A couple years ago, I discovered several tiny red dots all over my eldest son Gregory’s back, chest, and stomach as I was drying him off after his shower. They weren’t raised bumps and they seemed to be under the skin. It looked like petechial hemorrhaging so my first thought was leukemia. My wife, Sandra, wondered if we should take him to the hospital. But he didn’t seem to be in physiological distress and — I know it sounds awful — but I figured if he did have leukemia, there wasn’t much more we’d be able to accomplish by taking him to the hospital in the middle of the night instead of the next day. I suggested that we could monitor him over night, see if the dots were still present the next morning, and make a decision then.
The dots were still present the next morning so Sandra took Gregory first to his family doctor and then, on the doctor’s recommendations, to the hospital. By the time I showed up at the hospital the next afternoon to bring some baby food for our youngest son, Gregory had blood in his urine and the tiny dots had collected into larger bruises. It turned out he had purpura or, more specifically, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a platelet disorder. His platelet count was so low it was below the test’s threshold of measurement. If he had slipped in the shower the night before, he might have been dead by morning. He was in hospital for several days to be treated and off school for six weeks while we waited for his platelet levels to rise such that he wouldn’t be likely to perish if he fell off the monkey bars on the playground.
Today, I am thankful that Gregory recovered and that he is healthy and well, but that is only part of it. Sandra was off on maternity leave, so child care wasn’t an issue, but it occurred to me: what would have happened if she hadn’t been off on maternity leave? Well, we have sick leave benefits, and long-term disability benefits, and family who can help out with child care if needed, and there are, after all, two of us parenting so we can share the workload. Today, I am also thankful that we have all those things, so that we were able to be at Gregory’s side every second he was in the hospital, and could have continued to do so if he had been in hospital much longer. If one of us were a single parent with two kids, and no family support, and no benefits — and this describes a lot of people in our communities and probably some of you reading this right now — either Gregory would have been alone in the hospital, which is awful for any child to endure, or we would have gone bankrupt trying to stay by his side.
I dedicate this post to all the families who are facing the despair of having a sick child, to all the families who have survived the despair of having a sick child, and also to those who courageously fought the battles if only to meet a bitter end. I also give my gratitude to organizations like Ronald McDonald House Charities who make it a bit easier for families with sick children, and to the health care providers who save children’s lives every day.