Flu or Flu-like illness in chronically ill or disabled children

Home and social life

Daily routines, home life and holidays can be affected when a child is ill with flu or flu-like illness, even more so if the child needs to stay in hospital and is frequently ill. The parents we spoke to told us how they managed their home and social life during these periods. Some families were more affected than others. Parents’ work schedules affected how they could care for children and some had flexibility to work at home (see ‘Work and finances’). Some parents took annual leave or unpaid leave to look after their child until they recovered.
If the child needed to stay in hospital during the flu or flu-like illness, parents had to reorganise daily routines so that they could be in hospital with their ill child and at the same time manage the care of any other children, and their own work schedules.
Children with a long term medical condition or disability can deteriorate quickly when they have flu or flu-like illness and may need to go to hospital urgently to prevent further complications. Sometimes parents have to quickly make arrangements for their other children to be cared for. Parents relied heavily on support from grandparents and family members at these times. Ella’s grandparents live nearby and help with looking after Ella’s sister when her parents need to be in the hospital with Ella or, when her parents are at work. Nia’s mum sometimes goes into hospital to be with Daniel, so that Nia can go home and have dinner with the rest of the family. Fiona’s brother and sister-in-law sometimes take time off work to look after Meg’s sister when Meg is in hospital.
Parents were sometimes able to rely on friends or paid childcare to look after their other children. Adam’s neighbour is a good friend and their other children stay there if they need to be in hospital with their son. One of the staff at Daniels’ nursery is a part time nanny so she is able to take Daniel’s older brother to and from school when his mum needs to be in hospital with Daniel.
Sometimes flu or flu-like illness was a minor disruption compared to managing the impact of their child’s long term medical condition or disability on their home life. Logan has complex medical needs and hasn’t been severely affected by flu or flu-like illness. But his parents are used to going back and forth to the hospital with his other conditions. His mum, Emma says because of this, “the flu is just, that’s another thing to just change the dynamics of the family and the routines for a couple of days.” Sharon says the biggest impact of flu or flu-like illness is on ten year old Henry’s school life rather than their home life. Anita says, “Nothing changes…. life doesn’t stop because of [flu-like illness], unfortunately it can’t.”
For some parents, it was difficult to plan social events and holidays because of the frequency with which their child was ill with flu or flu-like illness. Until Eliza was four, she used to get ill with flu-like illness frequently and she would need to be in hospital, so her parents didn’t make plans.
Karen says, “It’s very, very disruptive.” Six year old Alex has asthma and in the past, he has ended up in hospital while on holiday or when they have been away visiting friends. She would always find out where the nearest hospital or Accident & Emergency was before they went away. Waj’s daughter becomes ill with colds and flu-like illness every third week. She said her daughter becomes moody in the lead up to having flu or flu-like illness and doesn’t want to socialise.
Flu or flu-like illness also affected sleep patterns, which had an impact on family plans. When Louise’s diabetic son has flu or flu-like illness, his blood sugar levels have to be checked every two hours through the night. She says it’s “just beyond exhausting …and everything has to stop.” When Arthur has flu or flu-like illness his breathing is affected and he wakes three or four times in the night and sleeps during the day. Family plans are affected and they concentrate on getting Arthur better. Flu or Flu-like illness makes Judith’s already disrupted sleep pattern, more of a problem. Both grandparents provide important practical help by staying overnight twice a week and giving Gillian and her husband a chance to catch-up with their sleep.
(See also ‘Work and finances’, ‘Finding information and support’ and ‘Effect on siblings’.)

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