Honey, could you please not ever vomit again?
March 15, 2012 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I have a vomit phobia. My SO is upstairs vomiting, and I think he has a stomach virus that's been going around. How do I get through this?

I did an AskMeFi search for emetophobia, and I've found some really great questions and answers about dealing with the phobia in a general sense. I've actually been working on systematic desensitization, and I can now vomit myself and not have an anxiety attack. I can also see vomit on the sidewalk and not go nuclear. I saw a lady vomit in the city the other day and even though I freaked out, I was semi-ok in a relatively short period of time. I am in therapy, and we have talked about this, but with meh results. I actually know where and when the phobia developed - I was in the hospital as a young child and my roommate was on chemo and vomiting all the time. Her parents would kind of drop of the face of the planet when she got really sick and I spent a lot of time listening to her vomit while crying out for her mom.

So, how do I deal with my SO vomiting right now? I've never been in this position before and I'm freaking the eff out. I've been trying to talk myself down and rationalize but I'm pretty terrified. I was able to work up the nerve (took an hour and a Xanax) to go check on him once he was out of the bathroom and he's feeling really miserable.

Also, how do you (with or with out having this phobia) deal with your partner when they are vomiting? What's a normal reaction to seeing someone vomit? Is it okay if I just let him deal with it himself?
posted by OsoMeaty to Human Relations (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Both my SO and I appreciate being left alone when we're being sick, with the occasional check-in to be sure if we need anything. We both recently had the stomach bug that was going around, and it didn't last long, so hopefully it'll be over soon.

In other words, if you've checked on him and he's miserable and ready for sleeping, you've done all you need to do for him. Now go do whatever it is you need to do help yourself feel better.
posted by ldthomps at 12:34 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't want anyone near me if I were vomiting. You're fine leaving him alone.
posted by something something at 12:37 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah check on him. If he needs any medication / black tea / whatever, make sure he gets it (take charge of the getting better part, read up on it or ask a pharmacy). If you have a shop close by, maybe buy stuff to eat for the next day, since he won't be able to eat normal stuff.

Otherwise, stay out of it. I assume he knows about your phobia and he'd feel even worse knowing you're out there having a panic attack!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:39 PM on March 15, 2012

So I'm assuming your SO knows about this phobia so it's not a surprise? If not you need to explain the phobia first. Then, I wonder if you could talk and check up on him via text/IM (if he's on a laptop) or whatever. I know it seems lame, but it's better than cutting him off, and it doesn't involve entering the danger zone. And ask him to tell you if he'd like company and he feels like the coast is clear, or if he needs anything brought to him or anything.
posted by brainmouse at 12:40 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My usual response: generally, leave them alone while they puke. if there's a long interlude, ask "hey, how're you doing in there? need anything? water? tea?" ideally, they manage to vomit in the toilet and don't make a mess and flush the toilet when they're done. if not, when they're done, go help clean up and try to ignore the fact that it's vomit.

after they're done vomiting, they may appreciate a cool damp facecloth folded up to put on their forehead or perhaps to rub their neck with or wipe their face. mostly, they probably want to rinse their mouth out - possibly brush their teeth - and then go sit down or lay down and hope it doesn't happen again. periodically check if they need anything in the way of crackers or tea or water.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Normal reaction to seeing someone: I generally look away, breathe steadily for a moment, and ask if the person is all right. If I'm in public and they're a stranger, I'll ask if they're with anyone and should I go look for them. If I'm in a bar and they're ... 'episoding' (this happened last month), the first thing I do when I can is ask them if they can tell me their name. If they can't even get that out, I tell their friends to get them to a hospital FAST. If they're not with anyone, I call an ambulance myself.

If it's a friend, whether in public or private, I'll let them be for the moment unless I fear for their safety during the ... episode. I'll ask them if they're all right when they're done, and otherwise give them a bit of space.

Slightly more specific to your case: Drinking a bit of water can help prevent dehydration from repeated bouts -- I suggest very small sips of water until he knows he can handle it. If he's okay with that, tiny bites of cracker. If that handles well, add peanut butter to the crackers. Other than that, if he knows what he has and a doctor can't help I say let him do what he would like to do. If you've already discussed the phobia with him, great! He'll probably understand why you might be acting a little strangely, and quite possibly appreciate any efforts you're taking to help.

TL;DR: It's perfectly normal to not want to see someone 'episoding'. Tiny sips of water on his part, a bit of distance and calm breathing on yours.

Oh! If you think it would help, good headphones and loud music if you could hear him episoding upstairs. If you can't hear it, smell it, or see it, you can kinda pretend it's not happening? (I used to be this way with hearing people eat, so yeah. Boy was that awkward for a few years...)
posted by Heretical at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2012

I don't have a phobia, but nobody likes to listen to or see someone vomit! Agree with ldthomps that when I'm nauseated and/or vomiting, I want to be left alone for the most part. Fussing over me doesn't help me feel better at all.

You could ask him if there's any beverage or food that he might want later - this is highly personal. For myself, I always want cold ginger ale or Sprite and saltines or toast around on such occasions, but everybody is different. This could give you a chance to get out and away for a bit and run an errand, if being in the house is problematic. Asking by text/IM is a great idea!

If the sound bothers you (it kind of squicks me out too), earplugs or headphones can help.
posted by Knicke at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2012

I have a similar problem, not as much with vomiting in general, but if I think its contagious I really freak out. Nthing that most people prefer to be left alone though when they are sick like that. I would just check on him, ask if he needs you to get anything (ginger ale, water, crackers?) But I'd probably stay out of the way until it passes for the most part. I'd also be spraying lysol everywhere and washing my hands raw... but thats probably my own phobia talking.
posted by Quincy at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2012

I definitely don't want anyone around when I'm actually actively vomiting. But I would appreciate someone bringing me stuff I need, making sure I'm OK, cleaning up after me (to the extent that you are able, without freaking out). This is brought to you by the stomach flu I (a single person) had a couple of weeks ago and the suckiness of cleaning the apartment when I was no longer *sick* sick but I still felt pretty crappy.

As for how normal people react to vomiting, I think most of us are pretty grossed out by it. Except, like, healthcare providers and kindergarten teachers, maybe parent of young children. So I don't think you need to get to a place where you see your SO vomit and it awakens tender feelings within you or anything (although if you can, good on you!).
posted by mskyle at 12:43 PM on March 15, 2012

Yeah, if it was me, I wouldn't really want you around. I'm no more interesting in puking around my wife than I am in pooping around her.

Compounding that, if you had told me that you had kind of a specific issue with puking, I would tell you (very honestly) that I would be happy for you to go down the street and grab a pint and I'll call you when the coast is clear.
posted by ftm at 12:43 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

If he knows you have the vomit phobia he's not going to expect you to be in there. I think its OK to let him deal with it himself. My husband is no help when I vomit and just hovers annoyingly anyway so I prefer him to leave me alone to upchuck. If he's OK but just feeling miserable, settle him down in bed with a bucket handy and leave him alone and just check in periodically, even if it is to just knock softly on the door and ask how he's doing without going in the room.

It's hard to see someone you love sick without having a vomit phobia, good news is most sick people like to be left alone. Also practice good hygiene, if you are aren't good with vomit you'll want to try to avoid getting it yourself. If you can get yourself together enough to clean up any mess in the bathroom for him he'd probably appreciate that, but if he knows you have problems he won't be expecting that so don't worry if you can't.
posted by wwax at 12:43 PM on March 15, 2012

You don't have to go in. Yell through the door as needed. (If I was vomiting, I wouldn't want my phone near me for texting or talking, honestly.)

Depending on the layout of your place, if you can leave a bottle of water/tea/whatever he wants outside the door, in the hallway, so he can grab them and you aren't in the immediate vicinity, he'll appreciate that.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:48 PM on March 15, 2012

I'm a sympathetic puker. If somebody starts I just have to join in.

When my husband starts I might remind him to brush his teeth but that's about it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:48 PM on March 15, 2012

Another way of managing the sound - have him run the shower while he's getting sick so the sound of the water drowns out his hyukking.

I agree that it's extraordinarily likely he doesn't want you anywhere near him, and periodic checking in when he's in between puking spells is a perfectly kind approach given your phobia. My advice would be to focusing more on prevention to make sure you don't pick up the bug - wash your hands a lot, and if you're able to do so while he's resting, scrub the toilet out with a cleaner that kills germs and wipe down the sink with Lysol or the like. It could also help you psychologically normalize the bathroom space again - as in you're wiping away all possible traces of grossness, etcetera.

You can do this!
posted by superfluousm at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2012

You're not exactly alone in this 'phobia'. I mean it takes a pretty special, not necessarily in a good/healthy way, to derive pleasure from seeing vomit or people vomiting.

Knowing that, and thinking about it, might help with regards to you encouraging yourself to improve.

That said, my fiance is approaching the end of her Clinical Psychology PhD and she is almost always supportive of systematic desensitization as a method of dealing with discomfort in patients.

Good luck, move slow, help out your SO as you can.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:51 PM on March 15, 2012

A normal reaction to vomiting is to put a trash can by their bed, to have some gatorade on ice convenient for them to drink, and make sure they have a clear path to the bathroom and make sure they aren't dead/dying every hour or so.
posted by empath at 12:55 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to address how you developed the phobia. I'm a mom and the situation you describe of a critically ill young girl, needing her mom, ill and crying for her and neglected breaks my heart. Perhaps in some way you are associating that terrible dereliction of maternal duty with vomiting, and the dereliction is really, really upsetting.

But its the maternal neglect that is the worst. Perhaps you can help your phobia a bit by not being neglectful. If someone can't swallow water without vomiting then just swirling the water in their mouth and spitting it out again can help.
posted by zia at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

cleaning up after me (to the extent that you are able, without freaking out).

That is huge. If you can manage it.

I, personally, would rather puke than try to hold and I want to throw up in peace. However, I am not your SO who may very well be the type who is thinking where is osomeaty?! I could fall and fracture my skull! I may asphyxiate! You should probably ask the SO and then explain that you'll do your best and keep working on the phobia.

(That is a horrible story about the parents!)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:59 PM on March 15, 2012

Yeah, don't feel bad about leaving him alone while he's puking. Much like most people don't want an audience while they're pooping, I'd say most don't want an audience for puking, especially since you'd be doing little other than metaphorically (or literally, I suppose) holding his hair back. When he's not vomiting, ask him if you can get him anything, but otherwise I'd say leave him alone other than to check up on him every so often. I start gagging and heaving if I listen too long to someone vomiting, so I've definitely done the whole quickly check on someone, leave them water/a vomit receptacle/napkins and fleeing thing. If you're really concerned that he needs more help than you can provide, call a friend or one of his relatives.

I would just add that you should maybe make sure he's not experiencing any vertigo and doesn't need any help getting into or out of the bathroom.
posted by yasaman at 1:02 PM on March 15, 2012

Look, I don't have a phobia but I still start to gag if somebody throws up in my presence and I generally have to throw up if I am supposed to actually help somebody who's in the process of throwing up....so as long as your SO is ok for water and a receptacle to assist should the bathroom turn out to be too far to go and a cloth to wipe their face and mouth with leave them alone.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:12 PM on March 15, 2012

Ask yourself if your SO is the type that would need comfort in this type of extremely unpleasant situation.

If your SO would rather be left alone then remain outside of the bathroom. Periodically ask if your SO wants anything to drink, if your SO is okay, or if there is anything that you can do.

If your SO is the type that would want you to be there (which hopefully not), but if that's the case then do certain things to comfort yourself in this situation while taking care of your SO.

Turn the water on, close your eyes, rub your SO's back, and count in your head while you wait until this horrible experience is over with.

Whatever you do, don't LEAVE your place while your SO is dealing with this.
posted by livinglearning at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2012

Ginger is good for controlling nausea. Show your love by going out and getting ginger ale. Take it to him with crushed ice, and a mug. While you're shopping, pick up some chicken broth and/or clear soups - matzoh ball soup is very soothing, and regularly take him a cup of hot soup or broth, and as soon as he feels up to it, maybe some toast with honey or cinnamon sugar. If he has to go be sick again, maybe go change the sheets, or at least the pillowcases. Clean sheets always make me feel better.

If you can do some cleanup in the bathroom when he's done, wiping surfaces, clean the toilet, and airing it out, it will be nicer if he has to use it later.
posted by theora55 at 1:14 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

So, how do I deal with my SO vomiting right now?

Might I recommend simply leaving the house? Presumably you've told your SO about your phobia, and so you could step out of the house, and text your SO why, and let them know that you'll happily do anything you can to help that doesn't involve you being in the house while puking is going on.
posted by davejay at 1:22 PM on March 15, 2012

Mom of several kids and many barfing cats, still grossed out by it, but it sounds like you have done all you could for your partner. I gave my kids Gatoraide so they would not dehydrate and have used it myself when I had stomach virus type things. I don't know anyone who wants anyone hovering over them when sick like that. I do not think your reaction at all unusual, don't worry about it.
posted by mermayd at 1:25 PM on March 15, 2012

Nthing everyone on him probably not wanting company. Get him comfort/sicky foods if he needs them and maybe have some ice chips on hand if he can't keep water down.

I get a little panicky when my SO has stomach bugs, and I feel better if I go into cleaning mode. Nothing insane, but when the bathroom isn't in use, I clean the toilet, sink, and counters with a disinfecting cleaner or I clean and then sanitize with bleach. I clean the floors if there's time in between...episodes. I also go around and wipe down doorknobs all over the house. Then I feel good because I won't catch germs, and he feels good because nobody likes sitting on a dirty floor or using a dirty toilet when they're sick, right?

Extra extreme lengths of cleanliness: get him a new toothbrush to use when he's feeling better, and wash your bedding as soon as is reasonable. If cleaning freaks you out a little, that's okay. It's your house, you can wear rubber gloves and a face mask if you want. No one will care.

My SO & I also give up the bed when the other is really sick in any way. Then no one is disturbed by coughing or frequent trips to the bathroom, no one catches cooties, and the sick one gets the bed all to themselves. We are lucky enough to have a spare futon and a comfy couch, so it's not an inconvenience.

Really, it sounds like you're doing a great job already. You know what to do to keep yourself relatively calm, with the Xanax and the self-talk. Maybe go for a walk or get out of the house for a little while to continue with that--as long as you are comfortable leaving him alone. I'm sure he's fine. Do try to keep tabs on his relative wellness & ability to keep fluids down. If he's still in dire straits after 24 hours (maybe less; can anyone advise?) you should consider getting him to the hospital.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 1:35 PM on March 15, 2012

Oh god, I am so sorry. As you'll see if you look through my AskMe history, I'm an emetophibic too, and I've literally had nightmare after nightmare about not being able to handle it if my husband should ever get a stomach bug (it's never happened). It's terrifying to feel that your fears are preventing you from being a good partner.

I would suggest an anti-anxiety drug, if you have one. That's what I plan to do should the situation arise. Not a long-term substitute for working through this issue, but possibly necessary in the short term.

Also, headphones with music playing. Let him text you or ring a bell if he wants your attention; the stress of listening to somebody I love and care for and want to help but am simultaneously terrified of would be close to unbearable for me.

Go out and get anything he might need. Then you will feel you have a purpose. Plus, fresh air helps.

I'm so so sorry.
posted by Cygnet at 1:37 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say that everyone else is right that most folks just want to be left alone. You're doing a great job of taking care of yourself, taking Xanax, and asking for help here. Normal reaction is to offer the other person things (crackers, water, ginger ale, soup), and really, most normal reactions are about aftercare, not being present during the episode itself. Just keep taking care of yourself, maybe go out and rent some DVDs (for both of you!), be kind to yourself.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 1:52 PM on March 15, 2012

I guess I'm in the minority as I absolutely want someone with me when I'm sick. I have a bit of a vomit phobia... but it only extends to *me.* I absolutely can not stand vomiting. Can not. Can't deal. Like, existentially - it gives me the howling fantods. When I was in labor, I started begging for Zofran before I asked for an epidural. I can seriously stand level "10" on a scale from 1-10 pain before I can mentally cope with puking.

HOWEVER! My husband has a body-fluids-phobia. Especially vomit. He can't clean up cat barf without vomiting himself. He is absolutely the last person I would ever want around were I to be sick to my stomach. Even though I prefer having someone in the room (and oh, I've been blessed with good friends in college who held back my hair) - I'll take no one at all over having to worry about making *him* feel sick.

If your SO is aware of your phobia, he likely feels the same way - that he can manage on his own and doesn't want to freak you out. Be around for him when he's done vomiting. Other than that, take care of yourself in the present so you can be there for him when he needs you later!

(Also: oddly, I can deal with other people puking just fine. Doesn't even make me gag. I don't like it, but I once had been cooking dinner when my now-ex was suddenly stricken with a horrible stomach virus. I rubbed his back while he was sick [at his request] and went on cooking and ate dinner between bouts of distress. I'm told that this is highly weird.)

(Also also: I guess I'm not the only person who wants someone to comfort me when I'm sick as my ex was the same way. My current husband would be happier if I re-located to Uzbekistan than stay in the room with him when he's ill - even if he only has a headache.)
posted by sonika at 2:08 PM on March 15, 2012

If Mr Corpse were to vomit in the bathroom, the Cone of Silence would immediately descend and I would never know. What happens in the bathroom, stays in the bathroom.

I don't vomit, but if I were to I would also want to be completely ignored.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:26 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

You are doing just fine. I agree that most people want to be left alone when they are that sick. Dehydration is something that can happen when someone is sick like that. So if you can leave some water/ginger ale, etc. outside of the bathroom door, you have done more than most people.
posted by Vaike at 2:27 PM on March 15, 2012

Please don't listen to the people who are saying "Well nobody likes it when people throw up." Even though you've heard it as many times as I have, I'm sure. No, it's not just that throwing up is "gross." We can't just clean it up and "pretend it's not vomit" It induces severe panic in us. When I even think someone seems like they might throw up, or mentions being slightly nauseous, I have to get away from them. I understand.

My friends and guys I've dated know not to expect me to help when they're throwing up. It's something that's come up relatively early in me knowing someone. They understand. I apologize profusely, they realize my phobia is real, and they're fine.

If you can bear being in the house, stay there but definitely do NOT go upstairs if you don't want to. If you can make it to the closed door (which is rough) you can kind of yell out support. Otherwise try going just outside, being away from the situation for a moment to gather yourself.

I know all of this sounds jerky, but I know what it's like to be so scared to go near somebody throwing up.
posted by dithmer at 8:22 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've found that I prefer to go out in the backyard to puke. There's something primal about it and you don't have to aim. If my wife would hang out in the backyard like I do when I get a stomach flu, it would greatly reduce my stress level as far as not feeling like a gross mess is being made in the room where my toothbrush lives. Once you've sat out a bug in the backyard, puking in the bushes, you'll never want to try to aim for the toilet again. Sounds odd until you've tried it.
posted by PSB at 6:08 AM on March 16, 2012

Just a quick hug from me too, another emetophobe. My OH doesn't want me near when he is sick, and I am happy for him to hover outside the bathroom door if I am. Very rare either of us is, actually.

Do mefi mail me if you want to know how hypnotherapy has helped me amazingly, though.

Hope you both feel better soon.
posted by LyzzyBee at 7:34 AM on March 16, 2012

Thanks guys. I returned to this throughout yesterday and this morning and it was really helpful in maintaining my cool.

For any other emetophobes/people who get freaked by their partner vomiting who may visit this question thread in the future: Periodic brief check-ins followed by a hasty retreat to the living room (area furthest from the danger zone) worked quite well. I gave him a bucket with trash bags and that made me feel a lot better, and helped me to stop obsessively envisioning an exorcist head spinning projectile vomiting scene in our bedroom. I also set up lots of sound barriers by closing doors and turning up the volume on the TV. Doing this stuff instead of just sitting there and obsessing was helpful. I also re-read the responses to my questions to quell my “VOMIT = DEATH” fear talk. Also, the pukey SO mentioned above is doing much better.
posted by OsoMeaty at 7:58 AM on March 16, 2012

dithmer, I think it's understood -- at least as far as I can tell -- that emetophobia is pretty real. It's just that someone vomiting nearby is unpleasant even for those of us for whom it doesn't have more serious effects. I'm pretty unflappable, but I find the sound like fingernails on a chalkboard and the smell triggers my own vomit reflex quite readily. I still count myself capable of, say, dumping someone's vomit bucket -- I would just do it as quickly as I damned well could, and then I'd need fresh air. In other words, we're just saying the actual process remains traumatic for most people (and to be perfectly clear, this question was asked).

What's different for you, and the OP, is the added anxiety of feeling you won't be able to help. In fact, I'm sure that's the key to Oso's anxiety -- that experience of the poor girl on chemo who obviously went through something emotionally pretty awful in her presence. Often, but not always, understanding one's anxiety is the key to overcoming it. Indeed, Oso, your final comment above indicates that by finding a way in which you could count yourself as helping you feel better.
posted by dhartung at 8:55 AM on March 16, 2012

I'm glad the worst has passed, but for future reference, I'd leave him completely alone unless he needs you. Put on your headphones and put your phone in your pocket or somewhere you can see it. Have him text or call you when he needs you. Then you don't have to see or hear it ever.
posted by desjardins at 11:32 AM on March 16, 2012

Smiling (goofy-looking grin) suppresses the gag reflex for me and keeps me from joining in. YMMV.
After being on a bus full of high school students that caught the same bug, we were also told that Pedia-lyte was better than Gatorade.

Hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes. I credit myself not getting sick to one student that wiped down every surface on the bus every ten minutes. That, and my liberal use of hand sanitizer.
posted by bach at 8:43 PM on March 19, 2012

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