Our Canada Day was a perfect combination of lazy and active. We didn’t have any real plans, so I asked my husband if there was something particularly “Canadian Day-ish” that we should do. We decided on a BBQ. And, to the delight of our children, I was even willing to have real burgers, instead of veggie burgers. So, after a day spent working and playing in the yard, we all loaded into the van to get the groceries we’d need for our little BBQ. We even stopped on the way home to get slurpees.
We made the burgers, cut up veggies, set the table outside and enjoyed our meal. We started talking about a bike ride after dinner. It was all lovely.
Until my husband walked into the kitchen while I was cleaning up. He held up the bag of hamburger buns—the ones we had just bought at the store, the ones we had all just eaten—and asked if we had made the little hole in its side.
I shrugged. I had noticed it when my daughter was handing out the buns and asked her if she had torn the bag. She said no, so I assumed it had gotten snagged on something.
Then he pointed out the little black flecks in the bottom of the bag…the ones that look suspiciously like mouse poop.
I might have been inclined to dry heave in that moment. I think I started shaking my head, saying, “Why would you show me that? Why? Don’t show me that.” I was simply thinking of the gross factor. But even though it was gross, I knew I could move past it.
Until a few minutes later. When a pesky thought weaseled its way into my brain: “Could we get sick from eating those buns?”
I heard the rational voice in my head speak calmly, but firmly: “Don’t Google this.” I heard the voice of my obstetrician from my last pregnancy: “Don’t ever Google your symptoms.” Then the rational voice started getting louder, with a little more panic, until it was yelling at me: “DON’T YOU DARE GOOGLE THIS!”
So, I took a deep breath, picked up my phone, and Googled something like, “I think we just ate food that had mouse droppings on it, what will happen?”
Hantavirus. The words popped up on the screen. Hantavirus.
My husband was meanwhile getting everything and everyone ready for our bike ride. How could he think of biking at a time like this, I wondered. Doesn't he know we're in imminent danger?
In the process of getting ready to go, the five year old got mad that she had to ride in the bike trailer for this ride. She wanted to ride her own bike or stay home. Part of me thought, “Yes, we should stay home so that I can become an expert on all the symptoms of the Hantavirus.” But my husband got her buckled into the bike trailer, so I would have to do my research after the bike ride. Oh well, I thought, we might as well enjoy time together before all of us get deathly ill.
Before we left, I texted my mother-in-law. I figured she would know things because a) she was a nurse and b) she lives on a farm, so she’s been around mice.
She didn’t text back. She’s probably out of cell range. But it could be that she doesn’t want to be the one to break it to me that the end is near.
As we rode though the river valley, and I watched our oldest conquer steep hills, my mind wandered from pure enjoyment to pure fear. I felt all the feelings.
This was worse than last summer when we were camping and I looked over at one of my daughters after we were all tucked in to our sleeping bags. Her lips were glowing green, and I realized she had bitten through her glow necklace. I sat in the tent researching whether or not glow necklaces are toxic. Once that was settled in my brain, I decided to take some Nyquil for the horrid summer cold I had. But we didn’t have the little measuring cup. We did have a tiny syringe for infant Tylenol, so I tried to do the math and get the dosage right. About 15 minutes later, I was sure I had miscalculated and had probably overdosed. By the light of the cell phone, I read the label…which basically said to seek help immediately. I shook my husband awake and told him about it. He had no sympathy. Finally, I tried to sleep—which you think would have been easy if I’d taken too much. It wasn’t easy. I tossed and turned all night.
Yes, feeding my family mouse poop infested food was worse than that.
It was also worse than the time last winter when my parents were visiting and we made eggs—a nice big bowl of scrambled eggs. My husband had started cooking the eggs, and I finished up. I noticed how nice it was that he had a serving bowl waiting by the stove. Then. As everyone was nicely tucking into their eggs, he held the bowl up and asked if I’d washed it before putting the eggs in it. I slowly shook my head. We stared at each other from across the table, our eyes growing wider as the truth sunk in: this was the bowl that had housed all of the raw eggs before they went into the skillet. I immediately spit my eggs back onto my plate. And then I Googled Salmonella. By the time the table was cleared, I knew which symptoms to watch for and when they might show up.
But this: the threat of my whole family being wiped out by the Hantavirus? This tops them all.
After the bike ride, I gave in and called our health services number. The nurse gave me some promising news: only 6 in 100 mice in Alberta have tested positive for Hantavirus. And the greatest risk seems to be if you inhale the virus. But she also said that they recommend assuming that all mice are infected. And that the symptoms could show up anywhere from one to five weeks from now.
So, kids, for the next five weeks, it looks like we are heading to the doctor if you so much as sneeze.
At least by the time we go on vacation the risk will be over. If we make it that long.
My husband has said some wise words about how moments like this remind us that we aren’t really in control of very much. I think he’s right. But right now, I’m wishing for a bit more control.
Here's hoping that in five weeks I'm updating this post to say we've had a fabulous summer with no visits to the hospital.
P.S. If you're wondering if I am seriously worried or just laughing at myself...the answer is yes, both.