I was chatting on Facebook the other day with a fellow traveler, Jeanne Dee. She made a comment that left me speechless, horrified, and quaking in my boots. Her daughter has not been immunized. Against anything. Ever.
“People get sick because their immune system is weak,” she told me. “My daughter is very healthy.”
Now here’s the thing: I think not immunizing your child is way too high a risk to take. She thinks biking around the world is dangerous. Who’s right? We both are.
“You see the world through lenses tinted by your experience,” someone once said. And it’s that experience that guides us in making decisions about what’s dangerous and what’s not.
Jeanne has seen more people harmed by vaccines than by the diseases. I’ve seen way too many people crippled by polio. Her experience leads her to make the decision not to immunize – it’s too high of a risk. My experience led me to get vaccinations for my sons as soon as I could – not doing so was simply an unacceptable level of risk.
“I am so scared for you,” Jeanne tells me frequently. “What you are doing is so dangerous!” Her experience tells her biking is full of danger. Her brother was killed by a car while taking a break from biking and standing on the side of the road taking off his shirt. Jeanne hit a trash can while biking one night and seriously broke her arm which led to major surgery and nerve damage.
And yet my experience tells me biking is fine, and biking around the world is no more dangerous than biking back home. I’ve cycled thousands of miles; John many thousands of miles more. As a family we’ve pedaled nearly 24,000 miles. In all that time, we’ve had four accidents.
- In 1993 I headed out for an early morning training ride in Alexandria, Egypt (where we lived at the time), hit an oil spill, and fell. I broke my hand.
- In 2005 John and the boys were cycling the bike path along the Boise River when Davy took a slow motion tumble and ended up with the handlebars in his belly and an injured pancreas.
- In 2007 I was riding home from work one afternoon when a car inched out of its parking spot and hit me. I ended up with nasty road rash on my arm and leg.
- In 2008 John and Daryl were riding home from a bike store in Albuquerque, NM (where John lived for 9 years) when a driver turned and ran into them. John ended up with two sprained wrists.
Our experience tells us that most accidents happen near home and the accident rate is very low – in other words, it’s an acceptable level of risk (4 out of many thousands of miles for our family). I’ll happily jump on my bike and pedal from one end of the earth to the other, but take an unvaccinated child out traveling? Uh uh. No way. Not in a month of Sundays.
We all have those ideas – some things simply appear more dangerous to us than to others. I shudder to think about kids riding motorbikes, yet many of my students regularly suited up and hit the tracks in races. Jumping over barriers on horses terrifies me. And don’t even get me started on car racing. And yet there are many parents out there who, based on their many and varied experiences with those activities, deem them fine. Who am I to judge?
What lenses are you seeing the world through? What things will you allow your children to do that other parents won’t? What activities have an unacceptable level of risk to you?
Edited to add: I wrote this post a few days ago and now need to add one more accident to the list – Davy hit a rock in the road yesterday and tumbled down, yanking out his fingernail in the process. That makes our family accident rate 5 out of hundreds of thousands of miles. Still an acceptable rate for us.