Thursday, November 11, 2010

Please God, Spare My Kids

Some strange gastro bug got my 3 sons this week. The youngest had fever, so he stayed home, but the older boys, being teenagers, happily soldiered on to school until it was just too exhausting, and I could tell they really needed a rest. No fever, but stay home, please. No fun having tummy issues at school. No fun at all.

Having been diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in my early 30's I remain grateful that I got through school and Uni and all the challenges therein before I had to deal with chronic illness. Now that I have 4 children I am sometimes plagued by fears of their getting Crohn's. There is a genetic link to the disease. As with many other diseases, if a parent has it your own chances are increased, though with Inflammatory Bowel Disease the risk is higher if a sibling has it.

So every abdominal pain, every episode of food poisoning, every nausea incident, every one of those runny belly moments brings a stab of fear to my heart. I worry if it is something more serious than a passing bug. I want details of food intake, pain location, stool texture, quantity and frequency... my kids must find my interrogations annoying but they don't often object. I do think they see a passing shadow of worry on my face as I try to make light of it... I can't help worrying.

What causes Crohn's remains a mystery despite years of medical research. Some of the reasons mooted include bacterial infection that activates the immune system into overdrive, and it then never resets itself, and the body attacks it's own self. I cannot remember exposure to any particular bacteria, neither could I have shielded myself entirely. I refuse to be overly protective of my kids, in some fear of them catching a bug that could cause problems. Apart from general decent hygiene, and not eating poorly cooked food, especially meat, I don't insist that they eat overly sterile food either. Their home environment is reasonably clean but not too clean... I do so miss our home in Seletar Camp where the kids roamed the garden barefoot, tracking soil and mud into the house, playing for hours outdoors, building their immune systems in tandem with nature.

Some say a change in environment can trigger an immune response. I know I moved country from Malaysia to Singapore and a few years later Crohn's crept into my life. Would I have been well if I'd stayed home in KL forever? I don't know. Can I insist that my kids stay in Singapore for the rest of their lives so as to avoid problems? No, I can't. In fact, I encourage them to travel, and they've traveled, some more than others, to Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, the UK, Thailand, South Africa etc. I want them to see the world, the not so clean parts of it, as well as the highly sanitized portions. I want them to appreciate what they have, as they see others with far less. I want them to see their own place in a larger global picture. I suspect they will study abroad and eventually live abroad too. Go explore the world, find your place in it and thrive. I hope early exposure to new and different environments will toughen up their immune systems.

Some argue that a change to a largely western diet of fast food and high sugar content has caused problems like Crohn's. I never ate much fast food or sugar prior to getting Crohn's, so I don't think diet played a role in my case. I exercised a fair bit, had a decent metabolic rate and was well within my BMI. Now that I have Crohn's I have to be extra careful, because some things make it worse. So sugar laden stuff isn't easily available in our house, and I try to limit my kids' intake. Not entirely, because I don't think that's the best way, but it's rationed.

What do I tell my kids? I do tell them to make healthy choices, but it is not always possible, especially at school, and yes, they love pizza, and the occasional trip to MacD's. I ration these out, and I try to focus on freshly cooked food, and fruits and vegetables in decent doses. Will they always make the best dietary choices once they leave home? I don't know. I hope so, but they will have to take ownership of their own health some day, and I hope they will remember what I have tried to impress upon them.

Stress is supposed to affect the immune system and can cause problems too...but which one of us can live a stress free life in this world? I am told that stress is bad for me. Yes, I know it is, and yet where can I flee from it in this day and age? It surrounds me. It surrounds my kids. I try to reduce stress, for all of us, but some stress is really intrinsically needed for without it we might never accomplish much. So how to manage stress and make it work for you...these are skills for all of us to learn, alongside skills that allow us to relax and let go, to achieve that elusive balance that many spend their whole lives searching out.

What I can do for for my kids now is to allow them to live without fear, and to let them enjoy their lives, not worrying about things truly beyond their control. Who knows why and how I got Crohn's, but I pray my kids will be spared. I know what it means to live with this disease, and I wouldn't wish it on my enemies. Well, I can't think of any enemies... :)

Seriously though, go forth and live, without fear. I wish you well, always. And yes, please God, spare my kids.

Thanks for reading,