Living with Healthy Fear

When Moses was 3-months-old and on a ventilator because of complications from RSV, a common cold to most people, I remember one of the nurses in the PICU telling me, “We have a healthy fear of RSV.” He said that even though they knew how RSV progresses and what it can do to a person’s body, they also know that they have to be diligent while taking care of a patient in Moses’ situation because things can go from bad to really bad very quickly. Case in point: The first time Tyson and I went to the cafeteria together to get lunch, leaving Moses alone in his hospital room for the first time since being admitted, the alarms in his room went off to signal that the thick mucus was clogging up the ventilator tube. When we got back upstairs, the nurse explained that they had to suction his tube out pretty forcefully so that the oxygen could flow through the tube. This happened a couple more times while Moses was on the ventilator. Hence the need for that healthy fear.

When we started to learn of the coronavirus and how it affects the respiratory system, Tyson and I immediately started thinking about how to keep Moses safe. Yes, for the most part, COVID-19 does not affect children as severely as older people. However, from recent reports, it can and has seriously affected children. Because of Moses’ history of having respiratory complications from RSV, he is considered to be ‘high risk’ for COVID-19.

So while we have been practicing social distancing for the past two weeks, I have felt fairly confident that we’re keeping him safe. Of course, there is a part of me that understands that I am not in control of the spread of this virus. None of us are. Despite our best efforts, he could still get it. Because of his age, he could get over it with little to no complications. I’ve read accounts from parents that their children with Down syndrome have gotten COVID-19 and recovered fully from it.

He could develop severe respiratory complications. He could require a ventilator again to save his life again.

And because he has Down syndrome he could be denied that life-saving intervention.

Two states – Washington and Alabama – have already released medical guidelines that more or less outline who gets priority when it comes to being put on a ventilator. Individuals with intellectual disabilities are included in the group that is not given high priority.

To some in the medical field, Moses’ life is viewed as less valuable than a three-year-old with typical intellectual abilities.

I am not okay with that.

I’m not saying that Moses’ life is more valuable than any other three-year-old’s. I am saying that his life is just as valuable as any other person’s on this planet.

In three short years, Moses has impacted so many lives in ways that I may never even know about. But I do know how much awareness and understanding he has brought to our family and friends about Down syndrome and respecting the dignity of his existence. I know how much happiness and laughter he spreads with his wicked sense of humor and his amazing hugs. I know that he has taught me to slow down and remember to find the joy in life’s simple moments and to not let society dictate what is important in my life.

But because he naturally has a shorter life expectancy (60 years) and is prone to have more medical issues, he’s low priority. That means that if the resources were available, he would likely be denied access to them. Because somehow those experts in the medical field are also experts in predicting the impact of a person’s life based on a diagnosis of, oh, let’s say Down syndrome.

I am not okay with it being decided beforehand that people with Down syndrome or any other type of physical or intellectual disability could be denied life-saving measures in the event they develop respiratory complications from COVID-19. I understand that hard decisions have to be made in these uncertain times. However, I don’t believe that when it comes to medical care, especially involving life-saving measures, those decisions should be made without input from the patient or the patient’s family. As his parents, Tyson and I have the right to be part of the decision of whether or not to put him on a ventilator if that resource was available.

When the Declaration of Independence was written, it included this little piece:

“…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Declaration of Independence: A Translation. National Archives.

Notice that it doesn’t say “except for…”

Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act states:

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require that health care providers provide individuals with disabilities full and equal access to their health care services and facilities.  Title II of the ADA applies to public hospitals, clinics and health care services operated by state and local governments and Title III of the ADA applies to privately-owned and operated hospitals, clinics and health care providers.

Accessible Health Care. ADA National Network

It saddens and angers me that when I pray for Moses during this time, I not only pray that he stays healthy, but I also have to pray that if he does get this virus, that he will receive the necessary care and resources to restore him to health. That the doctors and nurses at the hospital will see the value in his life without me having to fight to convince them of that. That the principles and laws of our nation will be upheld.

Are my son’s medical rights protected?

Theoretically, yes.

In reality? Let’s just say I have a healthy fear of those people who are making decisions about who gets priority when it comes to saving lives.

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