We were told, in the beginning of the pandemic, that COVID-19 didn’t affect children very much. According to the CDC, even when children get it, their symptoms tend to be different — and more mild — than those of adults. But among the children who do contract COVID-19, a new disease is emerging, first described by researchers in London, and now confirmed by cases in the United States. It’s called MIS-C, short for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, and while it’s still rare, as of last week, NBC reported that 157 cases have been identified in New York City alone, the center of the American COVID-19 epidemic, and in about half of all states.
I know that in the grand scheme of things, it’s rare. I know the chances of my children contracting it are vanishingly small. I know my kids are mostly safe.
But if I was scared of COVID-19 before, I’m terrified now. I live with this one image, this one moment: they don’t let visitors into COVID-19 wards. I imagine my youngest, my six-year-old, my little baby who still sits in my lap when he wakes up in the morning. I imagine him sick and afraid and alone. The fact that these complications are rare doesn’t matter, parents are losing their kids to COVID-19 complications and we can’t afford to have the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude.
What is MIS-C?
According to the CDC, MIS-C is associated with COVID-19 — either with present or past infection with the virus. It’s a “severe inflammatory syndrome” that resembles Kawasaki Disease. While signs of Kawasaki Disease, the CDC says, include “fever, rash, swelling of the hands and feet, irritation and redness of the whites of the eyes, swollen lymph glands in the neck, and irritation and inflammation of the mouth, lips, and throat,” signs of MIS-C may differ. They include a fever that won’t go away, a rash or skin color changes, red eyes, tummy pain, and swollen lymph nodes, say Stanford Children’s Health.
It’s vague enough that any little blip could set me off. I have a goddamn anxiety disorder. If my kids get COVID-19, any tummy ache will send me rushing to the pediatrician. It only strengthens my resolve: they will not leave the house until we have a vaccine. I’m mean. I’m terrible. I am a monster. They will have no Halloween. They will see only people who have been under full quarantine. Christmas is canceled. When school starts, they will not see their grandmother.
I am too afraid. And here’s why:
One Mom’s Story
Amber Dean, a New Yorker, reported to local news stations that her son Bobby came down with MIS-C just after the family had ended quarantine from their bout with COVID-19. First, she says, it looked like “a tummy bug.” The next day, he couldn’t sit up because of his stomach pain, and he couldn’t keep any food down. An ER visit led to a suspected appendix issue, and they sent him home with instructions to see his doctor.
Bobby took a turn for the worse, and he was diagnosed with MIS-C.
His mother sat by his bedside for six days while he was hooked up to IVs and a heart monitor. Dean says, “It never affected his respiratory system, it was his heart it affected.” They are hoping that Bobby recovers fully.
It was his heart. His fucking heart. Her baby has a heart problem now. Her baby has a heart problem because he got COVID-19, because only children who have had COVID-19 get MIS-C. This is terrifying.
And as moms inevitably do, I would blame myself, whether I was at fault or not.
I don’t care how small the chances are. I don’t care that “everyone will probably eventually get COVID-19,” as my husband says. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. They will stay home. They will stay home until we know more. They will stay home to prevent the further spread of this deadly virus with no known cure. They will stay home to protect our community. They will stay home because they are the most important things in the world to me, and I will do everything in my power to protect them.
Should I Freak Out?
Short answer for those of us with anxiety disorders: no. Out of the 147 children diagnosed in New York, only 3 have died, says NBC. Obviously, that’s 3 too many. However, when you take into account the number of children who contract COVID-19, then the number who contract MIS-C, then the number who die from MIS-C, the likelihood of losing your child to the syndrome is incredibly low. I know this. I just did the goddamn research. And I don’t care, because I’m already scared. I cannot look at the number of people we lose every day in America. I hate that little Facebook tab that tells me I can click for more information about COVID-19. I will never, ever click it. It frightens me, that tab. It tells me: you could die. Your baby could suffer alone. Now it says: your baby could suffer alone hooked to monitors and needles in pain.
Longer answer: AHAHAHAHAHAHA. If my kids get COVID-19, or are around people with COVID-19, I have to watch for the vague, vague symptoms of a “persistent fever,” red eyes, a rash, stomach pain, and swollen lymph nodes, says Stanford Children’s Health. Then I’m supposed to take them to a pediatrician, which I will, in the middle of a goddamn pandemic, in a total panic, which will panic them, which will send my husband yelling because I’m scaring the kids.
I know: this is very rare. It’s something to watch for and be aware of, but it’s rare. I know: I should sleep tonight. I know: I should repeat to myself: this is very rare and unlikely to affect my child. In the middle of a pandemic, worrying about MIS-C is the last thing I need.
So until I feel that we’re safe, that they’re safe … my kids are staying in.