By: Gary Kirkilas, DO, FAAP
Working as a pediatrician in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I got used to building barriers against the virus. Each day, I put on my full armor of gowns, gloves, and masks. I also worked to educate families on how to also help protect and arm themselves and their children from COVID.
A solid two years into the pandemic, I shared with so many others the optimism that we were on our way to beating COVID. Then my barrier suddenly came tumbling down when all four of my children caught COVID in September of 2021.
This illness seemed different
My eldest son, who is 7, started off by having some fatigue, chills, and a fever. He had been sick several times during these past two years. Each time, I fearfully got him tested for COVID. Fortunately, the tests always returned a negative result.
But this illness seemed a little different. We noticed that he could barely stay awake. He'd often stop playing to fall asleep on the couch in the middle of the day. With growing concern, I had him tested again. Yet, I held out hope that this was just another common viral bug like the others.
When his results came back, my mouth dropped. He was positive for COVID-19. I naively believed my own household would somehow be immune because of my experience dealing with the virus. It was a surreal and defeating moment to have the disease in my own home.
Running our very own little COVID unit
Not surprisingly, it only took a few days for the virus to spread rapidly through our home. My 4-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and 2-month-old baby all starting to have similar symptoms. They also tested positive. It was like me and my wife, also a pediatrician, were instantly running our very own little COVID unit in our home.
"I cannot imagine
taking care of four sick children if my wife and I were also seriously ill, needed to be hospitalized, or worse. I feel deeply for all the families who have lost a loved one to COVID, especially those who lost a parent. Parents, I cannot stress enough how important it is to get yourself vaccinated.... And if you haven't decided to vaccinate your children, please make an appointment to talk with your pediatrician. Have an honest conversation about your concerns."
We were especially worried about our 2-month-old baby. We well aware that infants were more vulnerable and more likely to require hospitalization from COVID.
Over the next few days, our baby started to become more fatigued and could barely even stay awake to breastfeed. We had to take our pediatrician hats off and take him in to be checked out by his primary care provider. Thankfully, the doctor assured us that his oxygen levels were still at a safe level.
Still, it felt like that week was just a waiting game. Would our children be one of the very unfortunate ones who ended up in the hospital, or worse, be among those who don't recover? As a pediatrician, I'm used to having some degree of separation from illness in children. But as a parent, I unfortunately had a front row seat this time.
Being there for our children
Because our children were so young, it was nearly impossible to have them isolate themselves. Needless to say, it was an orchestra of coughs right in front of our faces. I figured that surely my wife and I would also succumb to COVID. However, because we were both vaccinated, we never contracted COVID during the entire course of our children's illness.
I cannot imagine taking care of four sick children if my wife and I were also seriously ill, needed to be hospitalized, or worse. I feel deeply for all those families out there who have lost a loved one to COVID, especially those who lost a parent. Parents, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get yourself vaccinated. It is one of the best decisions for your kids you can make. And if you haven't made the decision to vaccinate your children, please make an appointment to talk with your pediatrician. Have an honest conversation about your concerns.
We were incredibly lucky that our children all recovered well from this illness. Since then we made it a point to have all four of our children vaccinated against COVID as soon as they were eligible. As I tucked the kids in each night that awful week they were sick, I knew that I had vaccines to thank for helping me be there for them.
About Dr. Kirkilas
Gary Kirkilas, DO, FAAP, is a general pediatrician at Phoenix Children's Hospital with a unique practice. His office is a 40-foot mobile medical unit that travels to various homeless shelters in Phoenix providing free medical care to families. He and his lovely wife, Mary (a pediatric emergency doctor), have four wonderful (most of the time) children and one dachshund.