I wasn’t expecting the email. My brother and I hadn’t spoken for longer than I wanted to think about. So, why now?
My finger wavered over my mouse, quivering from a sudden, full-body reaction. What could it be? Another attack? News of a death? An awkward attempt at reconciliation? I wasn’t ready for any of those.
“What?” I called through the door.
“Your wife’s on the line. She says to turn on your cell!”
I turn from the computer and dig for my phone, grateful for the perfect excuse. My wife, home on maternity leave, complaining at me for letting my phone die would be music to my ears compared to what waited in my inbox.
“Sorry, honey.” I gush, listening hopefully for happy sounds in the background. Or silence. “How’s Rafi?” I ask, then add, “And you?”
Mornings haven’t been kind to my wife or our new son. He sleeps and nurses well enough at night, but wakes fussy. It’s okay, our friends all say. This, too, shall pass. His stomach is adjusting. It’s just mild colic. Totally normal.
We nod, and worry anyway.
“Good!” My wife’s voice is triumphant, like she’s just landed a coveted project at work, or the Hawks nailed a touchdown. “No fussiness all morning, and I swear he’s smiling at me…”
Jealousy, less prevalent over the past week, roars loudly in my ears. Thick and heavy with that sloppy drunk sensation of love dribbling over the edges. For my wife, yes…but, mostly, this new love is for Rafi. The person who’s didn’t support me through college, didn’t stand by my side while my Mom slowly disappeared into dementia, doesn’t pay the bills or clean the house or make my favorite spicy tempeh salad. He’s done absolutely nothing to earn this bone-crunching, heart-rending, would kill another human (or three) or leap into a burning building for you LOVE…yet, there it is.
“Honey? Did you hear me?”
“Yes! Yes…that’s great.” I manage, through the lump in my throat. “You’re great!” I add.
“So is Ra-fi…” She says, cooing into the background. “We just wanted to call Papa and share our good news, didn’t we?”
I laugh. My focused, career-oriented wife, is just as infatuated with our little lump of baby fat, wrinkles, and glassy black eyes as I am. Okay, I admit. If all the science about breastfeeding and nursing hormones is true, probably more. How else could she find a blob that wails, gurgles, and spurts endlessly fascinating?
“What are your plans today?” I ask, my voice shifting. Trying to sound like a professional career-oriented man of the house. An effort shattered instantly by the next words out of her mouth.
“We’re having visitors! My sister’s coming over with the boys…”
“I thought you said they were sick?” I try, and fail, to disguise my new-parent paranoia. “You know what the doctor said…”
“Honey…” she interrupts, that quelling-a-scared-animal tone in her voice. “It’s fine. I checked. They’re both vaccinated, and my sister even got the Tdap. It’s just a slight cold. She’s an aunt now, and Rafi is their first cousin…how can I keep saying no?”
She tries again. “They’re not going to put Rafi at risk, ok?”
No. It’s not okay. Bearable, maybe, but even that’s stretching it. The fact is, we’re living in the middle of a pertussis epidemic, and there were two babies fighting for their lives in the hospital the day Rafi was born. No longer can I read the media stories about pertussis and all the ‘anti-vaxxers’ who would put my baby’s life at risk, because they don’t believe in science. It’s infuriating!
“Oops! I think Rafi’s hungry again…” My wife’s single-mindedness reminds me that she would never take a risk with his health. Besides, the doctor said that vaccinated visitors were fine.
“Sure, sweetie. Say hi to your sister for me.”
The phone goes silent, and my eyes swing to the photo of our new family, in the delivery room, just minutes after Rafi was born. Unfortunately, it’s pinned just above my computer screen, reminding me of the unexpected email from my brother. I squint. He sent it from his work email, at the FDA.
I re-read the subject line: You need to know this. With a sigh, I open it. It’s not about Mom. It’s about my worst nightmare.
Yo Little Bro. Sis called. I don’t want to talk about the past. This is about your son. I’m sure you’re docs told you all about the pertussis epidemic, but you need to know about a study just released by Mom’s long-time assistant at the FDA. Her old team at the National Institute of Health was in on it too. Long story short, the study gives some pretty convincing evidence that the pertussis vaccine doesn’t prevent people from catching pertussis or spreading it to others…it just masks their symptoms. As Mom would have said, the hunt is already on for something better, but until then, be extra careful, okay? Welcome to parenthood.
~ Older Bro
I auto-dial my wife halfway through, praying that she’ll answer the phone, complicated nursing acrobatics be damned. I’m trying to remember her sister’s number, when she picks up.
“Honey? What is it? I just got him latched!”
She sounds frustrated, but all I feel is a whoosh of relief that I reached her. In time. My Mother worked in public health her whole life, starting off as an intern for WHO, moving on to the CDC where she worked on polio in the 70’s and 80’s, and eventually retiring from the National Institute of Health.
If there was one thing she taught my brother and I, it was this: Science evolves. When you think you understand something, don’t get complacent, because surprises are always waiting to be found and mucking things up in the meantime.
“Sweetie. I just got an email from my brother.”
She stops complaining. “Was it nasty?”
I shake my head, even though she can’t see me. “No. It was…informative.”
“I just forwarded it to you. And…I know you really want to have your sister over, but once you read it, I think you’ll agree we should wait until the boys aren’t even a little bit sick.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Whatever else my brother is, he’s as good a scientist as Mom was, and he wouldn’t raise the alarm if there wasn’t just cause. You can blame it all on me, but please call your sister and cancel, then read the report, and we can talk when I get home, ok?”
She sighs, but I know that sigh. I know she’ll put off the visit, and by the time I get home, she’ll have read the full report, studied the abstracts, probably called our doctor, and be ready to discuss options while I wash the day’s dishes.
And, Rafi will be safer than if we hadn’t known. Which is what really matters, isn’t it?