Tuesdays are Your Turn – Talking to a Child About Fatal Asthma
Last Friday Libby left a link to the following story in the comments:
Ickey Woods, who used to play for the Cincinnati Bengals, lost his 16 year-old son, Javonte, to asthma over the weekend. After varsity football practice on Wednesday morning, Javonte suffered what sounds like a severe attack that night and ended up on a ventilator. He passed away on Saturday with no evidence of brain activity.
Posts like this one are hard to write for the obvious reasons. The tragedy in the Woods family scares me, for one. Plus, this blog talks about life with an asthma kid, so I like to keep the focus on that living, not the nightmarish alternative I will probably always fear somewhat, deep in my secret heart.
Avoiding the difficult subjects never helped anybody or made the frightening possibilities of asthma go away. The real reason I avoid them is that using another family’s devastating tragedy as a learning experience makes me uneasy. It feels disrespectful of their very real, very raw loss, and sympathy for that should always come first. The Woods family has mine.
I don’t know any more details about the story than I’ve written here. I don’t know if Javonte had intermittent, moderate, or severe asthma. I don’t know what meds or inhalers he used. I don’t know if heat and/or exhaustion from the practice played a role, or if football that morning was just a coincidence. In everything I’ve read, though, he sounds like a healthy, athletic teenager.
He sounds like he led a normal life, playing sports and having friends.
He sounds like my kid.
Which terrifies me the most.
This is my question:
Do you tell your child how asthma can sometimes be deadly? What do you say? What age did you start?
AG and I didn’t have this conversation until a year or so ago. I can’t remember what prompted the talk – probably something to do with future peer pressure and smoking – but how do you tell a child she has something that could, no matter how remote and unlikely the chance, end her life someday? I can barely even write the words, let alone say them out loud.
And yet: she needed to hear it from me. Shielding hard truths from children only works for so long and besides, I wanted to make sure she has accurate information. Knowing my child and her propensity to worry, I could picture her hearing or reading a story like this and automatically projecting the same outcome onto her own life. Really, that’s a natural reaction for anyone. The challenge lies in teaching children to respect the seriousness of their chronic health conditions and the importance of preventative care without instilling an unreasonable, paralyzing amount of fear in them.
Here’s what I told my daughter:
– Asthma is extremely treatable for most people, and you’re one of them.
– Many people live with asthma as only a minor annoyance, and we’re lucky enough that you’re one of those people, too.
– Following your maintenance program is the single most important thing we can do to keep you healthy.
– If you ever feel even the slightest symptoms of the mildest flare, treat them immediately. Every time.
– As you get older and when you move away from home someday, I hope enjoy your life, explore new places, and have fun. But never forget your health.
– Fatal asthma attacks are very rare. Very rare. I have a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of having such a serious flare.
That last sentence, I made up. It’s not like I keep these statistics in my head. Who knows? It may even be true, but I wanted both to emphasize the low probability and end the conversation on a positive note, and it worked. AG got distracted away from the fatal asthma talk and started making plans for that lottery money, should I ever win it.
How about you? Have you talked about this yet? Do you plan to?