The days are getting longer and cherry blossoms and tulips are blooming. For most people these are signs of spring. If you’re a parent of a preemie, these aren’t just symbols of something new. These changes in nature signal the end of cold, flu and RSV season.
We brought my son, Theo, home from his seven-month stay in the NICU and children’s hospital in late spring nearly two years ago. Even though the hospital sent him home with one last Synagis shot, it was terrifying to leave the sterile environment of the hospital. I consider myself to be a good housekeeper, but it was never clean enough. I was afraid of lingering germs infecting Theo and sending us back to the hospital.
Like many new preemie parents, we didn’t take our ex-27-weeker out in public. Even as cold and flu season ended, we avoided bringing him into the grocery store or to the public library. We held a handful of playdates in our house with other healthy babies. We only took Theo out for walks around our neighborhood or a nearby lake on nice days.
As Theo grew, our fears about his health waned, at least until the next cold and flu season. By the time the fall rolled around, he was hitting developmental milestones and touching everything he could before sticking his fingers in his mouth. We wound up at urgent care for a high fever. We saw his pediatrician nearly every other week for a new virus. It seemed like no matter how careful we were with washing our hands and keeping him home, Theo continued to pick up one illness after another. Then, last July, in the heart of summer, Theo wound up with two ear infections and pneumonia. Fortunately, our pediatrician ordered a chest x-ray even though his lungs still sounded clear. That x-ray showed the tiniest spot on his lungs, and we were lucky to nip the pneumonia in the bud.
That second brush with pneumonia (his first bout was when he was six weeks old) was scary, but it also made me stop obsessing about germs. The reality is that our kids can get sick at any time of the year, not just cold and flu season. We successfully avoided RSV, but Theo still got pneumonia. As diligent as our family is about washing hands and removing shoes and wiping down our electronics with alcohol swabs, germs are inevitable.
As we emerge from our clean winter caves and wander out into the sunshine, it’s important to go slow and not neglect our hygiene routines. The weather might improve, but there will still be someone with the sniffles who used the shopping cart before us or touched an elevator button. Theo is now two-and-a-half, and while he still is intent on trying to lick chairs in restaurants or stick a toy in his mouth, he also understands that we have to wash our hands when we come in the house or before we eat. Even when he plays in his toy kitchen he pretends to wash his hands.
As you pack up face masks and disposable gloves until next September, keep following the CDC guidelines for protecting yourself from colds and flu. The first step in protecting our kids from germs is to protect ourselves. Take time to stop and smell the daffodils or take in a baseball game. Just don’t forget to bring along a bottle of Purell.