Baby Barbara and I recently accompanied two-year old George for most of his five week stay in the hospital as he fought and recovered from bacterial meningitis. I've had people mention since that I should do a post on what I learned during our little sojourn, but I'm . . . just . . . not . . . sure I learned much. So here are some things I noticed.
1. That feeling of control that we want as parents . . . it's an illusion
I think on some level, when we hear about a tragedy, we all try to figure out what that family did "wrong" so we can assure ourselves that it won't happen to us. So if it was a car accident, we want to know if the child was buckled into his car seat properly. If it was a birth defect, we want to know if mom drank a glass of wine while pregnant. If there was a pool, we want to know if it had a gate. If we vaccinate, we want to know if an illness was the result of not vaccinating. And if we don't vaccinate, we want to know if the illness was the result of a vaccination.
If that family did something that *I* wouldn't do, then I can move on with my life comfortable that my choices are protecting my children. But, of course, that means that in my head I've made that tragedy the fault of that parent's choices. It's not a very empathetic way to view someone's suffering.
In George's case, he was vaccinated against the bacteria that usually causes meningitis in children, but he was infected by a different strain of the bacteria, against which the vaccine does not protect. It was just bad luck that in his case a not-uncommon bacteria ended up someplace it shouldn't be (the lining of his brain). I met other families with very different yet fundamentally similar stories. Sometimes bad stuff just happens.
We are such extraordinary creatures, so wonderfully complex and fragile. How many near-misses do our loved ones have every day, that we never even consider?
I think learning to view tragedy through the lens of happenstance rather than fault is profoundly liberating. In our case, I really don't believe there's anything we could have done differently to avoid his illness. But in a hundred other cases, or a thousand, since he was born, I did or didn't do something that might have ended up in his getting ill or injured and didn't.
2. There is no bad time to have a baby
3. The internet is bossier than medical professionals
4. Personal priorities will make themselves apparent
5. Suffering in community is a beautiful thing
p.s. This book is the best book to have with a preschooler in a hospital.