Saturday, February 07, 2015

Modern Day Luddites And The Iron Lung

We've recently become aware that the anti vaccine movement has sort of transformed itself from a fringe movement of no consequence to something more ominous. Thanks to the internet and social media, this Baskin-Robbins Thirty Eight Flavors of Truth movement seems to be gaining traction kinda like the Birthers and the Truthers and the Tenth Amendmenters did in their day, and I expect like those other phenomena it will expire here-with a few casualties of course.

We old folks (I'll be 67 this year) are good for the stories so sit back and listen, you anonymous Luddites.

It was the year of 1955 and fear hung heavy over the land. This was not your ordinary garden variety fear, either. This was the real, 100 per cent, take no prisoners, real stuff. I don't know who this fellow Damocles was with his piss ant kitchen knife, but he had nothing on poliomyelitis for the real, knee trembling, hand shaking, eye twitching, smelly sweating, clammy palm fear department.

The demon was polio, and in my little town several of the school kids had been taken with it. One or two died I think, and later on in the decade we could see the kids who'd gotten it bad, with their braces and crutches. struggling mightily to keep up in the mobile society that was being a kid in those days. I would think that many of the parents of that day were familiar with the fact that the disease had struck down President Roosevelt when he was a strapping young buck and laid him low. It wasn't talked about, of course. But it was common knowledge and thus the apprehension.

The image is of a roomful of kids in what were called iron lungs. These were pressure chambers that would raise and lower the internal pressure of the vessel, the idea being that it would assist the kids in breathing because their wasted muscles weren't capable of it on their own. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like for one of those kids in such solitary confinement-because they were otherwise healthy and could live another 60 or 70 years.

Until the day that the great doom was lifted and Dr. Jonas Salk released the polio vaccine, which he'd been working on for years in obscurity.  No time was wasted and if you think the government is incapable of swift action when it is needed you weren't around then.

The public health authorities did not, as the old man would say in his darker moments, fuck around. They rounded up every person who could sling a needle-doctors, nurses, former army medics, and probably a few veterinarians. Everything stopped as the kids were gathered up and herded into high school gymnasiums and other large halls. They were lined up and jabbed in quick succession. Doctor Kolbay was there, sleeves rolled up and shirt open at the collar because it was a hot day in the summer. "Ahhhhh. Mrs. Luedeman. So nice to see you. Next!" I don't think he missed a beat.

Nowadays, polio is a distant memory except.....except in places where people believe in superstition and subscribe to silly and stupid folk tales to explain the unexplainable.

So what's the point? You're rolling the dice when you're playing games with the health of your kids and the health of others around them. And if that is what you choose, there could be an iron lung waiting for your kid.

What will you say when the kid asks you "Mom, why am I this way? Couldn't you have done something?"

4 Comments:

At 8:38 PM, Blogger David Hester said...

As a physician (or even as a non-physician), very well put, Mr Luedeman.

 
At 1:37 PM, Blogger Robert Luedeman semi retired attorney and amp mechanic said...

Thanks, David.

 
At 6:47 PM, Blogger Sandra Borr said...

One would think that the wrong-minded anti-vaccine parents would have to face reality as diseases such as measles are now making a comeback. It's totally irresponsible to leave children unprotected and capable of infecting others. As I recall it was not possible for me to be admitted to public school without certain vaccinations.

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/01/25/265750719/how-vaccine-fears-fueled-the-resurgence-of-preventable-diseases

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger DrPuzzle said...

I love this story. I was talking today with a 69 year old polio victim (I'm your age) who was hit in 1953. My brother was a Polio Pioneer in 1954. He got Salk, not Sabin. I remember that was the time when hundreds of people stood waiting patiently and kids didn't squirm at shot time. Well, not much.

 

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