Yesterday was Thomas and Jude’s birthday. Thomas is turning four, but Jude isn’t. He died on May 6, 2016, from influenza B. He was a perfectly healthy two-year-old. Yesterday, I got to spoil Thomas when he came home from school — but I’ll never get to hug Jude again. Let me tell you about him.
He has a big sister, Isla, who couldn’t possibly have fallen more deeply in love with, or been more proud, of her brothers. She loved teaching them all the important things she knows, and getting into trouble together.
He was a very serious baby, but it wasn’t long before he discovered his ridiculous sense of humour. We thought Isla would be the ring leader of the family, but Jude was capital-T Trouble with an impressive ability to rope the other two in. He was the pyjama thief. He was Superman to Thomas’s Batman. His Superman pyjamas were his favourite things to wear any day, and he loved flying around the room, arms out behind him.
He was smart, putting together things we wouldn’t have expected. He loved lions. I made him a lion hat and he roared and giggled every time he wore it. One day, while waiting for Isla’s bus, he found a dandelion and asked me what it was. “Dandelion? Lion? Lion hat? ROAR!!” Every dandelion afterwards resulted in a fit of giggles.
There is a tribute on the wall in the Beatles-themed room he shared with Thomas to one his favourite songs, “All You Need Is Love.” He requested it often, calling it “Wawa” because of the way we would (loudly) sing the instrumental parts.
The picture above is the last picture I ever took of him. He died four days later and his story ended. This hilarious, brilliant loving little boy who surprised us constantly was gone without warning, and still today I don’t have the words to describe this loss.
Why am I telling you all of these things? Because these little things are all we have of him now. He’s gone and there will never be more of him.
The day Jude died he woke up with a low-grade fever. I treated him with acetaminophen and the fever cleared up. He spent the morning laughing and playing and you would never think he was at all unwell. He went down for a nap as usual and that was the last time I saw him alive.
For four months his death went unexplained, and when the coroner finally had an answer for us it didn’t make sense. Influenza B is a serious respiratory illness. Wouldn’t he have seemed sick? He’d been vaccinated. Shouldn’t that have given better protection?
We had a lot of questions, and we knew other people would, too. We started talking to doctors and experts to better understand Jude’s cause of death and why we didn’t see it coming. We thought we’d had a good understanding of the flu, but it’s more complicated than we’d realized.
Most people start to look and seem very sick before the flu becomes serious, but that isn’t always the case. While I knew the flu was a serious respiratory infection, I didn’t know it could cause organ or system failure. I didn’t know it could stop a healthy two-year-old heart.
The flu is especially dangerous for kids under five, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions like asthma, cancer, diabetes or heart disease. For many, the flu becomes serious very quickly and the damage is done before we realize help is needed.
Frustratingly, Jude’s death was preventable. The flu is preventable when, as communities, we do our part to stop the spread. More #flushots, more people staying home when sick, more hand washing and covering sneezes and coughs. These protect us all, especially higher risk people.
And our story isn’t unique. Every year thousands of Canadians and Americans die from the flu and its complications. Even more are hospitalized and there’s a significant burden on facilities every flu season. This puts other patients at risk and can impact operations.
Other families will lose their loved ones. Other families will find themselves making unexpected funeral plans. Other families will need to learn how to put one foot in front of the other when the world has fallen out from under them.
Many healthy adults skip the flu shot, assuming that if they got sick they’d be able to recover. What we forget is that while we might be okay, we increase the risk of everyone around us. We could pass the flu on to anyone we come in contact with and they might not survive.
When we get our flu shot and stay home sick, we’re giving protection to our communities. Your actions to prevent the spread of the flu might not seem like a big deal, but you might be helping others around you keep their lives and loved ones. The flu shot isn’t just for you.
So today, I’m asking you to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to reduce your chance of playing a part in a story like ours. Get your #flushot if you’re medically able, stay home when sick, wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs and sneezes.
Many people had the flu before it passed to Jude that day in May. What if one of those people had taken an extra step in flu prevention? Whose life might you save by taking extra care this season? We can’t know our impact, but people’s lives are worth our effort.