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Hey, World: My High-Risk Child Matters in This Pandemic

I think we can all agree that a year and a half into an unprecedented viral pandemic, nobody is exactly thriving. Every human on earth is bearing the burden of extra restrictions, extreme isolation, and increased fear and grief. The suffering has been widespread and universal. No one is exempt; no one has been unscathed. As a species, we’ve seen better days.

Let’s face it; things are awful.

But for some of us, this last year has been a little worse than awful. If, like me, you have a child who is at high risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19, the normal angst associated with a global catastrophe is keyed up to a frenzy by specific anxiety, for a specific little person. In my case, that little person is my 7-year-old son Malcolm, who has hypoplastic left heart syndrome and a number of other congenital heart defects. Because of his condition, and the toll of more than 20 surgeries, his heart is damaged, his lungs are damaged, and his liver is damaged. The coronavirus would have a heyday with him, and invite all its friends to come along.

Like most people over the course of the pandemic, we’ve been staying in a lot, wearing masks, and taking lots of precautions to avoid becoming ill or spreading that illness to others. Until the vaccine was available to adults, my husband and I didn’t even really go to the grocery store much. The kids haven’t gone anywhere. Malcolm and his two sisters have essentially been living like mole people. We’ve kept them underground, where it’s safe.

Unfortunately, it’s also dark and musty underground.

My husband and I started venturing into the world again once we were vaccinated, but the kids have had to stay put. At this point, we’ve all got cabin fever. We’d like to come out now.

We need your help.

Please keep wearing masks. Please just get the vaccine.

One of the worst parts of this whole pandemic experience, shared by everyone that is at high risk from the coronavirus, or who has loved ones at risk, is the message that we don’t matter. We hear loud and clear the statements, uttered aloud or silently implied, that the virus is welcome to pick off the weak, and the sick, and the old — just as long as it doesn’t inconvenience the normal people.

It really hurts.

Know this. Every time you complain on Facebook about mask mandates at school, you tell me that your child’s discomfort trumps my child’s death. Every time you explain that you don’t need the vaccine because you’re healthy and young, you make it clear that your only loyalty is to yourself. Every time you pull your mask down off your nose in the Costco because you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic, you are carelessly signaling that the suffering and death of others is just not your problem.

I know everyone is suffering right now. I understand that the issue of vaccination is fraught and scary for many. I get why this is difficult and weird. Personally, I hate wearing a mask. If I wanted to smell my own breath all the time I would just live under a blanket. I’m not saying any of this to be a dramatic jerk, or to throw stones. I’m saying this because I think the earth is largely peopled by good humans who don’t always realize the effects of their actions. I’m saying this because I want my kid to grow up. I’m saying it because I want your grandparents to be around as long as possible, and I want your diabetic friend to make it through the next year.

We’re all connected, every single one of us. The world gains a little something with every new birth, and loses something with every death. The weak and the sick matter just as much as the healthy and the strong.

I don’t expect this to change the minds of many people. And I’m still going to do my best to protect you, even if you don’t want to protect me back.

No matter what your thoughts about the reality or unreality of this pandemic are, no matter what your feelings about vaccination have been, no matter how strongly you feel about personal rights, I hope we can all agree on one thing: human life is precious.

Every one of us counts.

Getty image by Kleber Cordeiro.