Passing judgement: a new American past-time.
When I was a working paramedic there were many tough situations in which I was forced to work. Pretty much every single shift I, there was a challenge that pushed me past my limits. Sometimes it was physical, more often than not it was emotional. Occasionally the people and situations I came in contact with stretched my moral and ethical capacity as a health care provider, and as a human being.
In the months since Vail's death, I have thought about so many of those challenging calls. In my feeble attempts to manage the PTSD that has arisen out of the trauma surrounding Vail's last moments on earth, the memories of certain calls from my career as a first responder have come flooding back. The weight of those calls (a weight that all first responders carry) has never left me. It is a weight I cannot put down. I can close my eyes and see the face of the very first SIDS baby I encountered when I was completing my clinical rotations as a student. I'll never forget her face. It is the face of that child that brought the Owlet monitor into our home when Aspen was a baby. Not the fear of something actually happening, because until we lost Vail, I never actually thought my perfectly healthy baby could just die in her sleep, despite knowing intellectually that it happened every day. I was just paranoid and scarred by the memories seared into my brain. If you have seen one SIDS baby, you have seen a thousand. The recollection of calls that changed my life goes much further back. In 1999 I spent my first of 6 summers as an Ocean Rescue lifeguard in Nags Head, NC. That summer, at age 19, I worked my first code, or cardiac arrest. It was the perfect storm. The weather had turned into a rainy, cold noreaster day and my stand partner and I had retreated to the moldy, dirty guard house at Coquina beach. This assignment was miles away from any other lifeguards, outside the town limits. A tourist decided that he had paid too much money for his beach vacation to stay out of the water. He left his wife and child in the car and took to the waves. Sadly, he didn't account for the lightning. A passing fisherman frantically arrived at the guard house and had us running through the pelting rain to the water line. Despite the risk to our own lives, my guard partner Courtney (who was a paramedic at the time) and I swam out and pulled him in. We performed CPR for what seemed like hours, alone in the torrential rain. In reality it was about 45 minutes. Still, a long time to be alone without backup. Eventually the fire department and the ambulance arrived and started advanced life support. Everyone was working, head down, dripping in sand and salty rain water, focused on the work at hand. At least until the lightning struck. It hit the water, about 20 yards from where all stood. We all knew it was over then. God reached his hand down from the heavens and opened up the sky. He told us to get off that beach. The man, both a father and a husband, could not be resuscitated. The first in a long line of these memories I can summon from my internal memory movie reel at the drop of a hat. In a moment I can be standing on that beach, dripping wet, blinded by singularly awesome lightning. The memory is so real, so visceral that I get chicken skin and my bones remember the cold soaking rain.
Lately, there is one particular call that has been at the forefront of my mental movie library . It has played over and over since September 17th. Surprisingly it isn't a memory of a SIDS baby or a child that died in a trauma, and there were more than enough of those to chose from. No, this call, one continues to haunt me, is unique. I never had another like it. One evening, my EMT Holly and I were called out to a home for a sick 9 month old baby. When we arrived, we found the child's mother holding her on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket. There were 5 other children in the family, all loitering around in the living room or nearby. The mom quickly told us that her infant had been diagnosed with whooping cough. Whooping cough(pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. In many people, it's marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like "whoop." It is a very serious disease in an infant, especially those under 3 months of age. She informed us that she had the antibiotics required to treat the baby's infection, but hadn't started them when they were prescribed. She was waiting for the infection to resolve itself. According to the oldest sibling, all of the children in the house had been sick. There is a vaccine for pertussis, not for infants, but for expecting mothers. It is so highly contagious that it is recommended that anyone planning to be in contact with the infant should be vaccinated. Holly and I were appalled at this situation. We felt like this mother had been extremely irresponsible. We judged her harshly, both to her face and later behind her back. Worse yet, in our opinion, was that the mother did not want us to transport the very ill child. Legally we could have forced her into the transport with a quick call to the police. She was endangering her child by refusing necessary medical care. That was our opinion anyway and one we knew law enforcement would support. Eventually we convinced her to allow us to transport her baby to the closest children's hospital. The mother had to entrust us with her child, because she couldn't leave her other children home alone. She had to wait until her husband arrived. We never saw the mother again, she arrived at the hospital long after we transferred care to the emergency room. Holly and I spoke of her often. Always in a very judgmental and accusatory way. How could she be so ignorant? Neither Holly (who was a mother of two) nor I (not yet a mother) could not believe the irresponsibility of this mother. She was unvaccinated and she didn't want to put her child on the necessary antibiotics because she was afraid of the consequences. She was afraid of things that were far less likely to occur. We believed that fear was irrational.
Those consequences, the ones that mother feared so much that she withheld treatment from her sick child, were ones I didn't believe in. All of my education, and I had a lot of it, had told me that vaccines were safe and necessary for everyone. I had never done a single day of research about them and never given it a second thought.
Not until my perfect, beautiful, healthy child died. And honestly, not even then. Steve will often remind me of how adamantly I refused to consider vaccine damage as a potential cause of Vail's death in the days and weeks immediately after. Multiple people asked me about her last set of vaccines, when she had them and what they were. I said that couldn't be it. She was fine. They were six weeks ago. It can't be that, vaccines are safe. I refused to consider it. Anti-vaxxers were crazy. They were like that mother who wouldn't give her child antibiotics.
It wasn't until a friend sent me a link to a video. A pediatrician testifying in front of congress, in a very unbiased, non-radical way (https://vimeo.com/386313325?fbclid=IwAR2aUSSjmaSuHmcma1gEcIwZC6AE0fQZoaEdRfzHOaawtxWZ5IuoeoQSl2o)
I listened to this video, alone, on a walk at the park. By the end I was on the cold ground, sobbing. It had been 3 months since Vail's passing and despite receiving the autopsy results, we had no answers. No reason why she was gone. I was crying, because for the first time I realized that I was not very well educated about vaccines. That none of us are. There is so much that we don't know. And that was exactly this doctors' point. Not that all vaccines are dangerous and that we shouldn't vaccinate our children. His point was that there isn't enough research done on the long term side effects of vaccines and their additives to be able to determine if they are truly safe for all children. He went into detail about the elements of vaccines, the additives and the nano particles that are attached to the vaccine itself. I knew nothing about any of it. I had never even read a single vaccine insert during any of my girls well visits. What I sudden became of aware of was that my lack of education on the subject may have cost my child her life. It isn't likely that we will ever know why Vail died. But what we do know is that more research is needed. About SUDC and SIDS and Vaccines. More transparency is needed. More. And until these things happen, we won't know if we can rule out vaccine interactions as a cause of SUDC. Or SIDS for that matter. Or Autism. Or autoimmune conditions. The list goes on. Surprisingly, there are studies correlating vaccines to infant mortality. Plenty of studies about the individual side effects of certain vaccines like MMR. There are hundreds of successful cases in the US Vaccine Courts. Yes, there is a vaccine court. Add that to the list of things I did not know. For every study that correlates a vaccine to an injury or condition, there is another refuting it. Guess who paid for those studies? Next time you read a blurb in the news that you are tempted to accept as fact, dig a little deeper. Follow the money.
Do you remember that mother who didn't get the pertussis vaccine? The one who didn't want to give her baby the antibiotics? The mom I quickly judged as irresponsible and reckless? I remember her. Mostly I see how naive I was to think that she had an easy decision to make and failed to make it. Life isn't black and white. Not even a little bit. It's not simple and the choices we have to make are complicated. As parents, we do our best to educate ourselves (or not) and we make the best decision we can at the time. For most parents, the potential negative consequences of their choices are something they never have to face. Most parents don't have to hold their lifeless child and ask themselves how this is possible. What did I do wrong? How did I fail my child? And even less parents have to look themselves in the mirror and admit that they didn't educate themselves enough. That they weren't open to all the possible ways to protect their child. That they refused to even consider another point of view. And that choice, may have killed their child. Now, I don't know if the vaccines Vail received caused neurological damage that lead to her death. But I also don't know that they didn't. There are no studies about vaccine interactions past 10 days post injection. The manufacturers have decided that they won't study side effects past this point. I have to wonder why. The manufacturers don't have to list every side effect on the insert that comes with the vaccine. Only the ones that they determine are related to the vaccine. And I am sure they are always honest and transparent about everything. Definitely. If you believe that, take a moment to watch the Mark Ruffalo movie "Deep Water."
I have written this entire post to bring us to the last point I'd like to make. We all have our own life experiences that form our opinions and point of view. No one is exactly the same, because none of us are exposed to the same experiences. I'm sure many of my friends think I am a helicopter mom for having a monitor on my children and video cameras in their rooms. A lot of people don't think those things are necessary. They are fortunate enough to be able to ignore that they live in a world where babies die in their sleep. Where children die in their sleep. And I don't blame them. No one should have to close their eyes and see what I see when I close mine. I wish I was a mother who hadn't performed CPR on her own child. I wish that I was a mother who didn't have to pick out an urn for my baby's ashes. And I wish I was a mother who didn't have to hear her 4 year old say how much she misses her sister, every single day. But wishing won't make this go away. Wishing won't reverse time. Wishing won't give me a second chance to make those critical choices. I'll never know if a different choice would change the end result. All I can do is wonder.
So the consequences I write about here are the fundamental changes that have occurred inside me over the past 7 months. I am not the same and I don't see the world the same way either. Now I question everything. I look at both sides of a situation before passing judgement. I do my best to see things from another person's point of view. And above all, I do my research.
In the crazy pandemic stricken world we live in right now, a little bit of kindness would go a long way. Instead, the situation has become extremely polarizing. No middle ground, just far right and far left. It is impossible that someone can be concerned about the virus AND be concerned about the economy. And if you are, you must be a monster who wants people to die. What has happened to our world? People are not kind. They pretend to be. But the moment you disagree with them (not matter what side you are on) they turn against you and say horrible things. No one takes a moment to see the situation from another view point. There is a cultural refusal to walk in another's shoes. Our society, in general, is judging everyone for their opinion without understanding why they have that opinion. I'm not some 'crazy' anti-vaxxer (not that anti-vaxxers are crazy). I'm a mother who thought she made a choice for the greater good. Vaccines protect the most people, they save lives from illnesses that used to ravage our society. And that choice might have cost me my child. This is the same choice people are being asked to make every day, just most people are oblivious to the potential consequences. They accept the party line, without question. It is the same choice we are faced with during the corona virus pandemic. Chose to stay home and possibly save a life. Chose to go to work and be able to feed your child. None of these choices are easy. Everyone has to make them with the information they have, considering their individual experiences. There-in lies the problem. The information we get isn't always accurate. It isn't always presented without bias. The media has it's own motivations. The government has theirs. Each individual is concerned about their own survival. And before you jump to say how selfish that is, remember that it is just human nature. We are all trying to survive. Ask yourself the following question: How have I tried to see this situation from their point of view? No matter what the situation is. Maybe you are trying to support your friend whose child just died. Maybe you are thinking about saying something nasty to someone on facebook. Maybe you are judging a mother for her choices. Don't pass judgement until you have walked a mile in someone else's shoes. If you refuse to take that walk, reserve your judgement. We are all guilty of snap judgements. And our society is suffering for it. Democrats refuse to try to understand Republican view points, its just easier to call them racist. And Republicans can't begin to understand the reasons why Democrats are so determined to push their agenda, it's easier to attack them. It's just going to continue to get worse. Everyone needs to compromise. There has to be a middle ground; On Covid-19 response plans and on our country's legislation. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, and a big step toward the center. Until this happens, the ugliness and anger will continue to grow. We will find ourselves further and further apart.
If you have stuck with me to the end of this post, I ask you to do one thing. Close your eyes. Take a moment to turn on your internal movie theatre. Bring up the reel of the worst moment of your life. Feel the fear, the pain, the sadness, the anger. Own that emotion. Bathe in it. When you open your eyes, remind yourself that every person in the world can close their eyes and summon those emotions. Some easier than others, some with greater intensity, some with less. Then close your eyes one more time. Think of the worst possible thing that you can imagine. If you are a parent, it's holding your dead child, trust me on that. Try to imagine how that might make you feel. Maybe the worst thing you can imagine is being homeless after losing your job because of the stay-at-home-order. Imagine what it would be like to live in your car with your dogs and your kids. Put yourself there. Maybe you should imagine being an ICU nurse on the Covid-19 floor and how stressful it would be to not have enough PPE. Take a moment to try to bring up a reel in your mind, truly see what it might be like for someone living a very different reality from your own. Memorize that picture, hold tight to that feeling.
The next time you start typing that nasty judgmental response on facebook, bring that reel up. Play that movie in your mind. Let another's reality wash over you. Use this technique every time you find yourself judging a mom for not vaccinating her child. Use it when you want to lash out at an opposing political view. Walk in someone else's shoes for a moment. Be grateful you can take them off again and go back to your life. Some of us are stuck in some really shitty shoes.
Above all...be kind.