By: Bev Connelly
I recently joined Facebook. I resisted for a long time, but my daughter finally convinced me. She told me some of Josh’s friends were on there.
Josh was your typical 12-year-old. He had lots of friends in the 7th grade. He played football and baseball, and he was a Boy Scout. He liked joking around with his friends. He played hard when he played sports; he was competitive, for sure. He rarely complained, and he loved to laugh.
But, our world changed forever on April 13, 1996, when Josh died suddenly from chickenpox. I couldn’t believe that chickenpox could be that severe. I was one of seven kids, and we had all had chickenpox as children, and we knew lots of other people who had it too. No one had ever died.
My younger daughter, who was 10 at the time, had just gotten over the chickenpox. She had been miserable and itchy. But with Benadryl® and ice cream, we got her through it. Frankly, I had always felt my kids were lucky because they had made it to middle school without having chickenpox even though others had it throughout their elementary years. So, when Josh got chickenpox, we figured it would be more of the same—Benadryl, ice cream, and oatmeal baths. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Josh’s fever spiked and we took him to the doctor who told us that sometimes pneumonia could be a complication of chickenpox, but Josh’s lungs were clear. Later that night, he wasn’t feeling well; he had an upset stomach and was throwing up and then he started wheezing. The next thing we knew he had stopped breathing. After a call to 911, the ambulance crew and the doctors at the hospital tried to revive him, but were unsuccessful.
People told me later that the EMTs were so upset and that the doctor Josh saw the day before had to take some time off of work because he was so distraught over what happened. We were all in shock. A friend’s husband told us that a colleague of his during medical school had also died of complications from chickenpox, but until this happened, I never, ever thought such a thing could happen, especially to my strong and healthy son.
When Josh got chickenpox, the vaccine was new. His doctor was offering it when kids came in for their annual check-up. Josh’s check-up would have been in July. . . .
Sadly, the doctor told me that he had been having trouble convincing parents to get the vaccine for their children. I always believed in vaccines, so I would like to think that I would have gotten the vaccine when it was offered in July, but I never had the chance. When Josh died, the local newspaper ran a story about him. After that, the doctor said he had an easier time convincing people to get their child vaccinated. I wished so much that I still had Josh . . . that I still had that chance to make the decision about the chickenpox vaccine, but I knew, for us, it was too late and I took comfort in knowing that when people heard about Josh, they decided to protect their children from the same thing. It was like Josh’s gift—not only to me, but to others.
About a year and a half after Josh died, my brother took his then 1-year old for vaccines in a nearby town. When the doctor brought up the chickenpox vaccine, he told my brother that the vaccine was important to get and that although he had not treated him, he knew about a local boy who had died from chickenpox the previous year. My brother told him that was his nephew; the doctor had no idea. Again, we were touched by the realization that Josh’s story continued to help others.
Recently, I read about the chickenpox parties that some parents have to avoid getting their children vaccinated. These stories really made me think about Josh. Given my circumstances, getting the vaccine is a no-brainer. I agree with parents who want to research vaccines and make the best decision, but I don’t know why after doing the research, anyone would choose to expose their child to a disease — not just chickenpox but any disease — when they don’t have to. I just wouldn’t take the chance.
Even today, almost 16 years later, I still have moments when I really miss Josh, moments when I wonder what his life would have been, and moments when I wonder “what if.” What if I had noticed something else that would have warned us what was happening to him? What if the vaccine would have been available sooner? I’m afraid those questions will remain with me forever.
But one question that I had was recently answered. That brings me back to where I started: Facebook. When I finally joined, I found that my daughter was right; some of Josh’s friends were there. I had moved since Josh died, so I lost touch with many of the people who knew Josh, and I always wondered if any of them remembered him, especially his friends, the boys who he went to scouts with and played ball with. After all, they were only twelve at the time. I was so happy to find that they had not forgotten him. I found out that one of his best friends was a police officer in a nearby town and that he and his wife were expecting their first baby. He told me that he has always felt Josh watching over him. And a few weeks ago, I got the best gift ever when that friend called me, “I wanted to call and tell you our news; we just had the baby, and we’re naming him Joshua.”
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