It’s not – and never will be – “just a rash”

For all three of our sons, we took the non-traditional route – home births for each one. We did our research and decided that was best for us. I don’t regret that at all.

We also did research on vaccines, and decided to forgo them for our first 2 children, born 23 months apart. We live in a clean, healthy, sanitary environment, we thought. Our kids don’t need vaccines. Measles, chicken pox, mumps…weren’t those a rite of passage as a child in our generation? I had each of those diseases. I came through them unscathed. And what if the vaccines cause brain damage? Autism? We said we wouldn’t take the risk.

Then one morning, my eldest son, age 3 at the time, woke up and couldn’t see out of his left eye. That day was the worst day of my life. Panicked emergency visits to doctors to rule out cancer in his brain and eyes consumed our day. The diagnosis came back – cataract and uveitis, an inflammatory disease of the eyes. He was just weeks away from going permanently blind.

Since that day, he has had 2 surgeries to remove cataracts from both eyes, and 11 years of daily eye drops, steroids, chemotherapy, monthly IV infusions to treat the inflammatory cells that stubbornly persist, and experimental drug therapies to treat his condition. Now I give him weekly shots of a breast cancer drug to keep his eyes stable.

The drugs I use to keep my son healthy.

And all of this has wreaked havoc on his immune system.

When he was in the more intense stages of treatment, any fever or illness was a cause for panic. A simple infection could do significant damage as he had no immune system to fight it off.

And the first question the doctors always asked us, is he up to date with his shots?

Our answer, of course, was no.

We learned that chicken pox – and other childhood diseases – could kill him. Chicken pox, that rite of passage disease, that virus that we all used to get, that illness that didn’t seem to be a big deal, could kill my son.

And due to his lack of an immune system, he could not receive any live vaccines – so no varicella vaccine, no MMR vaccine. This is one of the biggest regrets of my life as a parent – that we didn’t give him those vaccines when he was a healthy child.

When he was in 5th grade, we got the dreaded call from the school nurse. There was an outbreak of chicken pox in school. We had had our other 2 sons vaccinated, and though my youngest wasn’t in school yet, my middle son may have come into contact with an infected child. We called his doctors in a panic. He was immediately hospitalized in a negative pressure room and put on immune boosting IV medication in an attempt to ward off any infection. Constantly monitored to see if any signs of the pox showed. He was released after several days of hospitalization, although he couldn’t return to school for 6 weeks. We had to be sure that the outbreak had subsided.

That was terrifying. A simple virus could have killed my child. The chicken pox. Now there is a measles outbreak. These illnesses are not “just rashes,” “just coughs,” or “just…” whatever. They can kill. And they do.

They could kill any immunocompromised child. Any child with cancer. Any child in a health crisis.

We’ve been on both sides of this vaccine debate, and we know with certainty where we stand now.

Are vaccines 100% effective? I don’t know. Are they 100% safe? I don’t know. But being the mother of a compromised child, I know I’ll take my chances.

We used to be afraid of vaccines. Ignorant of the dangers of these illnesses. Complacent in our beliefs that in a modern clean society such as ours, we didn’t have to worry about those things.

How wrong we were.

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