The Washington, D.C. area has been hit particularly hard with the flu this season. At my daughter’s school, for instance, as many as 41 kids were out at one time. My boys’ school also felt like a ghost town on several separate days. All three of my children came down with the flu; my daughter had influenza B, and my boys both had influenza A—flu shot be damned.
The flu that hit my daughter, though, set off a series of events that led me to a bunch of questions about my family medical history.
A few weeks ago, my daughter turned 11. Two days later, as I picked her up from school, I noticed she seemed unusually tired. She got in the car and took a nap, which isn’t uncommon, but she pretty much slept for the rest of the day—which is uncommon. She spent the next few days pretty low on energy, something that we attributed to the flu, and frankly, she looked entirely drained. I won’t get into all of the details, but her getting the flu ended up triggering a 10-day stay in Children’s National Medical Center, which was hard for her but was helped by how comfortable the hospital attempts to make the stay for kids. Even as of this writing, she’s not back to 100 percent and has yet to return to school, three weeks later. She’s getting incrementally better every day, but the flu ended up exposing a health issue we didn’t even know she had.
It also revealed to me a lot about my family medical history, which I hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about before. To be clear, I know about several health concerns in my family. I wrote about how my own mother suffered several strokes, even having to have open heart surgery several years ago in what was one of the scarier episodes in my life. So I knew about heart disease, etc. When I fill out forms, and they ask about family history, I now have to check the box for heart disease.
I also know about diabetes and high blood pressure in my family. And on my father’s side, there’s also a history of sickle cell anemia. Those are just the things that I know in a larger sense from talking to family because of conversations I overheard or seeing them up close. My daughter being in the hospital, and her particular concern, raised a new level of anxiety that caused me to call my mother(s) and ask them about a few different types of potential issues. My mother didn’t have the answers so she called my grandmother, who gave her some information, and who then wrote me a letter—my grandmother and I still send handwritten letters to each other several times a year—where she broke down my family’s medical history as far as she knows, including the various cancers, genetic issues, etc.
I read this letter several times over and was able to provide that information to the doctors treating my daughter. The information in it immediately became part of what they were looking for (though, luckily, none of it factored into her medical diagnosis).
Since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my family and how much of what happened before me affects me currently or may down the line. Obviously, our bodies are unique and do what they want when they want but it’s good to actually know what might be on the table. And I wonder how many of us have those conversations within our families? This all became necessary because of my daughter, but when I was asked a question I had to make phone calls to find out. Thankfully, there wasn’t an immediate need to know anything that could have changed any outcomes.
It’s the same with financial security issues. I have two life insurance policies right now for my family. Should something happen to me, my wife and children are more than covered. But I can’t say it has always been at the front of my mind, insurance-wise anyway. The employee-provided insurance was all I had for a while and that’s largely because it was automatic. Learning about and preparing for family circumstances has become more and more necessary the older I get. Thankfully, I haven’t had to learn any lessons the hard way but I am learning them perhaps more slowly than I should be at times.
I’m good and we’re good now. And my daughter is home getting better every day; her medicine, over time, will have her back to her old self and engaging in all of the activities she loves most.
And one day, I will sit down with her and all of my children and let them know just who they are and what that means.
Preparation is key, and that’s what love looks like.