To the editor:
Roald Dahl, the famed children's author, wrote about the death of his daughter Olivia from measles in 1962:
"Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners... 'Are you feeling all right?' I asked her. 'I feel all sleepy,' she said. In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead."
Olivia was seven years old when she died — one year before the measles vaccine became available in 1963.
I couldn't get Dahl's words out of my head during the week and a half I spent tending to my nine-year-old son Eli as he lay in bed with a COVID fever. I didn't tell my wife how those words were haunting me, at least until it was over. I just couldn't.
The disease sneaks up on you. Eli went to school on a Tuesday morning. It was pajama day. He was ecstatic in his favorite Baby Yoda pajamas. But when he came home he seemed sluggish and downcast. He was feverish. He sat down on the couch and fell asleep.
We tested him — twice — with the rapid tests from the library. Both positive. We immediately put him in his room and turned up our air purifiers. We strategized how to keep the rest of the family from getting sick. We agonized over tending to a sick child who was highly contagious but also needing the healing power of hugs.
I wore a mask every time I entered his room to bring food or check his temperature. We opened the pulse oximeter we'd ordered last year. His spirits were good, but his fever wouldn't go away. I was double-masking every time I stayed for more than a minute. We didn't make pipe-cleaner animals, but he'd show me what he'd done in Minecraft. He wanted me to read to him — old, familiar books from when he was younger.
Gradually, things got better. But it could have gone badly. For many people, it has.
The FDA will soon approve a vaccine for children ages 5-11. Spending a week and a half not knowing if my child's illness would take a turn for the worse, I learned the importance of ensuring that doesn't happen. The measles vaccine came too late for Olivia Dahl, but we have the COVID-19 vaccine right now. Let's use it.