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Fall Pediatric Thoughts

Hello, and welcome to Fall, the new school year, and the new normal of constant change (wink, wink, to all the Buddhists out there). Although Fall represents change, it’s predictable unlike everything else this last year with Covid, wildfires and drought (oh my!)

Full disclosure: I am a 57 year old married, father of three, trained in traditional western medicine with over 30 years of caring for children and families in hospital and office settings. It’s important to know all this, not to claim authority, but know where my opinions and biases come from.

If you feel anything like I do, then you are tired of hearing about and dealing with Covid and its variants Delta, Lambda and Yabba-Dabba-Do. It also doesn’t help having access to so much instant information and experts who often contradict each other. It’s really hard to know who or what to believe and trust.

Early in my career, I learned the hard way not to argue with grandparents, especially short grandmothers (mine was 4-10). Their advice combines experience and belief. Usually, they don’t have the time or patience to hear about new randomly double-blinded controlled study with P values.

So, their practical, basic and boring advice like “wash your hands, eat your vegetables, go outside, get enough sleep” has stood the test of time, and generally works. Go Granny!

Traditionally, the Winter season means coughs, colds and flu. Medical offices are also busier in the Winter. Last Winter, with shelter in place and limited school, many offices, including my own, were eerily quiet – no flu, no RSV, no pneumonias. Many offices around the country actually closed. Emergency rooms also experienced a decrease in admissions in everything but Covid.

It seems clear, that limiting exposures works to prevent disease spread – duh. But it’s also clear that limiting our social interactions and school attendance was a disaster on many fronts for everyone except our introverts with social anxiety or school phobia who were very happy (I am a card-carrying member of that club).

Because disease and infections are so random, we can’t know who is going to be asymptomatic or who is going be sick. Even if the chances are 1 in 1,000 to catch a certain disease, it’s unlikely to happen, but if it’s you, it sucks.

Do I like wearing a mask? No. Was I reluctant to get a vaccine made at warp speed? Absolutely. Is my fear of Covid more than the fear of the vaccine? Yes. Am I a really big baby when it comes to getting sick? Yes. Do I like being told what to do. No. (Please don’t tell my wife).

After 30 years of being around healthy and sick children, and their families, I am humbled by how resilient our kids and parents can be. My office is filled with joy, suffering and hope every 15 minutes, kind of like our lives every day. Our kids will be ok if they sense we are ok. It’s such a challenge not to pass our own fears onto our kids.

So how can we best help and protect our children, families and communities this Fall and Falls to come? Granny says sit down and eat something, maybe have a carrot or two, don’t sacrifice sleep for screen time, get outside a little (when it’s not smokey), try to have a routine the kids can count on (older kids may need you to be a potted plant- simply present), try to be kinder and more patient than needed, breathe, try to understand, try to listen, try to work together, try to passionately disagree nicely.

Challenge reluctantly accepted.
Remember, the kids are watching and learning.

Dr. Tony Conte