Friday, July 13, 2007

Saying Hello to the Beastie

Kieron Thomas, whose middle name puts him under the patronage of a Philosopher, put it elegantly:

"I wouldn't want to be protected from chicken pox if it meant I was safe because of the death of a little baby! That would be like Elizabeth betraying Jack so that she could save herself!"

I really really needed to hear that, because the unspoken Elephant, or perhaps tentacle waving Kraken, in the PCP clinic and then the GI clinic all day was: "So WHY didn't you have your kids vaccinated in the first place?" No one asked. They just worked all day to patch us up and fix our lapse. It is not the role I like to play. I like to be the Super Medical Mom who is the first to notice problems, the last to be an unnecessary annoyance. The GI nurse had to stay with us until 2 hours after her normal go-home time, until the whole hospital was locking its doors for the night.

It made me realize how much our society's virtue is about protecting yourself. I feel it, and I try hard to abide by it, most of the time. Some examples:

  • WHen Sean broke his leg badly when he was eight, when he was riding his bike, we entertained ourselves by counting up all the times the EMTs, paramedics, emergency room staff, hospital ward staff and orthopedic follow-up doctor said, "Riding your bike, eh? Were you wearing your helmet?" (He had been -- but with an 8 year old's logic couldn't figure out what wearing a helmet had to do with your LEG).
  • You strap yourself and your kids in car seats for protection.(and I do)
  • You "protect" yourself from having more than 2.2 kids or kids too early or late in life (boy, I flunked that one).
  • You protect yourself and your kids from radiation by using sunblock, from WNV by wearing insect repellent, and from dehydration by carrying a sippie cup wherever you go. (I do MOST of the time).
  • You are considered a second-class citizen, isolated and disapproved of, if you are a smoker. I saw someone at the airport carrying a case of duty free cigarettes emblazoned with the bold label: "By smoking you are causing harm to yourself and those around you." (I am not a smoker, but I do notice how society is positively Victorian about the dirty weed nowadays)

These examples vary in substance and in sense. My point is that our society equates virtue with being safe and very often, that means putting some sort of barrier around yourself or in yourself to keep you detached from whatever threat it is. But barriers aren't neutral. Their presence changes things. We aren't the same people when everything is about self-preservation.

We sat all day in the GI clinic because of the 37 page document the health care professionals had to weed through in order to give Aidan the varicella-targeted immunoglobulin. The doctor, whose has known us since Aidan's babyhood, said, "This is almost as much paperwork as you need for a transplant!" He went on to explain about how most of it was listing the factors for disqualification, the exemptions, the side effects, limiting the promises of efficacy......

I said, "That's their way of shifting the whole thing over on us," He laughed and said, "There you go! That's exactly it. They want to say, "we warned you!' so we don't come after them. That's what all these papers are about."

It is about protection for the drug companies too. It's not a bad thing all the time, or even most of the time. Most times, it's a good thing. We live in a remarkably safe country. But when you go against that Moral Law of protection, you feel like a bit of a scoundrel, a moral regressive, even if you think you have good reasons. At least I do. I think it is seeing our tired nurse sitting there patiently monitoring Aidan's vital signs. Protecting him from anaphylactic shock. After a day of wading through paperwork and procedural things. Protecting him again, at personal as well as professional cost. Protecting us from feeling the cost of our "mistake". I want to be on the good side of that battle, so it's hard when I'm not. Or seem not to be.

But I think Kieron was right, and I think that if we went back in time I would have to do it the same way, even if the conviction seemed a bit abstruse and thin compared to the bother, expense, pain and worry of these days, not just for us but rippling outwards.

Anyway, we got the VZ immunoglobulin... which cuts the risk of getting the disease down to about 30% -- and may minimize its course if he does get it. Protection again -- and we are grateful that health care professional's discipline is about health set aside from moral judgments, because if it weren't, our own morality would be at the mercy of that of the professionals.

And the little baby whose life was not protected would be forgotten and passed over in the name of Protection. Then Protection would be that unspoken -- but hungry -- tentacle waving monster in the room.

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