Better Safe Than Sorry

Jack has missed a ton of school lately. So it goes for the kid with Leukemia, right?

The week before last, which was his Spring Break, Jack spiked a slight fever and was diagnosed with an ear infection and ruptured eardrum. This happened the day before we were all due to fly to Maryland to help out my sister’s family with their new baby. Jack ended up staying behind with his dad and step-mom while David and I flew out to Maryland. We were heartbroken that Jack couldn’t come with us. It felt wrong to go without him but ultimately we figured out we wouldn’t likely be able to all go if we postponed anyway. And babies are only new for so long!

Jack’s ANC (the measurement of his immune system’s ability to fight off infection) was on a steady decline due to the infection. He was borderline neutropenic (551 – the neutropenic threshold is an ANC of 500) on Wednesday and very low energy with sweats, so I made a judgment call to keep him home.

So he missed most of last week and he’s only been to school one day this week. He’s finished with his antibiotics and ear drops but on various days has woken up complaining of aches and pains or, on Monday, feeling “like I have disgusting liquid going up and down my spine.” I have no idea what that means but it sounds crummy!

He had his monthly clinic appointment on Monday afternoon; he had an exam, a chemo infusion and blood drawn for labs. His ANC had rallied to over 1,000 and the doctor confirmed that his ear was healing. Yay!

Yesterday he went to school, but he’s out again today due to stomach pain, an earache (in the other ear!) and a “watery throat feeling.” (Can you imagine calling into work with that excuse?) It seems he’s sickly more often now, despite having come through last year with flying colors. Perhaps it’s the accumulation of over a year of treatment?

Jack usually doesn’t ask to stay home; instead, I’ll overhear some “ow”s or see him clutching his side or notice that he is getting overly frustrated about something small like putting his arm through the sleeve of his jacket. Then I ask him what’s going on and it’s like pulling teeth to get that info out of him, particularly if it’s anything related to the bathroom – he is so incredibly embarrassed to talk about that. In fact, he asks me to forget it was even mentioned! So I assess his symptoms and determine if there are any medicines he can take – tylenol, claritin, tums, etc… Sometimes, like today, I ask if he wants to try to go to school and see if the medicines kick in and he feels better (sometimes distraction is the key!). In the past we’ve tried just taking him to school but a couple times ended up turning around halfway there anyway so that he could go home and throw up… He rarely has fevers so there is not a very clear indicator of whether he should stay home.

Even more confusing is the fact that Jack is like the opposite of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Hell, he barely mentioned his ear bothering him before he was diagnosed with a ruptured eardrum! The kid seems to have a high tolerance for pain. (I’m pretty sure he gets that from me. The day I got a concussion and still considered whether I could make it to work comes to mind…)

Sometimes Jack stays home and feels better within an hour or two. Most of the time he’s mildly ill and just needs extra rest. Rarely does he actually have an actual illness that requires quarantine. So it’s fairly often that I struggle with the idea that we’re jumping the gun on keeping him home.

When your kid has a life-threatening illness, though, you pretty much live and breathe the motto “better safe than sorry.”

Luckily, as noted in the recent 504 meeting with the school, he’s doing great at keeping up in school. He’s getting 100% on his tests and assignments. The biggest problem with him missing school is the stress it causes him – despite how well he’s doing, he worries a lot about falling behind. He’s such a worrywart!

Despite feeling under the weather, Jack worked on some schoolwork his teacher sent home and finished four pages at home today. At the very least, his willingness to do the schoolwork reassures me that he’s not trying to play hooky in some elaborate reverse psychology scheme. Hopefully I’ll have a few more years (and we’ll have cancer out of the way!) before he pulls something like that.

2 thoughts on “Better Safe Than Sorry”

  1. I hear ya on this one! It’s hard to determine when it’s a good time versus a true leukemia sick time when it comes to school. Z was in kindergarten when diagnosed and we kept her home most of that school year with a tutor provided by the district. She had a 103 fever the week after Easter this year and it continued on in a low-grade way all week and she was home. She too is a fantastic student and it always surprises me how well she does academically when her brain has had to endure so much. Hope J is feeling better soon! Sending healing vibes his way 🙂

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