We just went for my daughter’s 9 month check up – she’s doing well. 95th percentile in height, 50th in weight and 75th in head circumference – the doctor has told me numerous times not to worry about the discrepancy as she’s just making herself tall and skinny like we all want to be. Anyway, the kid has so much energy she probably can’t get any more weight on her!
Unfortunately we couldn’t see our regular doctor, so instead had to see the one who always wears bowties – and always seems amused by my lists of questions (amused in that way that he seems to want to pat me on the head. This from a grown man wearing a bowtie!). Anyway, we starting working through my list (numbering 15 this time – you’re starting to be amused and want to pat me on the head too, don’t you?) and got to vaccinations. He got that sort of amused smile (I’m holding off from going so far as to call it condescending, but may yet revise) and said something like, ah yes. OK, what do you want to know? After he explained that she’d get her Hep B booster and her flu shots, we started on our questions.
I have to stop here and say – I’m not anti-vaccination. I know people have good reasons for being anti-vaccination and everyone is entitled to their beliefs, particularly in raising their children. But these are not my beliefs. I am not crunchy granola. I do not disagree with using medications – and heck, other chemicals – appropriately and in reason. I know that vaccines have risks overall, but do generally believe there is a greater risk to not getting vaccinated. That said… the flu vaccine has its own special place in this discourse for us. For several reasons. I’ll go with the low end ones first – my husband’s first question was about the efficacy of the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines. I mean the flu vaccine is always a guess as to what this year’s strain of flu will be – so you get the vaccine, but they’re wrong on what the prevalent type of flu is and you get the flu anyway. And H1N1 was sort of rushed to market this year due to the scare, so that’s another concern. The doctor got his back up a little at these comments explaining how good and useful and well tested they are.
So then we brought out the big guns – we told him we were nervous about side effects. With that little smile, he asked why? Then my husband wiped that smile off his face by explaining that he had had very serious (in fact, life threatening) complications from the flu vaccine in college. He spent months in the hospital with Gullian Barre syndrome, which had actually completely paralyzed him for weeks. Now we had the doctor’s attention a little more, but he still explained that GBS was a 1 in 1 million chance. I told him that I understood that, but that it’s hard when 1 in 1 million is sitting next to me and such a close blood relative to my baby. My husband also pointed out that GBS is highly under diagnosed (the doctor really fought back on that one, but I will have to disagree with him, as my husband was lucky that (only) one of the doctors in the ER he went to even knew to test for it) and is often not linked causally to the flu shot when it likely should be. The doctor shot back that still 1 in 8000 people die from the flu each year (hard to point out that I don’t know any of those people, but I do know someone who had GBS. Statistics never mean a thing to the individual.).
We only talked to him a few minutes and then took 5 minutes to talk amongst ourselves – should we do this? The chances of anything happening to her from the shot were so low – GBS is not genetic. The chances of getting H1N1 are so much higher and so risky for her age. But either option feels so potentially devastating to us. Parenting is hard! After weighing our options, we decided we would do H1N1, but not the seasonal flu shot. So we found the nurse and told her – she came back with a form we had to fill out and sign to get H1N1 – question #4, has your child ever had Guillain Barre Syndrome?
Oh crap. It was all jumping back up at us and we felt totally undecided again. I didn’t know my husband when he had GBS, but I’ve heard enough to have some idea of the stress is caused. The night he went to the hospital, at 20 years old, he was told to make his peace and say his goodbyes to his parents. He beat the odds and lived, but had to learn to walk again. He finally got out of the hospital after about 3 months and returned home while all his friends finished out the semester. He went back for the fall semester about 7-8 months after his first diagnosis, but now says that that was probably really too soon physically. Mentally and emotionally, he needed to get out of his house and back to school then though! Actually, I take back my initial statement – I don’t think I have any possible concept of how hard and stressful that was. But I saw how hard it was making this decision about what to do for our tiny little person who was dependent on us to make the right decision.
So we stepped back and decided not to get the shot then. I have no idea if this is the right decision. I actually have no idea if this is even the final decision – we may yet go back and get it. But until then we deliberate – and, hey, don’t sneeze near my baby!