Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dreadful Duty

At the tender age of 8 weeks it begins. Washed and dressed, ready for an outing we carry  our precious packages into pediatricians' offices around the country. Anxiously we hover as they are weighed, measured, and evaluated. We smile our replies as doctors ask about feeding and sleep schedules and ask our questions.

Then it is time. We knew it was coming and steel our spines as we watch our tiny treasures endure the first intentional harm to come to them. The prick of the needle.

Over the course of four children I have seen reactions ranging from slight surprise, that  perfect O forming on infant lips, to instantaneous piercing cries that can be soothed only with prompt nursing. Generally, though, the first and second series of immunizations are not devastating to anyone but the parent. It tends to be the toddlers who take personal insult with the whole business. This tears at our hearts as they wail without the luxury of instant forgetfulness induced by bottle or nursing. We comfort as best we can, and distract to the best of our ability, and we hate the inevitable necessity of it all.

And the reactions do not, necessarily, mellow with age. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, was so terrified of needles (due to other medical encounters) by the time she was 5 that she began crying before the shots. And afterwards? Well, let's just say ear plugs would have been a treasure for the 25 minute car ride of howling after we left the office. For her encore performance, 5 years later, she stormed out of the doctor's office in tears after additional immunizations and sat in the yard at the office screaming that she hated me. Ah, fun times.

But wait, there's more! For each series, there is the requisite dose of acetaminophen before the shots and the follow-up response to general lethargy and typical low (or not so low) grade fever. Youngest, having completed her 5 year check-up yesterday, complained of a sore arm - that MMR is brutal - and said, "Mom, you can't give me a snack because I eat it with this side and it won't reach my mouth."

Fear not, she can move her arm and has taken in sustenance, though not much since she started running a fever shortly after this and has been mostly miserable since yesterday afternoon.

I can see why parents would look for any excuse not to inflict this pain on their children. After all, isn't a parent's job to protect them? But from this comes not only immunity against potentially lethal illnesses for the child, it also gives the parents a reminder of a vital aspect of parenting - be a parent.

Children live in the present. It is the parental role to protect against the future. We don't give our children a time-out because it is pleasant or erases the fact that little johnny ran into the street. We do it to guard against the next time. Shots are another, albeit painful, reminder that life requires us to look to the future and endure the hardship of today to arrive at tomorrow safely. So, while I do not relish the tears of the patient nor caring for the feverish, I will always be firmly in favor of immunizations for our children. It is the act of a selfish parent to look to their own wants, be it ease of parenting over action or misplaced belief in anti-vaxxer mythology, before caring for the needs of the child.

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