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Friday, August 26, 2016

Shot

Although the calendar may not officially agree, the seasons are beginning to change. Yes, there's still plenty of warm or even hot weather to be had, but the days are getting ever so slightly shorter and the nights a bit cooler. The chirping of crickets is getting slower and softer. Kids all over the place are back in school, which brings us to another season of sorts. When you go into a pharmacy or drug store, you may be asked if you've had your flu shot yet. Both Trent and I make sure to get our flu shots every year. He is a transplant recipient and I have lupus, an autoimmune disorder. We have the injections to try and protect ourselves from the ick that seems to proliferate every winter season.

Of course, this makes me think of the whole vaccination issue. Let me say that you have every right to believe what you wish about vaccinations, as does everyone, and I respect your right to make your own choices. I remember having various vaccinations offered at school when I was young, and my family took advantage of every available vaccine. Gram had lived through the 1918 flu pandemic (note: pandemic = a worldwide epidemic, which is pretty horrifying). Polio epidemics occurred in various areas every year after the devastating polio epidemic of 1916. Having lived with the very real fear of complications like paralysis or death, they were all for preventing future cases of these and other diseases.

Then a British medical journal published a study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that claimed to have found a direct link between vaccinations and autism. Although his study was proven to be a hoax and was retracted, the claims that vaccines cause autism linger. Measles, which had been all but eradicated, have made a resurgence, along with things like chicken pox. Some parents even have what they refer to as chicken pox parties. When one child gets the disease, all of their friends come over and spend the night so that they will get it too.

These parents seem to think that having chicken pox or measles is a good thing, that it makes the child's immune system stronger and more effective. They pride themselves on taking loving care of their infected child. When the child has a fever, some sort of treatment will be given, whether it is an over the counter medication or soothing cool cloths. When the child is covered with itchy spots, they gently administer oatmeal baths and dab the irritated skin with calamine lotion. They bring cool juices and ice pops to help their little ones feel better. And barring complications, life goes on.

Something that I'm not sure these parents think about is what might happen later in their child's life, sometimes long after nature runs its course and the parents are nothing but part of their child's memories. You see, when someone has chicken pox, the virus stays in their body. It might just stay there forever, but sometimes it gets reactivated and results in shingles. Now, I've had a couple of minor skirmishes with shingles, and Trent has had several unpleasant ones. The amount of pain associated with them is unbelievable. Sometimes, as is the case with Trent, there are periods of pain in the affected area long after the sores are healed.

But I want to share another, darker side of chicken pox and shingles. The child who went to the chicken pox party and came out relatively unscathed might have a horrific outbreak when they are elderly. Their parents, with their lovingly doled out acetaminophen and calamine lotion and ice pops, won't be there any more. It will fall on others to care for a frail body that is covered with incredibly painful sores. And sometimes, as was the case with my father-in-law, that is not the worst. The severe outbreak of shingles which damaged the protective shield of his skin allowed his body to be taken over by a secondary infection.  

Trent's father had shingles that resulted in sepsis. Infection raged quickly through his body and his organs began to fail. He became unconscious as his brain became damaged, and often cried out in his pain and confusion. When I held his hand, he seemed to respond to me, perhaps that was wishful thinking. The doctors advised giving him morphine to relieve the pain and to ease his passage from this life. I held Jim's hand and told him what the doctors said, even though he seemed to be unconscious. I asked him if he wanted help to go. He spoke the word, "Help," and we knew what to do. He had made the decision for us. I told him that we would be all right and gave him permission to leave us behind. We said our goodbyes for the last time and let him depart.

These are the things I think of when parents are eager for their children to have chicken pox. Yes, most of the time the illness is more an inconvenience than anything else. But years later, it can cause intolerable pain or a secondary infection leading to delirium and death. I am not trying to convince anyone to choose one form of action over another. I just want to remind them that our children's futures can be changed by things that are too distant for us to see.
 


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