Parents have the legal right to make decisions for their children. They have the right and responsibility to get them medical care when they need it, to take them to the doctor, to choose how they school their children. There is only a minimal level of care expected of parents, and ironically it is the children who have to live with their parents’ choices.
When I was born I had a club foot. I underwent surgeries, wore braces and had to go through numerous doctors appointments. Overall I came out of it pretty well considering where I started. I was able to walk and had only a slight tilt to my foot. My left foot is significantly smaller than my right, so shoe shopping sucks, but overall things appeared to go great. By the age of 5 all of these appointments had ended, and I did not regularly visit a doctor for yearly physicals or even when I was sick. I am not even sure that I had a doctor.
6th grade: My class went on an annual field trip to a local camp. We got to canoe, hike, play games and do a bonfire. Halfway through the first day my knee started throbbing. By the time we got back to the lodge it was at least twice its normal size and black and blue. I could barely walk on it, but did not want to be sent home so I did not tell anyone. When I got home I told my dad. His response: “walk it off.” Over the weeks it grew worse, I couldn’t walk, so I secretly tried to rehab it on my own with ice and rest.
9th grade: I develop an obvious eating disorder. I start getting sick. I pass out before school one day and they just send me to bed. My mental health issues have become increasingly evident, but my family does not believe in seeking mental health treatment, so they ignore it.
Fast forward to the first time I see a doctor in my adult years at 25. I am pregnant and I know I will need medical care. I sit there trying to answer the questions the doctor asks me about my medical history and my family medical history. “I don’t know” I say over and over again, feeling embarrassed that I do not even know some of the basic things. I do not have a medical record to provide because I had not seen doctors. My blood tests come back and the office calls me to tell me that I am not immune to chicken pox, so I need to avoid people who have it and then get the vaccination after I give birth. Shortly after giving birth they tell me that I also did not have the MMR vaccine. I got all of my childhood vaccines with my son (when I support scheduled vaccines completely). I was furious.
This summer my kneecap suddenly started dislocating. I went into the doctor who sent me to orthopedics and physical therapy. It is there that I find out it is related to my club foot and the surgeries. I am told I should have had physical therapy years ago when I was a child. They tell me I am lucky it’s only to my knees and have not reached the hips. I will be wearing a brace on my knee most of my life because my parents viewed physical therapy and the measures recommended as optional. I will also need a reconstructive surgery on my knee.
These are only a few examples of situations my parents chose to ignore or go against medical advice. Sadly, there are many more. It could be worse. I could have gotten chicken pox when I was pregnant, I could have gotten measles, etc. But it begs the question of: why did my parents have the right to choose a lower quality of life for me throughout my entire life? Why did they get to choose not to vaccinate me? Why did they get to choose not to take me to the doctor? Why did they get to refuse to follow up on physical therapy? Why do I have to deal with the emotional fallout of knowing that things could be different?
But the reality is they did get to choose. Now I am left to pick up the pieces, put in the work in rehab, take time off work for appointments and deal with the limitations it has placed on me. The reality is also that parents still get to pick and choose what health and safety measures they provide for their children (as is increasingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic). Even though we know there are lifelong implications for their choices.
As a society we need to do better. Children deserve more than a minimal level of care and we need to devote the resources to healthcare and child welfare to ensure that kids are not cursed by decisions that they had no part of.