Give your body the tools it needs to keep the systems humming at optimal levels. 

Sleep and De-Stress

Lack of sleep and high stress levels are associated with low immune response as well. It is critical that you rest your body and not take everything in a life or death way. Stop over-obligating yourself. Take your days one at a time. Watch something funny. Put your phone somewhere you can't easily reach it after 9PM. You don't need to be everything to everyone, everywhere, all the time. This is a very new concept that we are driving ourselves crazy with. And it is stressing us out, keeping us awake and, in turn, making us sick. 

Bring Your Immunizations Up to Date

What if I told you we have the medical technology to teach your body how to dismantle and kill a specific virus before you actually come into contact with it? Guess what? We do! We've said goodbye to Polio and Smallpox, and virtually eliminated diseases like Measles, Mumps, Rubella, HiB, Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis. And all it takes is a few small pinpricks. It's really a no-brainer. Even though the flu vaccine is less than perfect, it still reduces your chance of flu and flu severity with minimal risk. We get ours every year. (If you want to freak out about this, hold your breath. I will be posting an article all about vaccines in the coming months. You can leave your angry "toxins" and "sheeple" laced screed in the comment section, then.) 

Quarantine & Disinfect

Once someone is infected, quarantine the best you can. Sneeze into your elbows. If you are ill, contain yourself to one room. If you are vomiting or have diarrhea, close the lid before you flush and wash your hands after every trip to the bathroom. Don't keep toothbrushes out on the bathroom counter, where all the particles fall. Wipe down handles, light switches, faucets and doorknobs with disinfectant or a bleach solution, regularly. Use gloves when preparing food. Wash your hands after tending to a sick family member. And when the illness is over, shower. Disinfect. Then, continue washing your hands all winter. Do like doctors do. These are all steps you can take to reduce the spread and keep from turning into one of them. 


And that's really what it's all about, surviving. We can't prevent all germs, nor do we want to. Our world is awash with them and exposure to some germs may be beneficial to our immune system. But we don't want to feel like a walker all winter long. So, we break out the soap and try to take good care of ourselves and not take things too seriously. Because, in the end, you will feel good again and get back to your activities. It's frustrating to miss workouts and life in general. But, you've got your sick stash. Hopefully, you've also got Netflix.