Get Your Damn Kids Vaccinated… Please

Liberalism is one of those concepts that every first year university student studied. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I’m sure you have some understanding of the term. Simply put: Do whatever you want; just don’t muck about with others.

I bring this up in light of this whole measles mess, which I wasn’t going to comment on because I didn’t think it was a big deal in Canada, and I figured it was just common sense. However a recent outbreak in Lanaudiere, Quebec, right outside of my hometown of Montreal has me concerned.

To dignify the argument that measles causes autism with any kind of response is pointless, because anyone who needs to hear that response isn’t listening, so let’s move on, and I’ll keep this brief because I don’t usually post mid week.

Yes, parents have the right to forgo vaccination, but they do not have the right to bring their kids to daycare, especially one with a nursery. Babies under one, like my daughter, are not old enough to receive the vaccine, but they are still susceptible to the deadly disease. Bottom line: those parents have the choice to leave their kids unprotected. I don’t.

For more information about the outbreak in Quebec 

At The Children’s Hospital (The only title that wasn’t too glib)

Preamble:

Joanie is fine. She had a complication from a virus that landed us in the hospital under observation for four days, but she has since recovered fully. So nobody freak out… for her… feel free to freak out for all the other parents and kids still there.

The Children’s Hospital in Montreal, like any children’s hospital is a terribly depressing place. No matter how many Despicable Me t-shirts the nurses wear or how many broken mobiles hand from the particle board ceilings, it’s still wreaks of sorrow. Tragedies are behind every curtain. Across the hall from our room a boy no older than thirteen recovered from a tracheotomy while escaping periodically to smoke. A mother was shipped off to the general hospital because she collapsed. She was, as I overheard, “non-responsive.” Walking down the hall of the seventh floor, I couldn’t help but peer through the windows at the rooms that looked a touch too lived in. Large sofas, cots made up with sheets from home, framed family photos on side tables; these comforts suggested a ramshackle make-shift permanence instead of the home all the kids were missing. Amidst all this weighty chilling sadness shine tales of unbelievable bravery.

On the other side of the curtain that separated our room, I heard the high pitch gasps of an infant struggling to inhale enough air into her too tiny lungs. It was constant but the rhythm was irregular. I listened, trying to intuit the kind of illness that would cause the squeals, until the second morning when Jim, her father, said from behind the curtain, “don’t worry, the team here is really great.” I couldn’t see his face but I could tell from the cheerful timbre of his voice that he wore a soft grin.

“They’re very nice,” I added. Without having much more to say I sat in silence.

Then his face, gaunt and stubbly appeared smiling from the other side of the curtain. He was clutching a mug with a picture of a baby boy printed on it. “We were here with my older son last year. He has a lesion in his brain. One in two thousand babies have it and he needs neurosurgery. We’ve been here for a month with my daughter. They transferred us from Ste. Justine a couple of days after she was born. She was diagnosed with down syndrome,” he said with a boggling degree of detailed nonchalance. “Everyone here is really great,” he repeated.

“I’m sorry,” I said, stupidly. Again, I was at a loss for words, and blurted something, anything out, when I probably should have said nothing.

“Don’t be sorry,” he corrected, “this was determined when she was only eight cells. She couldn’t be any other way. She wouldn’t be her if she wasn’t this way.” He had rehearsed this speech, but it was still so heart-warming. Maybe it was that it was rehearsed that made it so poignant.

For the following two days I listened to Jim and his wife Ella work together as a practiced team. They scheduled appointments, shared research, alternated the questioning of doctors and found time to chat excitedly about the hockey game. Despite having a daughter in the hospital, recovering from a cesarean, and planning another surgery for their son, Jim and Ella remained positive and proactive.

Could I do that? I wondered. Yes, I think eventually I could, but I imagine it would be tough. Much tougher than saying I could do it. Jim and Ella were professional parents in control of everything. I marvelled at the almost super-human qualities they displayed in the face of life’s most difficult trials.

Over the four days and three nights Joanie, Eric and I were in the hospital, I barely left the building, and when I did I felt distant from all the people around me. They were bustling to and from work, school, the gym, library, shops, doing their every day duties while I had slid off into this otherworldly space that is the hospital. It was as if I was very far away from the humanity of everyday, while simultaneously so close to the extremes of it: a mother desperately searching the halls for her missing son, a father collapsing at the sight of his daughter’s blood, families decorating hospital rooms, trying to make a dire situation and a sterile place seem like home.

Everyone there is really great.

What would I do without free healthcare?

She’d had fevers before. She’s stood on my legs and smiled until the moment before a nurse jabbed a needle into the pudgy rolls of her thighs at which point her small face contorts in agony. I’ve held her close to my chest as she cried a long piercing wail of pain, but when Joanie’s temperature heated for no discernible reason, I was terrified. We were in New York, staying at a modern boutique hotel with a pungently perfumed lobby and nothing was familiar. I woke up early to get some medication at the pharmacy down the road. The air stank of piss and old groceries and the city that was so fascinating the day before now left me skittish. I was eager to get back home where I know the brands of baby medicine, and temperature is measured in Celsius, and healthcare is free.

At home Joanie’s eyes returned to their usual bright state, her cheeks flushed and her arms strengthened, but her fever persisted. Eric assured me she was mostly healthy as I peered down into the crib stroking my little baby’s warm forehead.

“Maybe we should take her to the hospital. Fever’s are dangerous for infants.”

“She’s okay. It’s just a slight fever and she certainly isn’t lethargic.”

“But she’s so small.”

“If it’s like this tomorrow we’ll call Dr. Olav.”

He rubbed my back and stoked Joanie’s soft peach fuzz hair. “Come to bed.”

“I’m going to sleep here.”

“Come to bed,” he repeated, and I did, but only to wake up an hour later and sneak back to the nursery where I curled up on the foam play mat by the crib and slept with my head on Elmo’s tummy, waking up every half hour to check on her breathing.

The next morning Eric laughed and shook his head at the sight of me on the floor with my glasses hanging from one ear. We took Joanie’s temperature and her fever had subsided. She smiled up at us and kicked her legs with the force we had come to expect from her.

“See, she’s fine.”

In our family dynamic, Eric is the one with the calm approach. I tend towards the more spastic and worried. If it wasn’t for him, we would have been to the emergency room at least fifteen times in the last five and a half months.

“Why is she scratching her ear like that?”

“What’s that red mark?”

“She’s coughing! She’s coughing!”

“She’s fine.”

Joanie is a very healthy baby. She amazes the ladies at the daycare with her strength and energy. Even when she’s coughing or feverish she is happy and vivacious. Still, even though we haven’t used it yet, it’s nice to know we can take her to the emergency room and not be charged the equivalent of our life savings. Those few hours in the States with a sick child reminded me of how lucky we are to be born in a country with free healthcare. It blows my mind that people have to sacrifice so much just to get their kids basic health services. Our system in Canada may not be perfect but at least it helps more people than it cripples.