That's the question our teen son asked me last night out of the blue while I was reading with him before bed. It wasn't the first time he'd asked it though.
If your child is old enough to use Google and has access to the Internet or has friends who use it, you should expect to get this question and if possible, plan your response in advance.
The first time he asked it was right after I picked him up from school. His dad had texted him his test results so he'd finally know what was wrong. It was the end of the school day when he got the news but between the time he received it and I picked him up 45 minutes later, he had googled Lyme disease and read that you can die from it. He jumped into the car and said in that droll tone that teens often have, "So, I read you can die from Lyme."
Phew - I sure wasn't expecting such a statement. At that point in the journey, I had only a cursory knowledge of the disease and everyone I knew, including my husband, his father, had been treated right away with success, even after repeated bulls-eyes from bites. However, I then recalled all the obituaries I'd seen about people dying from "long-term complications caused by Lyme disease". Normally I don't read the obituary section very often, but the Lyme ones in our area always seem to have a large photo of a youthful, sporty and outdoorsy person and for some reason my eye is drawn to reading them, and I noticed that more than a few of those in the photos had died from complications of the disease.
Anyway, after the initial panic, I took a deep breath and quickly said, "Well those people who died had Lyme disease for many years and didn't get it diagnosed and treated right away. Lucky for you and us, we caught it early, in just a year and half, not decades like those patients. You will be treated and beat it." He let it go at that and we then discussed what the pediatrician had recommended for treatment.
I figured it was a bit like all those birds and bees talks where you try to find out what they are really looking for and then give out the relevant information, building and expanding upon it over time. I think with this question about death, kids are mainly looking for reassurance but as any parent of a teen or a precocious younger child knows, they can read between the lines really well so you'd better have a solid response prepared along with the reassurances.
And after my jarring experience, I recommend you and any adults regularly around your child think about how they'd answer it, preferably before the question is asked. You'll want to take into account:
Once you hear the "am I going to die" question, consider the following as you prepare to reply:
Let me know if you've had to answer this question and what you recommend to others.
Working wife and mom to two, including a teen son who was diagnosed with Lyme and other co-infections from an unseen tick bite with no bulls-eye.
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