The inevitable march of viral marauders has begun in earnest here at the Marciniak home. Jacob was the first victim, a hacking mess of mucus destined to infect us all despite repeated commands to cover his sputum-laced respiratory explosions and wash his contaminated mitts. We lulled ourselves into a sense of false security, thinking the fifteen year-old would comply, we would be spared…to no avail.
This morning the seven year-old is hacking like an emphysematic cigar smoker in a Swinomish Smoke House.
Despite the dramatic explanation of the latest affliction on Sterling Avenue, this is not a frequent occurrence in the Marciniak household; there is an occasional cough here and there, a sniffle, perhaps a bit of stomach rumbling (most likely from something Frito-Lay made rather than a passing virus, in my opinion). For the most part we are a healthy bunch, and not necessarily because we wash our hands meticulously and spray Lysol liberally, because we don't do either with any success or regularity. The children spend a fair amount of time outside doing what kids do, primarily playing in dirt and/or snow, seasonally. They are exposed to viruses and bacteria at every turn. And yet, despite all that, illness is an infrequent guest.
There are colleagues and friends, on the other hand, who seem to lament sick children on a regular basis…colds, diarrhea, coughs, fevers, infections and vomiting. I am amazed at the frequency of ER visits among other parents and their broods at our local children's hospital. For me, if your limb is not bent in an ungodly position and you are able to breath, nod and wave, you're good. I have nursing colleagues who visit the ER with healthy kids on nearly a monthly basis. Why? Am I simply blessed? Is there something I am doing differently? After some thought, I believe there is.
That "something"? Nothing. Let me explain.
Modern parents are terrified of germs and illness. Every cleaning solution, hand and body soap and household spray is antibacterial. Schools wipe down desks, post hand-sanitizing dispensers every three feet, and mop with germicidal solutions. Every illness, cough and sniffle is treated with varying regimens of antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines. Children are kept indoors year-round, and heaven forbid they get into dirt. The gathering of friends from house to house, on baseball fields and parks, in sand boxes, on mounds of dirt, in frog ponds and streams are, sadly, a thing of the past among so many. We have limited the exposure to pathogens so effectively that we have, in my opinion, completely exposed our children by stifling their immune system. And worse yet, we are creating super-bugs.
The immune system works primarily by creating antibodies against invaders AFTER exposure to them. If we are never exposed, this important function of protection never occurs. Conversely, when we bombard every cough, sneeze and sniffle with antibiotics, we encourage our little microbes to develop mutations resistant to pharmaceutical intervention. In essence, we treat ourselves out of treatment.
In ER's, clinics and medical offices all over the nation children are presenting with illnesses previously rare and unseen. Multiple lesions and boils of the skin, pertussis, pneumonia, allergies and asthma, cellulitis; all these and more, even with the proliferation of antibiotics and antibacterial products, are skyrocketing in frequency.
My advice is simple. Let kids be kids. Let them get dirty playing Barbie's and Hot Wheels in the garden soil. Let them play football in the mud at the field down the street. Let them hang with friends and run in the sun. Let them explore the world one rock, one frog, one worm, one playground at a time. In each and every one of these encounters they're exposed to pathogens in small, mostly benign ways -- giving their bodies time to build up a card catalog of antibodies. Let their bodies do what God intended when he designed them. It has worked for multiple millennia.
Here on Sterling we'll suffer through this latest round of coughs and sniffles, and we'll have a new set of antibodies to protect us when we're through. God willing, nary an ER visit will occur, and the doctor's phone will not ring from a call here. The snow is still flying, and I'll wager a few of the healthy ones will be playing hockey in the driveway later this afternoon. Through it all, I praise the God who made us with the words of Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach.
Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too.
If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light" --
Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew;
my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.
How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity.