It’s that time of year again…
The days are getting shorter (ugh), the temperatures will start to get that slight undertone of cold in the air (double ugh), and the kids are back in school (an ugh that comes so deep from within my soul that it hurts).
You know, it’s funny. Even though I haven’t had to have a first day of school in going on 10 years, I still let out an audible groan every time a back-to-school commercial comes on TV, and I still dread that official death of summer that is the first day of school. As a kid I always had mixed feelings about September coming. On the one hand it meant school was starting, but on the other much more enjoyable hand, it’s my birthday month. So, if school was going to come, as it inevitably did, it might as well come along with some ice cream and presents as well, right?
That first day of school -no matter what grade you’re in, or perhaps how long you’ve been teaching, or sending your kid off on the bus- always brings with it a certain degree of nervousness.
•Will you have lunch with anyone you know?
•Will some other group of kids steal the lunch table that you and your friends have claimed as “yours” for the past however many years?
•What to bring your lunch in? Or more importantly, what to bring for lunch? Which can either, depending on the level of oder or trade potential, make you a lunchtime pariah or celebrity.
•Will you like your teachers?
•Will your teachers like you? Or if you’re a teacher, will you like your students and will your students like you?
•What to wear?
•Is my hair good?
•Shoes on point? (Always a big priority for me. I know, kinda ironic for a guy whose feet have never touched the ground.)
•If you’re a teacher, did you post enough pictures of your classroom on Facebook and Instagram so that everyone knows that you can out cutesy even the most seasoned of teachers?
•Do I have enough supplies?
•Is my lesson plan ready?
These are just some the questions and stresses that run through our brains in the days leading up to and on the first day of school. I remember many of them well.
For those of us who live with chronic illnesses and disabilities, the start of school brings with it an entirely different, much deeper set of thoughts and stresses.
In a word, GERMS.
Germs at school are kinda like Hydra from the Captain America movies (some of my favorites), “cut off one head, two more shall take its place.” Germs at school say, “disinfect one bacteria, two more shall infect in its place.” It is the perfect breeding ground for everything from a common cold, to a stomach virus, to the flu. For most people, it’s really no big deal. Your immune systems are like Cap post serum injection. An uppercut here, a shield throw there and those fascist bacteria are no problem for you. For those of us who have compromised immune systems though, the threat is compounded ten-fold. It becomes a daily battle of countless rows of desks and table tops previously occupied/sneezed on/coughed on by who knows who. Dry erase markers last used by who knows who or when they last washed their hands (cringe). In the words of Alton Brown on Iron Chef America, school for us is a “veritable pantheon” of opportunities to get extremely sick.
We take counter measures, of course. My aide, Mrs. Taulbee, wiped down my desk with a disinfectant wipe in every class I had before I’d even think about touching the desk. I often used hand sanitizer, which I still hate the smell of. When friends or family members get sick, we simply and in the nicest way possible say “stay away!” Many people my family and I know through social media that also have Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or other diseases that compromise the immune system, even go so far as to pull their kids out of school and homeschool for a few months during flu season because it’s so dangerous.
Though I made slightly light of it at the beginning of the article, the dangers of getting sick are real and intense. A common cold for you turns into pneumonia for me. A stomach bug with a couple of hours of puking for you, turns into dehydration, undernourishment, and the threat of aspiration for us. What is the flu for you can become weeks in the hospital with the real possibility of death for me.
To be blunt, no one, or very few, actually die from having Spinal Muscular Atrophy. They die from getting a cold, or the flu which turns to pneumonia, or some other infection or virus that our bodies simply aren’t strong enough to fight.
Yes they’re scary but, to some degree, the risks and their consequences are inevitable. You can take all the precautions in the world, but at some point, if you want to have a life and not stay shuddered in your perfectly disinfected home, you have to take the risk. However, there is one thing that people who don’t have compromised immune systems can do to help those that do.
If you ask me, the Perfect Attendance Award given out at the end of each school year is probably the dumbest thing that people trying to educate children could’ve ever come up with. Let’s first begin with the fact that it’s almost impossible that anyone isn’t going to miss at least one day of school for some reason or another. And that’s okay. It’s even less likely that you won’t, at some point in the nine and a halfish months that school is in session, get sick and have to (or should have) stay home. Which is okay as well… in fact, it’s even preferable. So then, why in the world are we effectively encouraging kids to want to come -or their parents to send them- to school sick and inadvertently shaming those who choose to stay home? Not to mention the fact that by going to school sick, you get more kids sick, who then either have to stay home or they themselves come to school sick and in turn get even more kids sick. It’s a viscous cycle.
We can’t blame the kids. Heck, I was an idiot as a kid! I thought grilled cheeses were called ”girl cheeses” and would give me “coodies” if I ate them. Man, was I wrong. About both grilled cheeses and girls!
No, it’s parents and adults who set the tone. We’ve become a society so concerned with getting ahead in our lives, whether it’s work or school, that we’re willing to put those we love at risk. We think that we can’t miss even one day to take care of our own, or our kids’, health. But it’s not just your own or your own kids’ health that you’re putting in jeopardy by going to work or school sick, or just back to school or work too soon. And that’s the key…
Whether you know it or not, we all know someone who has a compromised immune system.
It might be a grandparent, great grandparent, or a new born niece or nephew whose immune system just isn’t as strong enough because of their age. It might be your kids friend at school, the person who sits at the desk after them, or even that child’s brother or sister at home who has a chronic illness. When you send your kid to school sick, or not completely recovered, you’re putting all of these people at risk. I can’t tell you the number of times that when I was a kid and got sick -and had to go to the hospital because things went downhill so quickly- we could easily trace back who I, or a close family member or friend, had come in contact with that subsequently transferred those Hydra hailing germs to me.
So here’s what I (and actual doctors) suggest. Or rather, plead.
Wash your hands and wash them often. Even if you’re not sick frequent washing stops the spread of germs. I heard someone say something about singing The Itsie Bitsie Spider in your head as a good amount of washing time but, better go with Freebird or Stairway To Heaven just to be safe.
If you have a fever, consider yourself contagious for at least 24 hours after your fever goes away, even if you feel fine. Just because you feel better doesn’t mean that you’re not still carrying germs that you can pass on. Nobody wants them. Stay home.
If you don’t have a fever but don’t feel well, here’s an idea… stay home! I know, “but I have things to do!” I think I’ve already adequately covered this response but, I’ll say it once more. Every time you sneeze, cough, wipe your nose, touch your face, rub your eyes, and even just breathe you’re spreading your nastiness all over place, even with the most thorough of hand washing. Just don’t. I promise, the world is not going to end if you miss one day of school or work… unless God happens to be reading this… if He misses a day of work, well, I don’t wanna know what then.
Excuse my language here but… GET A DAMN FLU SHOT! There are many people in the SMA community who don’t even let people in their home who haven’t gotten a flu shot. Honestly, I don’t blame them and I’m about ready to join them. And please, don’t even get me started on the whole “flu shots give people Autism” CRAP!
And last, but certainly not least, get rid of the Perfect Attendance Award. If the past over a thousand words of this article haven’t convinced you then, well, I don’t know what to tell you. You’re kid isn’t not going to get into Harvard because they missed one, or even two *gasp*, days of school. For those with complex medical conditions and compromised immune systems though, well, that Perfect Attendance Award might just send us to the hospital… or potentially, worse.
Well, those are my remARCs. I hope they in some way, big or small, might have resonated with you. Whether it made you laugh, cry (I hope not too much), smile, or maybe think about life from a different perspective, I hope you take something away from this article that makes your day even the slightest bit better. I’d love to hear your remARCs as well. Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on the My RemARCs Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages… unless you hated it. In which case, why are you even still reading this?
Hope to see you back here soon. Until then, be well and live remARCably.