By Cathy Jameson
Ring. Ring. Of all days.
Ronan was up at some ridiculous hour the last two mornings in a row. All I wanted was some peace, a whole lot of sleep and for it to please come soon. I’d just returned home from dropping off my children at school. If I was going to survive a full day, and another possible night of no sleep due to Ronan’s frequent night waking, I had to grab that quiet moment now.
Crawling back into bed praying for rest in the form of a nap, I groaned. I usually turn the ringer off if I get the chance to go back to bed. Obviously I was too tired to remember to do that this time.
I recognized the phone number and knew I couldn’t ignore the call. Forcing myself to perk up, I hoped I didn’t sound like the exhausted half-human I felt I was.
“Mrs. Jameson?” a woman on the other end asked.
“Yes, this is.”
“This is the nurse at Ronan’s school.” Drat.
I was wide awake. The nurse continued, “I was looking through Ronan’s files, and I see that he did not get the varicella vaccine.”
I replied, “Yeeesss?”
The nurse continued, “Well, I need to tell you something.”
Ugh. I was sitting up in bed. Naptime over. My mind raced as I reached for my imaginary mother warrior boxing gloves thinking, You wanna talk vaccines? Bring it, sista.
“I’m listening,” I tried to say casually.
“Well, we have two cases of chicken pox here at school. Ronan didn’t get that shot, so if you think he might be exposed you can come pick him up.”
I almost laughed. How quickly I put myself in the vaccine boxing ring ready to put my dukes up! I waited a second before responding. “Oh, wow. Thanks for calling. You know what though? Ronan had the chicken pox. He caught it naturally a few years ago. So….he doesn’t need the shot, and he should be fine.” (Please, oh please, oh p-l-e-a-s-e say that he can stay at school today because I really need to take a nap.)
The nurse said, “Oh, wait. I think you did tell me that. Yes, now I remember. Okay, then. It’s been a really busy morning.” I thought, I bet it has! Chicken pox is no picnic. I was guessing she was in damage control mode rifling through hundreds of other kids’ files trying to see who was and wasn’t vaccinated, and who might be susceptible to catching the chicken pox.
I said, “Well, thank you so much for calling.” I hung up and tucked myself back into bed. No rest for the weary. But, success. Ronan’s rights are safe. I don’t have to defend him, or me or the decisions that I’ve made about vaccines. I snuggled under my covers and closed my eyes. I was thankful for the quiet and for some peace once again.
I slept maybe 10 minutes. Too much was on my mind. When I woke I couldn’t help but think about the other parents who might also be getting phone calls about these two cases of chicken pox and some “missing” vaccines. Were they given the same option I had been given, to take their child out of school for the duration of the incubation period? Were they told they could still maintain their vaccine exemption if they had already filed one? I even wondered, would they be told to hurry up and get the chicken pox vaccine now just to be on the safe side?
When I picked Ronan up at the end of that school day I saw the nurse and thanked her in person for the phone call. Over the years I’ve encountered more people uneducated on how devastating a vaccine injury can be. Several medical folks top that list. To have someone in such a position appreciate the information I’ve shared about Ronan and his vaccine status gave me a little bit of relief. Thankfully this school nurse and I see eye-to-eye. I know other parents are not so lucky.
Nowadays, and for a long time now, putting my dukes up is an automatic response. It’s what I did it that morning and what I’ll likely do it the next time I find myself in a similar conversation. Getting that phone call reminded me that some people are actually listening to what I’m saying. As I lay in bed unable to take the full nap I really needed I thought about a few recent encounters and conversations I’ve had about vaccines. I had seven in the last week. An average of one per day. Surprisingly, because I’m not afraid to speak up anymore, none of these conversations were initiated by me. I was on the other side of the story listening to someone else point out a vaccine-related concern. I was the sought after “expert” who could weigh in with facts, statistics and solutions to their concerns because of my experience. I was also being just a friend able to comfort and guide. Sometimes, since not every conversation I’ve had about vaccines has gone over well, I wonder if the person on the other end of the discussion would pull out a quarter from their pocket, slowly slide it across the table while saying, “Woah. Woah, Cat. Do me a favor. Here’s a quarter. All this vaccine and autism talk? Call someone who cares.” Lately, people have been all ears when I talk about Ronan, his issues, the autism that crept into his life, the discovery of too much too soon and how I keep ever hopeful that I can bring some of Ronan’s development back to him. Those vaccine-topic encounters have become a full-time devotion because they encompass so much of my everyday life.
I’m thankful I can share Ronan’s past with people willing to listen. Since I've also had to defend what some people view as controversial, I carefully plan how to state and share some information. Being in a prepared-to-fight mode is tiring, but it’s necessary because it comes up so frequently. My arms grow weak from the warrior stance I have been forced to take in the past, but I’m willing to keep that stance to further protect and care for my child.
When the school nurse offered a solution to a potentially devastating situation for Ronan (to avoid contracting a disease that could do a number to his already compromised immune system) I breathed a huge sigh of relief. She is well aware of Ronan’s situation with every piece of supporting medical information I have previously shared. His medical needs were respected. I’m grateful that this one situation ended well and pray that we keep the lines of communication open. I can’t say I won’t ever take those imaginary boxing gloves off for good. What I know about vaccines, how they affected Ronan and how the vaccine schedule continues to be over-inflated is part of who I am. I’d like for my initial response in future conversations to be something else rather than having me go into instant overdrive. Someday, when more people know they too have rights about vaccines and their child’s health care maybe I’ll feel like I can rest. Witnessing what I have with my own child and how his health affects every part of his life, I continue to be standing at the ready.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.
Managing Editor's Addition: A hymn from Bruce. I saw this tour - Devils and Dust. Impossible not to think of this as a prayer for all of us - and our kids.