I have really being feeling torn lately.
It is no secret that we trach parents try to keep our kids quarantined for the Winter months, those months we have officially nicknamed "the respiratory season". It is no secret that, if our kids get exposed to germs, they tend to get sick faster and go down harder than most. A simple cold could develop into pneumonia and land them in the hospital.
It is also no secret that exposing typical kids to typical germs helps them build their immune systems. If they get a bug, their bodies learn how to deal with it and fight it in the future.
This is where I'm torn.
We have been incredibly blessed by Marissa's good health. Up until two months ago, she hadn't had even the slightest sickness, not even a sniffle, since February '09. We know this is partly due to her own immune system. She has just never been a very sick kid, although when she does get sick, she gets hit hard, since she is prone to pneumonia. But, it is also largely due to the fact that we try to keep her pretty isolated during times when the sickies are out in full force. If you remember, I was incredibly sad that we could not take Marissa trick-or-treating with friends for Halloween because she hadn't gotten her H1N1 shots yet. And, when we took her to a meeting at a school for her IEP at the beginning of December, she came down with a cold the next day. Luckily, and thanks to zinc and her other vitamins, she never got more than the sniffles with that one.
It is clear that her immune system is not as strong as it could be, simply because we do not expose her to germs and allow her body to build resistance to them. Are we doing the right thing? Are we doing Marissa a disservice by not only not letting her body build resistance to germs but also stunting her social growth? These are the million dollar questions.
We have several friends whose kids are in Marissa's age group and have birthdays in the Winter months. In fact, most of them do, as does Marissa. We have never had more than a family birthday party for her. We were just invited to two different kid's parties on the same day. We really considered going to the parties because we felt Marissa would have a blast and benefit from the social interaction. We knew we would be taking a big risk. As it turns out, we had to decline both invitations because my brother is planning on coming into town that weekend, but the stress and conflicted feelings were on the surface for several days.
We have learned that Marissa is such a social person when given the opportunity to be around other people. She loves to play with other kids, although we need to help her work on her lack of understanding about personal space. : ) Just this last Sunday, we took her to a Super Bowl party my good friends were having. There were lots of kids there and Marissa jumped right into the fun with both feet. There was one little guy with a cough and a runny nose that made Jeremy and I give each other the sideways glance that said "Oh great, what have we done? Now she'll be sick for sure!" She has yet to show us if she will be affected by this interaction but we are crossing fingers and saying prayers that she will stay well.
This same gathering of friends showed us how Marissa needs to be exposed to social situations more often. After about three hours of being in the middle of a very noisy and lively bunch, she shut down. She had been playing with a friend of ours who was lifting her in the air and she was having a blast. All of a sudden, after about the eighth time he lifted her in the air, she got a really panicked look on her face and started crying really hard. Granted, the room had just filled with several people and was very loud and full of activity all at once but it made us realize she still has issues with knowing how to deal with social situations. She just flipped out. She would not calm down and we had to scramble out of there. She got overstimulated in an instant.
Another side of this issue is when she finally gets her trach out (hopefully by the end of this Summer) we will be enrolling her in school as well as letting her play with friends more often. The problem arises when we consider that, because she has not been exposed to the typical germs kids her age have and then, all of a sudden, we are thrusting her into every social situation imaginable, she will likely get sick quite often for those first few months. This prospect makes every former trach parent shake in their boots. If she gets sick enough, her airway might close down or she may need to be intubated, which could very likely lead to her needing to be re-trached.
So what do we do? How do we decide which is more important, Marissa's physical health or her social skills and growth? And how do we know if we are doing the right thing by isolating her or if we are actually doing her more harm by not letting her build natural immunities?
Just once, I just wish there was one clear best answer.
Just once, I would like to know what it is like to not feel torn.