“Momma, Justin* threw up in class today!” Spawn tells me this with the same wide-eyed reverence usually reserved for Minecraft videos and Beyblade launchers. I am sure it was a glorious sight, but I feel bad for the poor little tyke. Vomiting is never fun, and in front of a class full of your friends even less so.
“Yeah? Poor little dude!”
“Yeah! He coughed so hard he threw up! His sister is home sick with the flu, so that’s probably what it was.”
My blood freezes in my veins and a red cloud of trepidation starts rolling in. I hold it together, barely, in order to say that I hope Justin feels better soon, and I set Spawn on the path to his nightly homework-avoidance tap dance. But deep down inside, I know what’s coming, and my left eye starts twitching.
A few hours later, I’m convinced I need to buy lotto tickets because my instinct was spot on. We have a full-fledged fever roaring.
All total, Spawn was home 11 days sick with this flu. My husband missed a week of work (excused with leave) and then an extra four days unpaid. I didn’t see my teens for over a week because we quarantined the shit out of everyone individually to their rooms in order to minimize the exposure. Luckily, this paid off, and they didn’t get it. I, however, am currently still nursing swollen nodes, body aches, a fatigue that keeps me nodding off no matter how many pots of coffee I’ve had, and wracking full-body coughing spasms that require — REQUIRE — maxi pads. Yes, that’s right. I am coughing so hard, I piss myself.
And we’re some of the lucky ones. Aside from being vaccinated, we are also strong and otherwise healthy, so this didn’t hit us as hard as it could have.
Aside from the physical ramifications and the unpaid time off from work, we also spent several hundred dollars we couldn’t afford to spend at the doctor’s office and pharmacy for basically nothing more than confirmation of the flu and the real reason anyone goes to the doctor — those required doctor’s notes for work and school excuses we need for all the absences so that we don’t get fired or have to go to court for school truancy.
We did get something interesting at the MedServe though: information. We all tested positive for Flu A, and our doctor told us that last week, there had been over 800 cases of this locally. This week, over 500 already. This town only has about 1,900 people in it, and 1,300 of them had the flu.
It was speculation at first, the waiting room gossip, but it was later confirmed by other parents and kids in the same class: One of the Junior class boys didn’t feel well, went to the doctor, and confirmed he had the flu. But he said he didn’t feel too poorly at the moment, so he went back to school so as not to become ineligible for the night’s baseball game. (And his parents let him. Let that sink in. He tested positive for the flu at the doctor’s office, and they let him go back to class–for a ballgame.) And you know how this works, right? He infected almost the entire team — and they brought it home to their families. And then some of them went back to school and gave it to their classmates — and they brought it home to their families. And then some of them could not afford to stay home from work, so they gave it to their co-workers. And then some of them thought the Lord might get mad if they missed, so they went to church with it and shook hands with everyone, sharing the joy with them as well. And so on.
I don’t know how to say this any clearer, so let me type it really slowly: If you are sick, stay the fuck home. Extenuating circumstances I fully understand, but church and school and ballgames aren’t emergency needs. STAY HOME.
If your kid is sick and you feel like you can’t take off from work to stay home with them, I get that. I do. I’ve been there. Many times, I’ve been there. I actually lost my job several years ago for missing too many days, because my kids and I all had the flu. So I know how it is. And if you’re deep in the trenches with no options, do not doubt that we will continue to rage with you to fix the system that contributes to that.
But unless you’re actually one of those people who absolutely have no other choice, do this experiment: Take a look at your sick kid. Now imagine a dozen more sick kids and their families struggling just the same as you or worse, simply because you chose to send them to school with the flu.
We’re not talking about a snotty nose here. This is flu — that thing that can kill people who are medically fragile. Choosing to send an infected person out into the general public, be it your kid to school or you to work, is like sending your kindergartener into show-and-tell with a loaded weapon. It’s irresponsible and dangerous, and you could be risking other people’s lives. And yes, you are usually contagious before you even know you are sick, but that isn’t always the case, as per our story above. People can and do know they or their kids are sick, and still send them anyway. We’ve got to stop this. You are knowingly and willfully gambling on the health and lives of babies just like yours.
The way I see it, this problem is widespread, and we need three basic things to change on a really serious level in order to mitigate the majority of this problem.
1. We need to do something about the draconian attendance policies at school.
They only encourage more people to send sick kids to school. It sucks when you have to choose between sending a possibly contagious kid to school or staying home like a responsible human and failing your grade for missing an extra day or two. Not every illness requires a doctor’s visit, and being sick with a parental excuse does not equal truancy. I know abuses of the system happen, but can we get some common sense up in here for a minute?
2. People need to be able to stay home with their sick kid (or when they’re sick themselves) without having to worry about losing their job.
We need some basic standards of living improvements in the employment sector — including living wages and built in PTO for sick days. And you can roll your eyes about the burger-flippers getting bennies all you want to, but answer me this: Do you want the cook who prepped your dinner to be an employee who dragged their flu-ridden ass into work tonight and then breathed all over your food?
3. People need to get their heads out of their asses and actually give a damn about society outside of their living room in real ways that matter.
Don’t stand there and growl about how fiercely you’ll protect your own child while deliberately infecting another mother’s baby because of your own self-involved negligence. To my kid, you are the threat, and I will defend my spawn’s life just as fiercely. But this isn’t about me, or you. It’s about us — all of us and all of our kids — trying to make the world better for everyone, especially people who are scraping and clawing just to get by without the added stress and worry and costs of hospital visits that could have been avoided.
I don’t want your kids to be sick anymore than I want my kid to be sick, and I would never knowingly allow my kid to hurt yours. I expect the same in return. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
*Names changed to protect the innocent.