How I Felt When My Son Got Sick as Someone With OCD

Hello, I am Kat, and I am a “germaphobe.”

I am terrified of breathing in public areas, using shopping trolleys, public toilets, doors that pull instead of push, taps that turn. I’m afraid of eating out, utensils on counter tops, food on display, child play areas, toys and magazines in waiting rooms, sharing drinks, sharing food, food that may not have been stored correctly, preparing food on unsterilized surfaces, tetra packs, jars that don’t have pop seals, parties, shaking hands, hugging someone who looks even slightly unwell, being near anyone who looks even slightly unwell and yes, even kissing — especially kissing! And that is just the short list.

I am not scared of dirt, dogs, cats, cows, any type of animal slobber, bugs, beetles, things that are not neat, dust, spiderwebs, mess, clutter — you get the picture. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty, pet an animal or have a messy house.

These fears are not quirky or fun. It doesn’t make a good butt of your punch line for the joke you think is amusing. “Germophobia” is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s not me choosing to overreact to something you may consider inconsequential. It is an anxiety disorder and it can make me feel as though I am going to lose my mind with fear.

Right now my 8-year-old son has tonsillitis. He is so sick, and I feel just horrible watching him struggle. He’s such a brave little man, trying his best to smile through the pain, but when he isn’t eating or drinking ,I am beside myself with fear for his life. A mum without this disorder would likely be feeling concerned too, but she would be able to give him his antibiotics, pop him up on the couch and snuggle him to her.

Let me give you a glimpse into just one hour inside of my head.

This morning at 7:15 a.m. when he told me his throat hurt, I immediately started to feel anxiety creep into my chest. I got up right away and checked his throat and temperature, then started quizzing him about symptoms. I have a PhD in “Motherdoctoring.” Do you have a sniffle? Do you feel sick in your belly? Have you been coughing? Are you feeling cold or hot? My mind is racing a million miles an hour. I’ve already diagnosed him (correctly) and can see he is really unwell. I hope he doesn’t get worse fast. He will need to go to the doctor for antibiotics, he often vomits with tonsillitis and if he starts being sick, the hour long ride into town will be even more horrible for him.

I offer him water, but he doesn’t want anything to drink. I try to see if he would like something to eat, something soft maybe? He agrees to have a sweet tea. I crush up some medicine in honey and get him to have that, and give him a hug. I’m careful to hold my breath, even though I know a classic sign of bacterial tonsillitis is that it isn’t as infectious as viral. I am still scared of catching it myself. I can’t take care of him if I’m sick, and I don’t want my husband or our other son to get unwell. I pop him back into bed with his tea in reach and go back to the kitchen to wash my hands and forearms.

Now it is only 7:30 a.m. Has it really only been 15 minutes? I am already drained! It is another 45 minutes before the doctor’s clinic will open. I hope we can get him in with our regular doctor. I’m worried already they will be booked out. The after hours clinic doesn’t start until this afternoon, plus it is always so germ-infested and the wait is hours long and they don’t bulk bill children. So now I am worrying about that too. Will we have enough money to get the medicine I know he will need if we have to pay to take him there?

I am angry at myself. I let him go on a playdate at a kids play center on Sunday. They are horrible places and I could see it was terribly dirty, which meant it had not been cleaned in goodness knows how long. I remember feeling panicked the whole time we were there, but I didn’t want to be “that mum” whose kids are never “allowed to be kids” because she is “high strung.” It is my fault, I should have just said no and he probably wouldn’t be sick right now. I should trust my instincts. I avoid these types of places for a reason, and that reason is to protect my children from exactly this!

I’m washing dishes in a frenzy now, everything feels like it might be infected, and I don’t want to pass germs between other family members. Thankfully the little dude is really happy to lay in bed and stay away from his brother, so he doesn’t share. It flickers through my mind what a terrible mum I am, and that I hope my kids will forgive me for these times in their lives. These times when I wouldn’t let them play together in case they made the other sick, the times I’ve not wanted them to go to play centers or have made excuses why we couldn’t attend a party because I knew of ill children that would be going.

I’ve checked on my little boy half a dozen times, feeling his temperature, checking his glands and stroking his hair, trying to get him to drink some more. He looks paler than he would normally, even sick. Could I be wrong about tonsillitis? What if it is the flu? We haven’t been able to get our shots yet. If it is the flu ,what if something really bad happens to him? He could die, the flu is dangerous! No matter what it is, flu or tonsillitis, he is really hot. What if he starts to fit, he has never fitted from a temperature, but what if today is the first day? People die from unexpected things every day. What would we do if something happened to him? He is such an amazing child, he has so much to offer the world. It is terrible to see him hurting!

I go and get into the shower and scrub myself all over. I’m getting a headache and feeling unwell myself now. I feel like there are germs crawling on me and I just want to sterilize the whole house, but I know it is pointless to do and it would be giving in to the irrational worries going through my mind.

It is finally 8:15 a.m. and time to call the doctor. My husband does that for me — he is a great dad. They are almost fully booked, but manage to squeeze our son in. Despite the fact I’m “germaphobic,” our doctors know if we present at their office, it is because someone is really sick. I’m horrified at the thought of so many sick people in one small space, so whatever takes us there has to be worse than my fear of going!

I just have to get through until 1:30pm when he sees the doctor. It is 8:15 a.m. and I am already exhausted.

I repeat, it is not quirky, cute, or funny to have this “germophobic” OCD. It should never be the butt of a joke. I would do anything to not have these obsessive fears and the compulsions that go with them. I wish I was a carefree, laid back mother instead of this stressed out looking one with wild eyes and a racing heart!

Follow this journey on The Art of Broken

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