Before Finn was born, Andrew and I discussed our respective views on vaccines.
Years ago, a friend lent me some literature on immunization. It read like an issue of Conspiracy Theory Quarterly, its message roughly along the lines of OMG YOUR DOCTOR IS TRYING TO MURDER YOUR BABY!!! VACCINES ARE INSTRUMENTS OF EVIL WIELDED BY GOVERNMENT AND BIG PHARMA FOR THE PURPOSES OF POPULATION CONTROL!!! AND AUTISM!!! FORMALDEHYDE!!! SUPER DISEASES!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! TERRIFYING STATISTICS WITH LITTLE TO NO CONTEXT!!!
Then we have Responsible Parents, supported by the government and healthcare profession, which makes out that anyone questioning vaccination is an ignorant hippie selfishly benefitting from ‘herd immunity’ whilst simultaneously subverting it.
No doubt the truth lies somewhere on the scale between both extremes.
Previously, if I’d ever fallen off the fence due to a drunken stupor brought about by intimate knowledge of frozen margharita, I would have ended up on the side of YOUR PAEDIATRICIAN IS A KILLER (single exclamation point only).
Mainly because the headline features more dramatic appeal than, say: ‘Vaccines responsible for control of infectious disease’. But also, I have a viral distrust of the medical profession after 10 years’ involuntary exposure to the doctors of Dubai – a position only entrenched by Finn’s and my current doctor’s dynamic complacency (see below).
I am immune to most standard antibiotics – but not Rubella, despite being vaccinated at the age of 12 (the angry mark on my upper left arm still flares up in sunlight). The one time I got the flu vaccine, I spent the following four months hacking, snorting and gargling snot.
But then Finn came along and pushed me off the fence and, much to my surprise, I found myself on the other side.
Mainly because of this:
Finn would not exist without the miracle of modern medicine and science. And the measures we took to have him required unconditional faith in the healthcare professionals involved.
So it seems a bit hypocritical to say, ‘Hey, thanks for making our dreams a reality and changing our lives utterly, although we’re not so gripped by the sleepless nights – eh, look, forget I said that; it’s a small thing, never mind – what’s that? Oh yes, right. Here’s the thing. We don’t trust you to keep him well.’
In any case, if Finn ever contracted measles or polio or whooping cough, we would be straight up in the grille of the medical profession anyway.
But doctors, they make it so difficult to love them.
Shortly after we got home, we took Finn for his five-month vaccine. Three days later he fell ill.
His symptoms were inspecific: fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, pronounced grumpiness (which may simply be his father’s genes gaining ascendency), and unresponsive to the lady on her horse going nim nim nim.
Normally when he wakes up from a nap, he is overjoyed to see me; all, ‘WOW, it’s YOU! HURRAY! This is TOTALLY AWESOME! Aren’t I unbelievably cute? I KNOW! Pick me up pick me up pick me up! HEY, will you do that dancy thing down the stairs? AW, YAY! I JUST NEVER KNEW LIFE WOULD BE THIS MIND-BLOWING!’
For a full week he wouldn’t even reach out to be picked up, but just lay there staring at me accusingly with red-rimmed eyes before crying. And crying and crying. Then breaking my heart and pulverizing it into a fine paste with his tears.
Eventually I was concerned enough to bring him back to the clinic. The doctor failed to appreciate how critical the situation was, despite Finn sitting quietly on my lap showing no inclination to rip out the doctor’s nose hair by the roots, or kick his kidneys to kingdom come.
The doctor listened to Finn’s chest, palpated his abdomen, checked his ears. He found nothing apart from a lump of earwax the size of a peanut, which rolled onto his desk and spun gently before coming to rest.
“How are his testicles?”
“His . . . bollocks?”
“I, er- I suppose they’re round and . . . squishy . . . I don’t know! I’m not an expert on balls.”
“He probably has a mild viral infection,” murmured the doctor, making notes on his laptop. I saw him write ‘testicles normal’, which I felt was sloppy if not downright negligent. I mean, after explaining my lack of expertise in the area of testes, I wouldn’t have thought he’d just take my word for it.
“A viral infection?” I said. “Where . . . I mean, how would he have . . . ?”
“Oh, babies can pick them up anywhere,” he said, conveniently ignoring the fact that he’d injected several nasty strains into my son four days previously. “Give him Paracetamol. Make sure he gets lots of fluid.”
“He has a high temperature,” I said, stubbornly ignoring the dismissal.
“Temperature?” said the doctor, as if this were an abstract and rather random concept. “Oh. I didn’t . . . I suppose I should probably take his temperature.”
When the doctor withdrew his thermometer from Finn’s ear, it read 39 degrees.
“Odd,” he said, frowning. “He doesn’t feel warm.”
“Why don’t you try the other ear? It might be better.”
AND HE DID.
Not that it made any difference.
“So when should I start panicking about him?” I asked.
“Oh, bring him back if you get worried,” he said vaguely.
I’m pretty sure Finn’s sickness was a reaction to his DTaP-IPV-Hep B/Hib immunization. In fact, I’m hyper-positive. It’d be nice to think that after we left his surgery, the doctor reported Finn’s response to the NZ Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring, but it’s more likely he practiced incorporating a squiggle into his signature instead.
When I got home, I did a bit of research on the Internet – which I feel is AT LEAST AS reliable as my doctor – and adverse reactions to vaccinations seem pretty normal. Several people reported that their older infants, who had started sounding words, stopped speaking after being innoculated.
Apart from OMG Finn might be STRUCK PROFOUNDLY DUMB! the Internet didn’t yield any useful advise so I kept Finn hydrated and dosed him with Paracetamol.
After about a week his fever finally broke and thankfully he’s now back to normal.
Although he’s still not talking.