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Preventing What’s Possible

Guest post by Heather Carlsen

As parents, we all want to do the best we can by our kids. We want to minimize the amount we screw them up. However, I think we can all readily admit that screwing our kids up is just part of the game, the nature of the beast. I am a mother of an 11-year-old boy, with blue hair who loves acting and video games. I am the mother of a 4-year-old girl whose favorite pastime is fighting imaginary zombies, dressed as a princess while covered in marker tattoos (thanks, Moana!). And, I am a new mom to a just-barely 2-month-old girl who is still mostly un-screwed up. Except for one thing: She hates people touching her feet. Now, I get that it is a fairly normal thing to not like. In this case, though, it is way more nurture than nature.

About two weeks ago, there was an incident. One that reminded me just how fierce the battle to protect our children is, and how unpredictable the battlefield. Here is a bit of background before I begin: I lose my hair. Not like crazy huge stress clumps, but like I live with a dog whose hair happens to be about a foot and a half long. It gets everywhere. Now, in a perfect storm of coincidence, one of my hairs managed to get into the dryer. Then, my loving husband who does laundry (again, because he is amazing) placed our infant daughter’s clothes into the dryer from the washer. While these clothes were inside the dryer, one of my renegade hairs managed to find its way into her sock. There it evaded detection until the sock was placed on her foot. Over the course of the day, my precious baby was handed back and forth between Daddy and Auntie, and kicked and cooed and smiled. All the while this hair was silently wrapping itself around her toe.

I got home at about 10 o’clock that night and removed the sock, only to see this giant, swollen, purple nub next to her baby toe. I tried to get it off with my fingers, but the toe had swollen so much that it was impossible. I tried to pry it off with tweezers, but I punctured her toe trying to get them underneath the hair (which by this point, was so deep I couldn’t even see it). I was freaking out, and baby was hysterical. I left my older daughter and my son with their auntie, and my husband and I rushed baby to the emergency room. She was immediately brought in the back and the room filled with multiple medical personnel. They tried covering the toe in Nair, but the swelling kept the Nair from making contact with the hair. After exhausting all other possibilities, they eventually ended up at the realization that they were going to have to cut her toe. The doctor promised that they would do everything they could to try to save the toe. Then, he asked me if I wanted him to try giving her an injection of a local anesthetic, even though it probably would not work because there was no blood flow to the area. She was too little for a general anesthetic. I said yes, give her the shot even if it doesn’t work.

My thought process was that if it works, I want to spare her any pain that I possibly could. I would take all of this away if I could. But the reality is, I couldn’t. I could never have been vigilant enough to keep one of my hairs from finding its way to her. I never would have thought that a stray hair could possibly end up with my month-old baby possibly having a toe amputated with no pain medication. I just never could have anticipated it. Not ever.

This experience really reminds me why infant immunization is so important to me. I grew up in a generation that never saw polio, measles, or smallpox any better than I saw that hair. I may logically know that these diseases are bad and that people died from them, but on that emotional, guttural, maternal level they have become a bit innocuous.

They are those stray hairs.

They are this tiny sliver in the realm of possibility. I can totally see how it would be easy to be flippant about immunization. It does not seem like these diseases could or would “happen to us.”

But as I sat in that hospital room, in the middle of the night, holding my tiny, little baby as she had her toe cut into in four places to surgically remove a hair that came from my head, it struck me: The things in life that really screw our kids up isn’t stuff we can ever predict. It is the stuff that comes flying out of left field, for which we find ourselves totally unprepared. I cannot imagine being the parent who has to hold their infant, not while they are getting their toe cut open, but while that child is struggling to breathe. I cannot begin to know the hurt of watching your child suffer, knowing that there was something you could have done but didn’t. Vaccines gives us the ability to prevent. They let us address all the stray hairs around us, without ever having to see them.

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Heather with her new baby girl

I may truly believe that my children will never catch the measles, for instance, but as a parent I am going to do everything I can to prepare them if that is a battle that they ever have to fight. When we know that we can preemptively set our children up for success, we do. We start savings accounts, we buy the everything-free laundry detergent, we do every possible thing we can to ensure the health and happiness of our children. Because even though I never saw vaccine-preventable diseases, my children might. And although we never saw the hair, I can see well enough to know the threat that these diseases pose.

So, in doing the best I can for my kids, I immunize. I make sure that all my children get all the recommended vaccines, on the recommended schedule. I am sure that I will find ways to screw up my kids, still. I am very creative. But I will take the blue-haired, Crayola-tattooed, crazy people over kids who have to fight for their lives any day.

About Heather
Heather is a brand-new high school science teacher in Denver, Colorado. She has three amazing kids (including one new baby daughter) and a wonderful husband. She loves painting, reading, and cooking. Someday she will have her own homestead where she can grow all of their food, make soap, and watch the sun set. Until then, she’s keeping busy getting a Masters degree and trying to find time to sleep.

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