It can be a difficult thing to explain to a young child. I mean, how would you feel if someone stuck you with a needle and not only did you not understand why it was happening, but the person who is supposed to protect you from hurt and pain – your mother – is making you do it.When they are babies it is easier because there isn’t any verbal communication yet. The infant might be confused, but there is less guilt in a sense, as you know there simply isn’t any possible way to explain it to them. You just bear down and do it. And though the cries are almost unbearable, you know that with tylenol and a good nap after, they will be fine and forget all about it. But, a five year-old is looking for a precise explanation and you had better come up with a good one. If your kid is anything like my A, they are going to want a thorough response to the question. And at this age, they certainly deserve one, since they have much more awareness as to what is going on.
So….I did the best I could, which I’m always trying to remind you poops, is all you can do. I told A that the shots protect her from very serious germs. Serious germs? She asks. I said, yes, some germs are very scary, deadly even…not like when you catch a cold or a tummy ache, but frightening, terrible germs that can make you end up in the hospital or worse. She looked at me kind of confused and said, but how does sticking me with a needle protect me from the scary germs? I said, “because the shot has special medicine in it that spreads throughout your whole body to protect you forever. I said it’s like the magic pixie dust that Tinkerbell uses to fly. This is like the doctor’s magic dust and the shot lets it sprinkle throughout your body to keep you safe and healthy. Your lucky that this magic exists and you only have to get poked with the needle once a year. Some kids aren’t so lucky, they don’t have doctors with magic medicine and they get very, very sick and it’s very sad.”
A looked at me and said, “do the kids without the magic medicine die?” Oy. I was hoping to avoid that word. I didn’t want to scare her that much. But then I thought, well, if she’s old enough to pose that question, then perhaps she’s old enough for me to answer it. So I said, yes, honey, sometimes if the kids don’t get their shots and aren’t protected, then yes, they can die. And that’s the worst thing ever. So, this is why Mommy wants you to let the nurse stick you really quickly with the needle. I want to always protect you and keep you safe and healthy. She said, “if I don’t do it, then I could end up in the hospital again?” “Yes, you could. And you remember how awful that was, you definitely don’t want to go back there, right?”
Right around the time that A turned three, we had a very frightening experience. She caught the swine flu during the height of the epidemic here in the states and she was one of the rare cases that turned into severe pneumonia. It hit her quick and it hit her hard. One minute she was happy and playing and within hours she was lethargic and feverish. We took her to the doctor and her pulsox registered so low that next thing I know we were in an ambulance being rushed to the hospital. Poor A was on my lap with an oxygen mask on, looking so frightened and confused. I did my best to hold it together because I didn’t want her to sense my fear and get more freaked out. When we got to the ER, they did all these tests and poked and prodded my baby girl and it was absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. Seeing your precious little daughter being held down and have needles put inside her was gut-wrenching. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone. It was horrific.
The first 48 hours were very scary. She continued to need assistance breathing and had respiratory treatments around the clock. Her fever would go up and down and then up again. She looked so tiny in that big hospital bed with all that medical equipment all around her and all those chords coming out of her. It was just awful. I slept in that bed with her every night, not leaving her side for a second. I kept telling myself that she was going to be fine. The alternative was too horrifying to even consider. Fortunately, I was right. She turned a corner on the third day and by the fourth day, we were in the clear – bringing her home from the hospital on her 3rd birthday was an incredible blessing.
I reminded A of how scary those four days were and how the shots she was about to get would prevent her from having to experience something like that again. I told her how they didn’t have magic medicine back then to protect her from the swine flu, but if they did, then she would’ve been fine and never would’ve gotten sick. This was finally the thing that hit home with her. She completely remembers her stay in the hospital and how she had to wear the “glow toe” all the time (the pulsox machine) and all the awful needles taped to her arm and wrist which prevented her from drinking milk out of her sippy cup. And, though it may seem weird to some of you, I showed her a picture of her from the hospital that I had on my phone. I took several pictures during our stay because I wanted to have them as reminders of how lucky we were and continue to be – lucky that our child was released from the hospital and given a clean bill of health. Some parents aren’t so lucky and that thought haunts me.
And so, she looked at the picture for a minute, and then she looked-up at me and declared, “I’m ready.” She was so brave. She sat on my lap calmly and let the nurse stick her several times. She didn’t cry or yell or anything. After the nurse had applied band-aids and left the room, I held her tightly in my arms and said, “A, if you want to cry now, it’s okay, honey. Go ahead. It’s okay to cry. You don’t have to hold it in. Shots are scary. Mommy used to cry when I got my shots.” And then, she let it go. After being so courageous, she melted into me and sobbed. And I started tearing up too. It was a good cry. And we both felt better afterwards. I was so proud of her and she felt proud of herself too. It was a precious moment, in that I think, somewhow, we both realized how much we love each other and how grateful we both are that she is healthy. I think, despite her very young age when it happened, A gained an insight into how precious life is when she was hospitalized a few years ago. She has a wisdom about it that few kids her age get. But after living through that with her, I have no doubt she gets it.
Poops, I’m not one to tell other mamas what to do. There are all kinds of opinions out there about innoculations and vaccines. I’m not writing this blog to preach the benefits of vaccinating your child. What each mom decides on behalf of their children is her business and her choice. I can only speak of my own experience. And my experience, for one, has lead me to be incredibly grateful that we live in a county where the “magic medicine” is readily available and easy accessible. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my kids safe from harm. Whatever it takes. I trust our pediactrician wholeheartedly, and if he says the shots will protect my kids, then I believe him. Maybe this is ignorant, but after seeing my darling baby girl so sick a few years ago, I’m not willing to take a chance.