Last week I was thinking of being H1N1 for Halloween. I wanted to be something scary and abstract, and for many right now there isn’t much scarier.
But maybe it’s too scary to be funny. I’m not sure if I have the heart to answer the door on Halloween night, pregnant and dressed as a virus, handing children candy that I’ve touched. Maybe it’s like in 2003 when two people came to a party dressed as the twin towers. Something about it was funny, one tower bobbing on each of their heads as they stood side by side, and something about it was very wrong and definitely too soon.
I’ve not been wanting to be afraid of the swine flu. I do feel that our culture is too afraid of germs, and I’ve felt that as long as I stay healthy enough, any infrequent viruses I receive will help the baby build up a tolerance. The more we throw antibiotics at a problem, the more the antibiotics won’t work. And throughout this pregnancy (knock on wood), while many have gotten sick around me, and Steve has been sick twice, I’ve had enough vitamins and fluids and sleep in my system to keep me safe.
I am going to sound crazy for a minute. Vaccinations scare me, though yes I will vaccinate my child. I simply don’t know who to believe. Some books say that vaccinations are helpful but that many of the diseases we vaccinate against were healed more by clean drinking water and general sanitation, and that even if we did get the mumps now, it wouldn’t have much of a chance of causing lasting harm. After all, we vaccinate against chicken pox now, when few people have ever died of chicken pox. It seems like a cavalier use of vaccines and children’s immune systems. And I’ve never understood why we vaccinate against the flu. Each time we encounter a virus, it helps us to build up resistance to a variant of that virus (which is what they say about the swine flu these days and why this specific virus is affecting mostly the young who haven’t encountered anything like it before). And, as crazy as this sounds, what would life be like if we never got sick, never knew our body’s limits, and never felt that sort of adversity.
But I will vaccinate because the nature of a virus is it spreads, and if I spread the measles to someone unwittingly, I’d obviously feel responsible and incredibly stupid. When we all vaccinate, we protect one another.
But at what cost? Many vaccinations have been around for not that long, and they are indeed full of toxins and pieces of diseases. The one year I got the flu shot was the year I got the biggest flu. My friend vaccinated her antsy baby, then couldn’t wake him, couldn’t wake him, and dragged him into the doctor’s office asleep and unresponsive. And as much as there is no proven scientific link between autism and vaccines, there are enough fighting mothers who feel otherwise: they’ve seen their child healthy, and then some light unlights. Even if autism is genetic and the toxins in the vaccines simply send the child over the edge, similar to a food allergy, that link is one that many mothers stand by, and I’m not currently able to turn my back on them (nor am I able to turn my back on the doctors who say otherwise). I am probably more afraid of autism than I am of H1N1.
To get the H1N1 vaccine right now, you have to be high risk, and there’s no one higher on the high-risk list than a pregnant woman. But the vaccine hasn’t been tested — no babies have been born yet since a woman received the shot. And as much as they say it’s perfectly similar to the regular flu vaccine, I’m a twin: two things that seem similar can have very different outcomes.
But in my research yesterday, a doctor likened it to something like Katrina: a bunch of hard-headed people sitting in their houses, believing that this storm will pass them by. I am afraid of autism, yes, and I’m sort of afraid of H1N1, but I’m really afraid of an I-told-you-so.
What do we know? Not much scientifically. And some people have died, but many, many haven’t. A friend took her daughter to the doctor’s office with the flu, they tested her for swine flu, it came back negative, and the doctor decided that they should call it swine flu anyway. Her friend went to the doctor with the flu, they didn’t test her for swine flu but decided that that’s what it was. The same with her two children. So all over their state there’s swine flu in the air, but is it?
In many parts of the country, schools are closed for days at a time — but not because people have swine flu. It’s because they’re afraid of swine flu. Parents keep their children home just in case. Rumors and fear spread fast as a virus.
My friend who teaches at the University of Michigan says that he’s seen not one case of swine flu. Not at this huge university in the middle of the country, this prime location for a big virus to hit, all these students stuck in dorms with the windows shut. Teachers are instructed by the university to let students miss as many days as they want and to not penalize them for it.
So is there an epidemic? (Obama has called it one because the word instigates action and money in hospitals, not because it is one.) Should I truly be afraid enough to get a piece of the virus grown from an egg and a little bit of formaldehyde shot into my arm? One midwife I saw said that she was definitely getting the vaccine and that she was giving it to her kids. Another midwife said that I should get the vaccine if I’m the kind of person who would seek medication if I felt the flu coming on — because many medications are cost/risk worse for a pregnant woman than the vaccine itself. I shouldn’t get the vaccine if I’m the kind of person who would rest and drink lots of fluids instead. I like that logic for the regular flu, but the swine flu (I’ve heard! Bold print in the newspapers! Be scared!) can randomly hit the healthiest person in the room.
I’ve been able to control my environment a good deal. If Rosie feels feverish, I ask her mother to take care of her. I wash my hands a lot, and I use my own pen when I’m signing receipts. But on Sunday I leave for Vermont, and I’ll be out of my safety zone for three weeks, surrounded by people I don’t know, eating off of plates someone else ate off of in a cafeteria. And suddenly it seems smarter for me to get the vaccine. People are dying, we don’t know how the virus will mutate, and the flu season hasn’t even really begun. If I get sick when I’m away, there will be no doctor I know to take care of me, and Steve, staying home with the zoo in Ann Arbor, will be unable to help me.
I called the hospital about getting a vaccine, but they don’t have one for me. They don’t have enough even for the most high-risk people. Maybe they’ll get more, she said, check back later. I felt for a minute like I was stuck in the middle of the ocean without a raft. But I’m leaving town, I need one right now, I begged, but there just isn’t enough vaccine to go around. So maybe the decision will be made for me — maybe there won’t be enough and I’ll leave town without being vaccinated, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
I won’t be H1N1 for Halloween. This baby stuff is scary. The costume might tempt the gods. There’s not enough wood to knock on for that.