This Is Why You Shouldn't Send Your 'Almost Better' Kid Back To School

by Sharon Butler
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No judgment, here. I understand how hard it is to be a mom, to make a million decisions that impact the life of your kid every day. I understand the pressure to not screw them up. I understand the pressure to take care of all the other things too. I do.

I understand there are factors that enable you to make choices like sending your still (a little) sick kid back to school. However, I hope you will read this if you’ve ever done it or even just considered it, because this is my story about what it looks like for some of the other kids in your kid’s class.

First, let me start by imagining some of the reasons you may send your (just a little bit) sick kid back to school before she is fully well.

  • Maybe you’ve missed so many days of work that you’re afraid you’ll lose your job if you miss anymore.
  • Maybe it’s his birthday and he is begging to go so he can share the cupcakes.
  • Maybe she says she feels perfectly fine today even though she still has a mild fever.
  • Maybe it’s Science Fair Day and he has worked so hard on the perfect project this year!
  • Maybe it’s Spirit Day and she has been planning the perfect outfit to match with her BFF for months!
  • Maybe your kid has lied about being sick in the past so you aren’t sure whether to believe him this time.

I am sure there are millions of seemingly acceptable reasons to allow your kid to return to the classroom when he appears better enough. Coming up with those reasons in my head took less than 10 seconds, and I can already imagine making this choice myself.

Still, next time, I hope you’ll think twice. Here’s why:

I am a mom of a child with Type 1 Diabetes. There is a treatment for it. We check her blood sugar multiple times a day. We inject her with insulin so she doesn’t die. We hate this disease. We hate it for all the finger sticks and all the injections. We hate it for the complications. We hate it because minute by minute, this disease is ridiculously hard to manage. I hate it because when she gets sick, even just a little, it screws up everything.

When she was in third grade, we spent nearly a week in the hospital on three separate occasions. She had the flu all three times. The same flu you might have sent your child back to school with when she was (almost) better.

It starts off just like any flu, except my daughter’s blood sugar starts going haywire. Suddenly, managing her diabetes is nearly impossible. She is low, then high, then higher, then higher, then she starts feeling nauseous and she begins to vomit, not from the flu, but from diabetes complications, called ketones. She then becomes dehydrated because everything she consumes, she vomits. Her eyes become sunken and dark, and she can’t stop vomiting. It’s then when I buckle her into the backseat of the car and drive her to hospital as quickly as I can in an ice storm because if she doesn’t get help, she will die.

In the emergency department, they rush her to a room. She doesn’t wait, because at a hospital, they know this is life and death. They begin to poke at her trying to get an IV in, but they miss. All in all, they stab at her seven times, making every attempt to begin treating this complication before they finally use an ultrasound machine to find a good vein to jab. Still they miss. They call in extra help and finally someone succeeds and begins getting the life-giving fluids into her body.

My girl is sobbing. I am crying right along with her. This sucks!

We get moved to the Pediatric ICU where we spend a couple of days, getting her body back to a healthier place.

My daughter is unable to eat or drink during this time and her lips are badly chapped. She is begging for some water to moisten her mouth, and I have to say, “no” again and again. Her IVs are bothering her. They hurt. She can’t move. She can’t even go to the bathroom by herself.

After a few days, her body stabilizes and they move us to another part of the hospital. Someone is walking toward our room. It isn’t a doctor. It’s not a nurse. Maybe a social worker? I wonder, until she enters the room, displaying a badge and explaining that it is protocol that when a child is admitted to the hospital twice with diabetic complications, they must be investigated by the Department of Children and Families.

In my mind, I alternate between telling myself to “keep it together, Sharon!” and wondering when this nightmare will ever end. I am indignant that I am being investigated for bringing my sick child to the hospital. I start to wonder how my daughter even got the flu, but I know, intuitively, already. She got it at school, or maybe from a sibling who got it at school.

After I sign the documents saying that I understand we are now being investigated for medical neglect and that we are not allowed to leave the state, I begin to ask myself how I can keep my kid from getting sick again, so I don’t have to go through the hospital emergency room and DCF regularly for the rest of my life. The only problem is that I can’t. I can’t keep my kid in a bubble. I can’t isolate her entirely from the rest of the world, nor should she have to be isolated.

After a month and a couple of home visits, we were cleared of the charges. No neglect to be found here, just a kid with Type 1 Diabetes who goes to school with other kids who may sometimes be sent back to school when they’re (almost) better.

I mean no ill will. I feel no judgment. I just know that unless you’re in my shoes or have an immune-compromised child, you probably think the flu isn’t a really big deal. Your kid gets sick a few days and gets over it and it’s just a distant memory. Yet, for some children and their parents, the flu is such a traumatic event that these children suffer from a mild form of PTSD. It’s real and I know that if you knew, you would choose differently next time because you’re a mom too and you’d never want this story for your child.