Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Every parent's nightmare ... and then you wake up

This is a scary story for a parent to read:

One-third of the 153 American children killed by the flu during the 2003-04 season were dead within three days of getting sick, and many of the youngsters were perfectly healthy before they were stricken, government researchers reported. Five percent of the victims died within a day, 31 percent died before getting medical care, and 10 percent died in the emergency room, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its first detailed report on flu deaths among children.
Isn't that what we all fear? That our child comes to us complaining, "I don't feel good," and we just give him a quick kiss and send him to bed. After all, how bad can it be? Now for the reality check. First, the story itself buries deep within it the fact that many of the children while healthy initially (that is, no asthma or existing respiratory conditions) were, in fact, not ordinary healthy children:
[T]he CDC also found that one-fifth of those killed had other conditions that could have made them more vulnerable but were not previously linked to flu complications. Those included neurological and neuromuscular disorders such as cerebral palsy that can limit someone's ability to cough up respiratory secretions.
Second, I give my children flu shots, not to prevent the imaginary scourge of their imminent deaths (I'm not that neurotic), but simply to prevent the discomfort and inconvenience of dealing with the flu. Third, let's get a little perspective here. That number, while representing 153 horrible, personal tragedies, is a staggeringly small mortality rate. Think of this: In the Third World, about 10.5 million children die annually from disease and malnutrition (often in combination). We are exceptionally blessed to live where we do, when we do, and it is something for which I am daily grateful. Keep in mind, too, that the when is as important as the where. Take, for example, Jane Austen. Jane Austen is known to have grown up in an exceptionally close and loving family. Nevertheless, each child born to that family was farmed out to a woman who specialized in caring for young children until the child was at least 3 and even as old as 5. Only then did the child returned home. Thus, Jane Austen, born in 1775, did not live with her family until, at the earliest, 1778. The reasons for this immediate separation were both practical and emotional. The practical side will immediately strike every parent: homes had no running water. Think of your infant, leaking fluids from every orifice. Can you imagine dealing with that without your washer? your dryer? your sink? your weekly garbage collection or diaper delivery service? It made much more sense to deliver a child to a woman who, for money, would put up with that inevitable stench, because there was no way to be clean enough to remove the miasma that followed every young child around. The emotional side was also important. In England at the end of the 18th Century, half of all children would die before their 5th birthday. It would be the foolhardy parent who would fall in love with a child when there was a 50% chance that the child would die. It was much wiser to see if the child would get to age 5 before investing precious emotional energy into the little one. (Scarily, for poor children born in London at the same time, the mortality rate for those with parents was 74%, and for those unlucky enough to end in workhouses, it was 90%.) All things considered, I'm not going to be too worried next time one of my kids complains, "I don't feel good."