We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf – the more he cried out for help, the less people believed him. That’s what it was like when Aidan was sick.
I’m yet to meet a terminally ill child who hasn’t had many close calls; times when their families were told to prepare for the worst but the worst didn’t eventuate. Don’t get me wrong, when your child doesn’t die it’s a huge relief, but at the same time it makes you feel like you are creating a drama over nothing.
There were many times in Aidan’s life when doctors told us that this could be the infection or virus that would take him. There were even times when he was resuscitated and literally brought back from the brink of death. There were countless other times Anthony and I, as well as our families, said our final goodbyes. However, when the crisis was over and others came to visit, he’d be sitting up in bed playing like nothing had ever happened.
There’s a term called crisis fatigue, which often occurs when people have been so overexposed to previous crises or disasters, that they become kind of immune to it. It’s often seen in the way people react to images of starving children or countries at war on the news. I often imagined that my friends felt like this towards Aidan’s illness. So as time went on we told fewer and fewer people about those ‘close calls for fear they might think we were being dramatic and attention seeking, or at the very least would tire of hearing about them.
It’s no wonder then that Aidan’s death came as a surprise to some people. When he contracted the flu we knew it was serious but not even we truly believed it was life threatening and so we told very few people just how sick he was.
It’s not the kind of thing you want to say ‘I told you so’ to but in some ways Aidan’s death from the flu validated what I had been telling people over the years – that any infection or virus could take him, that it really wasn’t safe for him to be around other people who had coughs and colds, and that he was actually going to die as a result of his disease. I was no longer the boy who cried wolf.
When a child is in hospital so often, it’s easy to think that it’s no big deal. Likewise, if they survive a serious infection, it’s easy to presume they’ll recover from the next one. But it’s not easy – not for the child and not for the families. Whether your friends truly believe you are over exaggerating the seriousness of your child’s illness, or it’s all in your head, the fact is each admission just gets harder and more isolating.