When I found out that the UK had lost it’s measles free status and that Surrey was one of the worst affected areas, I cried. Selfishly, I cried for me and the impact I knew that this would have on my own wellbeing. I have therefore, decided to write about the impact of vaccination. Not just from the perspective of the need to protect children but also because of the impact that this has on parents with sick children, children that they desperately want to protect.
I have spent all my working life working in charities. Seven years in women’s refuges as well as children’s charities and now an welfare charity. I believe passionately that in MOST CASES it is the parents and carers who are best placed to advocate for the needs of their children. However, I also believe that the choices we make for our children must NEVER do harm for others. Others who have no power or control over the decisions that we make.
In Harry’s short little life he has had:
- 4 brain surgeries,
- 7 in-patient admissions,
- 23 trips to A&E. We really should start a blog just to rate hospital coffee!
- 32 planned hospital medical appointments. This doesn’t count GP appointments both routine and urgent and other contact with health visitors, OTs and other professionals who come to our house. Like so many families where the children have additional needs, we spend a lot of time in hospital and Harry spends a lot of his little life vulnerable to infection.
Harry’s first Shunt was inserted at just eight weeks. The surgery was planned for the 21st of December but he was brought in early as his head was growing and he was exhibiting strange fitting type symptoms. This was on the same day that he was due to have his first set of vaccinations. So there we were in an inner-city hospital with a seriously ill baby who couldn’t be vaccinated until he had fully recovered from his brain surgery. It was also Christmas so half the world (or so it seemed) was visiting the ward to spread good cheer.. Bah-Humbug!
In the hospital, children undergoing brain surgery are wheeled from the 5th floor, put in a lift (shared with members of the public) and then wheeled across the vast, busy hospital to the neurosurgery unit for their operation.
Please reflect on this for a moment. The process is also the same post-surgery. This has had such an impact on me that I can no longer accompany Harry back from surgery. I am paranoid and not without good reason. I certainly remember one particularly vile, obese man who actually coughed on Harry’s cot as he was being wheeled to surgery. If looks could kill…!
Because of his multiple brain surgeries, Harry is at much higher risk of shunt infection and illnesses such as Meningitis. As you can imagine, the thought of Measles now terrifies me. I live in fear that his vulnerable post-operative body will come into contact with someone who is ill or a child whose parents have decided for whatever reason not to vaccinate. Knowing that the UK has lost its measles free status now makes that fear much more acute. Matt now checks my handbag for Dettol and has explained patiently that I can’t just hand out Dettol wipes to people who look ill or sneeze in Harry’s direction. He has also confirmed that, even post obese sneezy man, asking people in the lift if they are contagious is a no-no!
What people don’t understand is that not all children can be vaccinated, even if their parents and carers desperately want them to be. Children undergoing major surgery need time for their little bodies to recover from the trauma (as in Harry’s case) and for children who are immuno-compromised such as those with cancer, vaccinations are simply too dangerous. These children and their families rely on us vaccinating our well children to give herd immunity to protect all children. Children also can’t have the MMR until they are one (although I think they are now lowering this) and even then, until they have had the second dose, it is only 90% effective. They have to have two doses to be 99% covered.
I therefore, hate taking Harry to hospital. We have fought so hard to keep him here, so despite the fact that we know we have to take him in, I worry every time that that he will come to further harm. Every time we go, I wonder if the child sitting next to us might not be vaccinated. You see, when Harry’s shunt fails he is transferred from our local hospital to St Georges. They don’t always have a bed in the ward free, so on occasions we have had to wait in the cramped paediatric A&E waiting room along with every other sick child, knowing full well that we could be inadvertently putting his already sick little body at risk because of other people’s life choices.
My fear came to a head on Tuesday and as I sit here and type whilst sporting my sexy ‘Ted Sockings’ I guess I really was quite sick! We had been away for a short break. On day two, Harry’s temperature spiked to 40.5, following a spectacular car vomit! Wondering if he had a shunt infection and being 250 miles from home we followed the signs to the local A&E, only to find that this is no longer a full A&E but a non-Urgent Treatment Centre, without a Paediatric team. We were then transferred to James Cooke Hospital in Middlesbrough where they confirmed he had tonsillitis and prescribed antibiotics. I knew at this point that I should have probably told a nurse that I also needed to be seen but my fear of keeping Harry in hospital unnecessarily took over. Three days later we drove home. By then I was really sure that I was sick. We dropped the big kiddies off with their Dad and trundled off to take me to our local A&E. We arrived to carnage; bloody sick people everywhere! and loads of sick children being rushed in. There was no way that we could wait there with Harry.
Instead of waiting, I hobbled up to a ward which I thought could help. The Lead Sister looked slightly bemused to see us all standing there. However we explained the situation and she was lovely. Even when Harry started giggling up at her and shouting BUM BUM BUM in his loudest voice! She said she couldn’t admit an unstable paitent to her ward (on reflection I am hoping she meant my body and not my mind!) but she did arrange for an urgent next day appointment.
As it happened I didn’t make the appointment but staggered back into A&E the next morning (Mum had Harry by this point) only to be told by the receptionist that she recognised me from school (bloody hell, really?!) Matt parked the car and when he got back he couldn’t find me. He followed the alarm bells, plethora of doctors and blood up the walls…I came round apologising to the nurse and confirming that, no I really don’t like needles! They operated the next day. If I hadn’t been so scared about exposing Harry to germs then I probably could have been sorted quicker and the poor nurse would have got to go home on time!
Harry is kept alive by a shunt – shunts were invented some sixty years ago by Roald Dahl, a toy maker and a team of neurosurgeons in a desperate attempt to save his dying son – it worked. Sadly he couldn’t save his daughter Olivia who died from Measles. I do often wonder what Roald Dahl would say today if he knew that people we choosing not to vaccinate against it…