The moment you want to be an anti-vaxxer

“What is the worst case scenario as a doctor?” –at some point, one of my faculty in school asked us this question– “It’s when your patient was asymptomatic before they saw you, and after accepting treatment you said they needed, now they’ve developed symptoms and are in pain.”

Now that I’ve practiced for a few years, can confirm: this is the worst.

And this is unfortunately exactly what happens a lot of the time with vaccines.

After this latest round of shots, Zoe is now going on three days refusing to nurse. What used to be one of my favorite things about our relationship has turned into a tear-filled (on both sides) struggle of wills in which she generally wins and I give up wanting to tear out my hair.

looking deceptively tranquil after raging for half an hour

Going through this, I can understand how a parent becomes an anti-vaxxer. As I watch her arch and cry and start to turn purple with rage, I hear that voice in the back of my head: “She was fine. She was normal and healthy and you let them do this to her, and now she is broken.”

I feel it as a shadow behind all my worried questions: Is it just me or is she skinnier? Are there fewer dirty diapers? How on earth am I going to get through six hours of air travel when she won’t nurse unless I trick her into it when she’s asleep, and we’re both lying down?

Parenthood is already an adventure against the illogical. It’s a world where terms like “colic” were very obviously invented just to try to give a name and some artificial order to the unknowable, chaotic nature of infants.

Life before was that of reasonable, logical, adults who follow rules and behave predictably. Now, life is at the beck and call of an often unpredictable, illogical creature who not only has unreasonable demands, but can’t even make those demands known in a coherent way.

And maybe it’s worse that the medical establishment seems to promises some semblance of order. Maybe the very audacity to use language like “evidence-based recommendations” make it even more jarring when science ends up begetting chaos. It’s one thing to give an asymptomatic patient symptoms–it’s even worse when you can’t really say why, or how, or whether it will go away.

I will probably always be pro-vaccine, pro-fluoride, pro-x-rays, pro-evidenced-based practice. Probably passionately so. I think that makes it worse, that there is nowhere to pin my own frustration, that I will never be comfortable in the quackery corner of the internet raging against Big Vaccine Pharma. I will never be able to find solidarity by scapegoating public health. So here I am instead, writing this at 3AM with none of the logical prognosis of a doctor and all of the desperate hope of a parent that she will be better tomorrow.


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