Why do parents of strong, healthy children fear whooping cough? Why do health professionals make dire warnings shrouded in gloom, causing fear and distress? Why are we too scared to step back a moment, to take stock and assess the reality of the situation?
Can whooping cough kill? Yes - but very, very rarely. Its main victims are the very old, the very young and those with a compromised immune system, like people with AIDS. Far more children get killed every year - every month - in this country in traffic related accidents than die in a decade of whooping cough. And yet the risk factor from cars is an accepted part of our lives - but the risk from an infectious disease is not.
Why not? Is it that cars and roads and school buses contribute to the everydayness of our lives and so we do not stop and think much about the risks? And might it be that an illness such as whooping cough disrupts our lives, causes chaos, makes us have to adjust? By its very foreign nature, its "otherness", disease is scary. By its ho-hum acceptability, its foundational place in our lives, the risk of injury and death from cars barely even registers in our consciousness. A few figures to chew over: in the year 2002, there were 18 deaths in the entire United States due to whooping cough - in 2000 there were 37,526 traffic related deaths (Sources: the Center for Disease Control and the US Department of Transportation).
And yet disease does not have to be viewed only as an intruder, an interloper, a stranger. It can also be viewed as a guest who carries a message. The receiving of this message might be difficult, be unpleasant. There might be pain or discomfort. But there does not have to be fear. We can learn to accept illness and to listen to the message it carries and thereby learn an enormous amount about our bodies and our very selves.
I had a serious illness about two years ago - I am unsure of the diagnosis as I decided not to go to the hospital, knowing I would accept neither intervention nor medicine. Why waste my time and the time of the doctors? Further, I knew that once I stepped onto that path, I would be surrounded by fear - and that fear was the last thing my ill body needed.
So I stayed home - and was in bed for about 6 weeks. And then I graduated to the couch for about 2 or 3 months. I had a lot of time to think and one of the things I thought about was time. Time and healing. Time to heal. Healing time. I thought about words like "convalescence" and I thought about how one can come across passages in books written 50 or 100 or more years ago where there are references to "he was better by the Fall" or "she took all winter to regain her health" or similar. And I was struck how no one speaks in these terms anymore. People want to get better NOW. Healing, convalescence, seems old fashioned, even dangerous.
Back to whooping cough, I wonder how much of parents’ fear has to do with the idea of a child being ill for weeks, even months. This is not something we come across these days and one might even think that such a long time being ill is somehow neglectful. And who has time these days to nurse a child back to health? Quarantine is inconvenient - staying home to keep a baby away from others who might be ill is a nuisance. Our lives are so busy, so stretched it can seem inconceivable to be able to do such things.
Antibiotics and much of conventional medicine promises quick results. Like the elusive and much sought for magic bullet to cure cancer or AIDS, antibiotics promise a no fuss cure. Get your child tested, get her on antibiotics for 5 days and presto - good as new. No more disease.
And no more messenger. No time for that child and her parent to listen to what that illness has brought and to allow her body to develop the ability to heal itself. When I was able to listen to the messenger that brought my ill health, I came up with a whole new career for myself and my family, working as a consultant with Waldorf homeschoolers. It was extraordinary how this unfolded and how things fell into place. And as I healed, I was able to follow this new path. And as I followed the path, I healed.
Children can grow enormously after childhood illness, especially those involving fevers which literally burn off "stuff" and allow new physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual capacities to flower, much in the same way a prairie fire clears room for new and healthier plant growth. As a youth worker, teacher, parent educator and parent, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this happen.
When a child - or adult - is allowed, without fear, to grow in this way, the possibilities are boundless. Teachers recognise something new in the child that rejoins his class, colleagues and friends see shifts and changes in an adults’ patterns. A community which embraces illness without fear can grow together - and along these lines I’m afraid I don’t buy the "taking antibiotics is socially responsible" line. I see the mass and indiscriminate taking of antibiotics to be potentially socially damaging. The overuse of antibiotics in this country contributes every year to the death of hundreds - perhaps thousands - of people in hospitals and other care facilities where virulent antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria have grown and multiplied. According to Dana Ullman MPH, a respected homeopath,
Alexander Fleming, the scientist who discovered penicillin, cautioned against the overuse of antibiotics. Unless the scientific community and the general public heed his warning, Harvard professor Walter Gilbert, a Nobel prizewinner in chemistry, asserts ‘There may be a time down the road when 80% to 90% of infections will be resistant to all known antibiotics.’
Whooping cough can be a serious illness - but it is also an opportunity for growth. In healthy children and adults, with the right support of homeopathy or herbs or other health- supporting instead of illness- suppressing methods of healing, it need not be feared. Let us strive to hear - and not shoot - the messenger.
See A Homeopathic Perspective on Infectious Disease: Effective Alternatives to Antibiotics, Dana Ullman http://homeopathic.com/articles/using_h/inf_disease.php