Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peace of Mind

As a new or expecting parent, you'll have to get used to the idea that your child will be sick. A lot. It's part of life, this acquisition of viruses and bacterial infections. And while it can be hard to watch your child cough, sniffle, become feverish, battle a sore throat, etc., at least we know her immune system is growing stronger and figuring out a way to let her live among other human beings without being crippled by illness. 

That being said, you can probably expect to feel the way I still feel, after two kids, every time my kids get perhaps a little sicker than usual: anxious, worried, and perhaps even a little obsessed. For example, my nineteen-month-old has been sick for the last five days with what was a mysterious but brutal ailment. She was listless, not herself, eyes red-rimmed, running a high fever, and crying a lot. Her brother had been complaining of a sore throat. A visit to the doctor, and the follow-up three days later, showed no strep. He was off to school a couple days later, none the worse for wear. But my daughter was just not doing well at all. I found myself looking through my book of childhood illnesses, scrutinizing symptoms, wondering what she might have and if I should bring her to the doctor (my son's doctor didn't think it necessary to bring my daughter in, since his strep test was negative). 

As soon as I opened the book that old familiar feeling appeared. Blood and heart racing, getting hot, almost sweaty, feeling panicked. Measles? Meningitis? Mumps? Pertussis? I churned for about half a second, until I realized: wait, my daughter has been vaccinated against these deadly diseases. At least, I thought to myself, I don't have to worry about those. The peace of mind I felt instantly upon realizing that I had vaccinated my daughter (and son) so they would not contract these awful, sometimes fatal diseases was one of the greatest endorsements of my decision to vaccinate. Sure, I could move on to other worries, like strep throat (which is what it turned out to be after a visit to Urgent Care), but I no longer feared for my daughter's life. And while that may sound an extreme reaction to your child's illness, trust me, it's sort of a boilerplate reaction. Somewhere, in the back of your mind, a parent wonders if the sickness might be something awful.

My thoughts turned to parents who don't vaccinate. How, I wondered, could they cope psychologically with common childhood illness, not knowing if it was measles or the rather harmless roseola? Could it be pertussis or just a bad cough? The uncertainty would be my undoing. And in the middle of an outbreak, like the measles outbreak of Minnesota and the pertussis outbreak that killed children in California, the fear would be too much to bear. 

If you are trying to decide whether to vaccinate your children, consider your future self, waking up in the middle of some future night, and finding your baby running a terribly high fever in her crib. You don't what's going on--this is your first, perhaps. Do you want to run, in your head, the gamut of all the potential deadly vaccine-preventable diseases your child could have, signaled by this fever, that rash, this cough, these enlarged glands? Or do you want to have at least the peace of mind to know that the odds are hugely in your favor that your child is protected from the worst childhood diseases out there, and that this fever might indicate Fifth's Disease or Roseola or another annoying but basically harmless childhood virus? Do your future, sleep-deprived self, and your child, a favor and immunize.

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