Patient Zero

I’m Sorry :: My Kid is Patient Zero

Dear Other Parents,

Welcome back to the beginning of the school year! Along with all your child’s school supplies, most of you probably also stocked up on Lysol and Clorox products. Why? Because inevitably, some germy little kid in our kids’ class will bring a terrible plague into the classroom, and it’ll spread like wildfire. Every student in class will become a snotty, coughing mess, along with all their siblings and, of course, you. Before you know it, the plague spreads throughout the entire community. In fact, I have friends on the other side of the country who use phrases like, “there’s definitely something going around,” when I talk to them about my son becoming sick. This same illness is being spread across communities all over the country! There’s no stopping it! Who allowed their child to even enter the classroom in the first place, and begin this viral domino effect?!

Me. I did. My kid is Patient Zero.

I am so, so sorry.

I know what you’re thinking. Trust me, I hear all of you condemning the “mystery family” who sent their Petri dish child to school to contaminate every square inch of every single thing in sight. I know the consequences. I, too, have contracted the same illness, and understand completely how terrible it is. Trust me.

You’re no doubt wondering why I did it. It wasn’t a malicious biological attack on your family, I promise. I truly am sorry that your whole family and even the family cat caught this horrific cold/flu/black lung that every member of our family has also battled. I wish I had a really good excuse. It’s just that we had no other option.

I cannot express to you how difficult it is to make the decision to send my sick child to school. The reason I made that decision, though, is because I have a job. I hear you, stay-at-home parents, telling me that my child’s health and safety should always come first. He should always be my very top priority. I know. And I agree with you. That’s why I have a job in the first place: because my family is my first priority. I work outside of the home so that I can provide for my son. As every other working parent will tell you, being a parent does not gain you any privileges in the workplace. I have just as much sick leave as the 22-year-old non-parent sitting in the office next door. If I use any extra time, it becomes unpaid leave. Too much unpaid leave means I will find myself unemployed. Unemployment for me, especially in my single mom days, has never been an option. Unemployment would mean I get to spend all my time with my son, but it also means we would have no place to live, no food, and no healthcare.

How ironic that the reason for me not being able to stay home and care for my sick son is so that I may afford the insurance that helps him get better. And not staying home with him almost guarantees that the cycle continues, as other parents work in order to pay for their sick children’s healthcare.

Again, I am truly sorry.

During this last bout of illness, I brought my son to the doctor, where I was informed that the American Board of Pediatrics had just released a new set of recommendations regarding the prescription of antibiotics for children. Because of all the new antibiotic-resistant illnesses out there, it is now becoming routine for doctors to deny children antibiotics until they have been exhibiting symptoms for at least two weeks. Two weeks. I get it. For a couple of generations now, antibiotics have been over-prescribed, leaving us with this mutant illnesses. This is damage control. The thing is, that is all of my paid time away from work. If my son has some sort of bug that keeps him out for two weeks before he’s allowed to start an antibiotic, that’s it for me. He can’t be sick for the rest of the year, or I lose my job. But if I send him to school, then all of your kids will end up getting the same nasty bug.

For the record, I lied and told the pediatrician he’d been sick for 15 days. He got antibiotics. I did the best I could.

In a perfect world, I would be able to stay home and take care of my son, so that your children and family won’t have to deal with the late night coughing and body aches that our family has been dealing with. In a perfect world, I could just show my boss a doctor’s note saying my son can’t go to school and I have to stay home with him. In a perfect world, no other kids would catch this bug, and none of the parents of children with compromised immune systems would have to worry about my snotty kid at school. But this isn’t a perfect world. And I’m sorry.

I don’t have a solution for the problem. I can’t quit my job. My family cannot live on zero income. I don’t know how fair it would be to allow mothers and fathers to take extra time off when their kids are sick. I see the problem with giving some people extra time off, but not others. I come to you with no answers, or even a good excuse. I come to you just asking for your forgiveness. And to offer you a box of Kleenex and some zinc lozenges.

I am so very sorry.


That Mom


    • Kate,

      It was certainly not my intention to come across as disingenuous. As a matter of fact, I am sorry. I’m terribly sorry. If I could stay home with my son every single time he is sick until I know without a doubt that he is no longer contagious, I would in a heartbeat. I have several friends who are unable to send their children to daycare or “regular” schools because of parents like me, because their children have suppressed immune systems due to treatment for leukemia or other illnesses. One of my very best friends can’t send her twin boys to school full-time because she had a double lung transplant, and can’t allow her children to bring home germs that could possibly hospitalize her and compromise her body’s ability to accept her new lungs. It sucks. Really bad. I am honestly sorry to those parents, and all the other parents whose children are exposed to illnesses because of my son.

      My apologies if that was unclear. Unfortunately, sometimes blog posts take on a tone based on how the reader perceives it, and it was not my goal to seem unapologetic in any way.


  1. yeah…. Lying to get antibiotics is not a smart move and actually contributes to the problems we have with multi-drug resistant organisms. The reason your child has to be sick for two weeks before “being allowed” antibiotics is because VIRAL ILLNESSES DON’T GET BETTER WITH ANTIBIOTICS! And, viral illnesses are generally self-limiting, so your child will be over it in two weeks or less. A bacterial illness will persist much longer. With your lying scheme, yes, it appears as if the antibiotics “fixed” your child’s illness, but the likelihood is that he had a self-limiting virus and the duration of illness would’ve been the same without this inappropriate treatment.

    There are actually studies coming out now showing that overuse of antibiotics may cause behavioral difficulties and learning problems. Keep on lying to “score” antibiotics and trick your provider, what a great idea. Even better, publish that nonsense and get other people on the ignorant and irresponsible bandwagon!!!

  2. I can understand your side; and it certainly doesn’t seem easy. I’d like to present the flip side though. I have a child with Type-1 diabetes. When there is a stomach bug going around, some people need to take time off to stay home with their kids. We do too, but we may also end up in the emergency room. I may need to hold my daughter down while she gets an IV put in her arm that will prevent her from having dangerously low blood sugars. I take those extra days off, and I worry about how we will now have to pay the astronomical co-pays of the hospital. I have a brief pity party stewing on how others have it so easy because their kid is just normal sick and they only have to stay home. It’s never easy for any one. And I’m not providing any answers. Just a story of how another family might live with the germs.


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