The One Where I Go All “Public Service” (or: a plea during flu season to the world)

January 10, 2013By 16 Comments

yeah — you don’t belong at work. Or the store. For the sake of all of us, make the sacrifice. We will be forever grateful.

It was “parents watch day” at my youngest daughter’s dance school and everyone was excited. Every other dance class week, parents drop their kids off and do errands or wait for the hour in the small waiting room; no peek into what was going on inside. But this was the week before the holiday break and as a treat each year; the teachers let the parents in to see just what the kids had learned. My daughter was excited. So were all the other kids.

As we settled into our seats the kids lined up to perform, the mom next to me got a bit, well, restless. I heard her mutter “Uh-oh,” under her breath. And then she said out loud, “she’s gonna blow.” Then she yelled, “Suzy! (or whatever her name was) … run for the trash can!” Sure enough, a heartbeat later, Suzy had ralphed. All over the dance room floor.

The mom was embarrassed, and set Suzy aside and cleaned up the sickness herself. She looked around the room at other parents (we who were thinking: Oh, poor dear. What  time to get sick), and said “I’m so sorry. She’s be throwing up all morning. But I couldn’t have her miss Parent Watch Day!”

The mom knew her little girl was sick. Probably contagious sick. And she still brought her out that day.

 I was livid. And sure as the sun rises each day, my daughter with diabetes was in the ER and then held overnight at the hospital a few days later.

I am reminded of this because right now, the flu (the real flu!) and stomach bugs are at a crazy peak. Our state announced it as an epidemic this week, offering suggestions on how to avoid germs.

For those of us in the diabetes world, this goes a billion levels beyond anything those not in our world can imagine. Because for us, illness means crisis. And sometimes, even catastrophe. What might be a messy, tiring and somewhat annoying stomach bug for the rest of the world is, for us, an expensive, frightening, challenging vigil that usually involves hourly blood glucose checks and ketone checks, constant calls to the doctor on call, a scary rush to the emergency room, an overnight (or more), an expensive co pay, exhaustion and just plain terror. This is no exaggeration. While we parents (and adults with Type 1 Diabetes) work hard to make our lives “normal,” there’s often nothing at all normal about sicknesses.

Which is why it absolutely infuriates me when parents allow their children to go to school or the store or anywhere at all (other than the doctor’s office) when they are sick. And if there is one thing I can ask – make that beg – the rest of the world during this extra sick time, it’s this: For goodness sake, make the sacrifice and keep your child (or yourself) home if you are sick in any way that might just spread to others.

I understand this is a terrible hardship. Parents work full-time (and adults run low on sick days or have huge projects due at work that must get attention). Juggling a sudden sick day can be stressful and even somewhat costly. But here’s the thing: when you take that sickness out and send it to school or to the store or to work or even just for a quick ride to the dry cleaners, you are putting actual lives in danger.

I know. You think I’m exaggerating or overprotective. But I’m not. Here’s the chapter of my book on sick day management with diabetes on board. It’s enough to make your head spin. And for a parent – or an adult with diabetes – who might not be a pro with all this or might not have the kind of medical support my family is blessed enough to have, sickness can quite literally kill a person with Type 1 Diabetes.

I remember the winter of the Novo Virus, that year they were even cancelling cruise ships because so many germs were being passed around and causing sickness. My daughter was a hospital inpatient, oh, seven times that winter? Not because I don’t know how to take care of her; not because her diabetes was not well-managed. She was an inpatient simply because sickness like that puts her life in immediate danger. It was expensive, scary, and just plain horrible. And time and time again, I could look back to a point when I knew she’d been around a person who should not have been out in public. I didn’t point fingers, but I did pinpoint (privately) cause. (I did also consider getting her one of those giant balls that hamsters can run around in. But they don’t seem to make them that big).

I had to recently practice this sacrifice myself. My family and I were on a holiday trip to Mexico. It had been a life-long dream of mine to be able to jet my kids and husband off to some exotic spot and wake up on Christmas day, toss on a bathing suit and lounge at the beach or pool with a tropical drink in my hand. This year, we’d finally been able to do it. But the third day into the trip, I started to cough. And then spiked a fever. I could just feel it: I was “real world sick.” So Christmas Day, much as I wanted to live that dream, I stayed in my room, alone, waiting for the antibiotics to kick in while the rest of my family lived the dream for me. I was sad, but later, Lauren said to me, “Thanks mom. You know, that kind of sick just scares me silly.” I did the right thing (and now I have a reason to beg my husband to let us go back again one day. Ha!)

My view on that long dreamed-of Christmas Day. I missed out but my daughter with diabetes — and the rest of the world — was safe from my flu germs.

So consider this blog a public service announcement. If you or your children are sick or even close to sick, step back and keep yourself sequestered. If you need a medication, send a friend. If work is going to get mad, ask your doctor for a note or just let them be mad. If school work needs to be done, have someone drop it off on your doorstep. Stay home. I know this might mean hardship. You might get docked a day’s pay. Your child might miss the class musical performance. Your boss might get mad.

But on the flip side, you might save a person from a true crisis. Heck, you might even save a life. Remember, when you bring that sickness out with you, you never know who is next to you, walking by you or sitting near you. It could be the cancer patient. It could be someone with a weakened immune system. Or it could be the person with Type 1 Diabetes, who is quietly working each day just to keep alive even without the attack of your germs.

Stay home until you are well. And for that, the diabetes world will be forever in debt to you.

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Comments (16)

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  1. MommaKat says:

    Excellent blog. In life before diabetes, I’d have joined you on this soap box in a heart beat. (My nursing background may have played into that just a tiny bit.) Now with diabetes in play, I’m there in a fraction of a nano second. I get it – employers are grumpy about sick days. (I really get – I lost my job due to the sick days taken when my daughter was diagnosed.) It’s hard to take time off and risk a similar outcome. Truth be told, as parents we have an obligation to keep our children home when they’re sick. Hospitals don’t see peak flu seasons like this for no apparent reason, and it’s not simply because of a more virulent strain. Peaks like these happen because people leave common sense at the front door and go into the community hacking, coughing, feverish, etc. Contagious illnesses are typically spread through contact, and viruses tend to live long and prosper on inanimate objects. If you or a child is sick – stay home, get better, and educate your boss if you have to. Thank you so much for posting this!!

  2. Sally P says:

    Amen!! There is nothing more terrifying than seeing your T1 child with low-ish blood sugar, unable to even keep a sip of ginger ale down. Been there, done that and don’t wish it on anyone!

  3. Michelle Gonzalez says:

    Yes, exactly!!!!!

  4. I absolutely love this post. As a mother of two immune deficient kids, and a Type 1 kid I have preached this over and over. We can all repeat and repost, unfortunately most just truly don’t understand and only think of themselves and what they are missing. Thank you for your wonderful words.

  5. Suzanne Brown says:

    Thank you so much for this excellent commentary. You have beautifully expressed what so many people feel. This is “real-world” and heartfelt advice. We live in a world with too many people who think only about their own “needs” and “wants” and refuse to consider how truly devastating common illnesses can be to T1D families and others who live with compromised immune systems. May your words touch and enlighten many good people.

  6. Heather says:

    I totally agree with everything you’ve said. My healthy daughter got mono and a week later had to have her gallbladder removed – when she was 4! We had been at a convention the week before. While I don’t know for sure that’s where she got it, I’m pretty convinced that was it. She started with the mono symptoms a few days later, then bam, got admitted to the Children’s Hospital 1 week later. I’m sure someone knew they were sick but ‘just couldn’t miss the convention’ for it. Thanks a lot! 3 hospital stays, a staph infection, a body organ removed, and $1000 out of pocket is what it cost us. While I’m relieved that it was nothing seriously life-threatening, and she has no life long illness from it, it could have been prevented if people had just stayed home when sick.

    • Moira says:

      Heather are you SURE your four year old didn’t contract it out running the streets making out with strangers??? Ha ha. I would bet it happened where you said it did. Glad she’s okay — and people just think the world is going to end if they stay home for a day or two. Yikes — this needs to change,

      • Heather says:

        LOL yeah, she had lots of boyfriends at that time!

        And btw, my husband is a diabetic (some docs label him a type 1, others say type 2, so maybe he’s a 1.5?) So I can totally understand what you parents go through, but its different. He’s 300lbs, 6’3″, so it’s hard for me to ‘make’ him drink something when he goes low. I have to get very creative :) Is there a support group for spouses of diabetics? I can sure can swap some stories…

  7. Lora says:

    I have to admit this post horrified me.

    But only because…I’m guilty.

    I am also a nurse and normally I am very aware of things like this. I always keep my kids home from school a full 24 hours after a fever is gone etc. and I cannot even imagine taking my child to a dance recital puking!

    And yet this Christmas break we were supposed to be at Disney, and we were in Florida tickets in hand when three members of our family came down with the flu!! We left Disney knowing the kids couldn’t handle all the walking etc being sick, but our plane home was not for five days so we got a hotel room near the beach.

    And I took my daughter to the pool, even though she had been sick. And we went out to breakfast one morning. I was trying to hard to just save some fragment of the “fun” we were supposed to have and my disappointment clouded my judgement.

    Looking at what you have said I am absolutely horrified that I could be so reckless and careless, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart.

    And I promise to do better next time! Thank you for reminding those of us who don’t struggle with chronic health issues!

  8. Lora says:

    I wish I had been more thoughtful and kept the kids more secluded and away from the pool and dining areas :(

    But my husband just got back from Afghanistan at thanksgiving and we had been planning Disney for months, I just selfishly couldn’t stand the idea of the whole vacation being a complete bust and I made the choice to take the kids out when we had no business being out, spreading germs.

    I appreciate the insight this post gave me though and I know I will make better choices next time (hopefully there isn’t a next time!) such a situation arises!

  9. Sheila says:

    I’m a newcomer to your blog and I just have to tell you how much I love it. Your articles are so insightful and heartfelt. We hit our one-year anniversary of my 4-year old son’s diagnosis tomorrow, so it’s been an introspective week for me. Your writing has given me so much to think about and also look forward to as he continues to grow and thrive. This article really made me stop and think about being extra vigilant with all the crazy germs floating out there this season. Thanks for the needed reminder! Anyway, I am looking forward to following your writing. I am so happy to have found it!

  10. Joanne Nieves says:

    Quite powerful Moira! Thank you

  11. Katie says:

    Boy, is this the truth. I get so tired of people who send their kids to school knowing they are ill, and who go to work, knowing they themselves are ill. Not only does our son (now grown) have Type 1, but we have friends whose children have Cystic Fibrosis. SO THOUGHTLESS to send an ill child anywhere.

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