This information this post is based on is several years old, more than several, but I was thinking about it today. When Edward was newly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and was about to start on immune-system-suppressing medication, he had some bloodwork done, and also a TB test. I don’t remember why things happened in the order that they happened, but the upshot is that one of the things the bloodwork showed us was that Edward’s chicken pox vaccines had NOT been effective—but we found that out AFTER he was on the immunosuppressing medication, so it was too late to get the vaccinations redone. So he’s just not immune to chicken pox, despite being vaccinated on the recommended schedule.
I was AWARE, statistically-speaking, that a certain percentage of vaccinations don’t take. But somehow I didn’t expect MY PERSONAL CHILD to be affected. He had BOTH doses of the chicken pox vaccine, and right on schedule! How can they just…NOT HAVE WORKED? And why couldn’t it have been, say, Elizabeth, or Henry, or Rob, or William, who got the vaccinations and they didn’t work? Why EDWARD, who is now on immunosuppressants and CAN’T get any live vaccines and also now ABSOLUTELY CAN’T be exposed to chicken pox, on top of everything else he has to deal with? If Elizabeth (or Henry, or Rob, or William) got chicken pox, it would likely be similar to when I got it as a child: irritating and itchy and fully survivable. If EDWARD gets it, he has to go immediately for medical treatment, and he’s likely to end up hospitalized while it plays out, and that’s the HAPPY outcome.
Luckily for us, and for Edward, MOST kids in our area get the chicken pox vaccine, despite chicken pox not being a big deal for most people. So even though it would be very dangerous if he were exposed to a case of chicken pox, that’s not likely to happen. I don’t know the last time I even HEARD of anyone around here having chicken pox. I still worry about it, of course I worry about it—but what a treat, what a relief, that it’s not something I need to worry about MUCH. People who would probably not be in danger from chicken pox are nevertheless getting the chicken pox vaccine, so the population at large is less likely overall to have chicken pox, and so the population at large is less likely to expose Edward in particular to chicken pox.
It is not a good feeling, to go through life having something dearly treasured and so completely irreplaceable be so vulnerable to common dangers. My other kids will probably go to therapy later and complain that I loved Edward best because I was so fretful and protective, and I DON’T love Edward more than I love them, but I do worry about Edward more. He is no more treasured, and no more irreplaceable—but he is so additionally vulnerable to common danger.
I got the flu once when the twins were toddlers. The nurse who gave me the flu shot that year bragged about how quickly and painlessly she gave shots—and, as she pulled the needle out of my arm (so fast! so painless!), I saw the little arc of fluid, presumably my flu shot, vaccinating the air. I remember how sick and how exhausted I was. I would put the twins into their high chairs and then collapse into the recliner to close my eyes for 30 seconds. I would put some dry cereal onto their trays, and then weep a little while lying with my cheek on the cool kitchen floor. It went on for weeks. I was so tired. It lasted so long.
But I was in my thirties, and healthy and well-nourished, and not compromised in any way other than being the already-exhausted mother of toddler twins. I could be ill for awhile, and weep a little and collapse a little and lose a few pounds, and then recover.
Edward is not in that situation. He can’t just be ill and then rest and then recover. When he got a sinus infection, he ended up in the hospital twice, surgery twice, antibiotics for seven weeks. Things that are no big deal for other people are a big deal for him. This is true too of preemies, and of babies in general, and of elderly people, and of people already ill with something else, and of people whose flu shots didn’t work, and of lots of other people in lots of other circumstances.
I think of this every year when I get my flu shot. I have Edward to think of, but also my nephew, who is particularly susceptible to respiratory things, and my mother, who is also particularly susceptible to respiratory things. Of course I don’t want to get the flu again: I HATED having the flu! But it’s not about ME, because I can get the flu normally, and recover normally; it’s about Edward, and about my nephew, and my mother, and about making sure I don’t get the flu so I don’t pass it on to them. And in a broader sense, it’s so I don’t pass it on to any of the many, many other people I might not personally/individually care about in the same way, and yet of course I don’t want to hand an elderly woman a library book and have her die of my flu germs or whatever.
The trouble is that all of us are so IRREPLACEABLE. We can’t SPARE us. And so I would go so far as to say that all of us who are ABLE to do things to protect the more vulnerable among us have an actual ETHICAL DUTY to do so: a small thing for each of us to do, but something that collectively makes a HUGE difference in the protective barriers around others—like how I don’t have to worry so much about Edward getting exposed to chicken pox, the way I would have had to a generation ago. Even Paul, who hates needles and is the babiest of all babies about shots (“That STUNG so much more than LAST year!,” he complained TWICE when we got our flu shots today), gets his flu shot, to protect Edward and to protect our nephew and to protect everyone else’s Edwards/nephews/grandmothers/babies/irreplaceables.