Regretting a regression
The continuing news about the ever-increasing number of measles cases is concerning and has caused me to remember days of yore, when I was a child, in the 1930s and '40s.
Measles and other contagious diseases were considered "rites of passage" in our childhood. It was a given that one would be exposed to and endure a series of measles, chickenpox, mumps and possibly whooping cough or scarlet fever.
Thankfully, vaccines for diphtheria and smallpox were available then. You could always tell who had received the one for smallpox as it left a small oval scar on the upper arm — some more obvious than others.
My father held the position of Township Clerk in our Iowa farm area and one of his duties was to affix quarantine signs on the houses of those with communicable diseases to warn others, and hopefully keep the occupants from venturing out and exposing more of the community. These bright yellow cardboard signs were stashed in the corner of our large kitchen which was designated as my dad's "office."
This was not a favorite part of his job and while most people accepted the procedure, others resented it. But my father's charisma and compassion usually prevailed as he explained its purpose and how he needed to fulfill his duty. After the required quarantine time, he would return to remove the signs and be back in the good graces of neighboring farmers.
Most victims recovered, returned to school, made up missed classes and went on with their lives — until exposed to whatever was going around next.
However, there were tragic cases; I remember a family that had contracted scarlet fever. Five children and their mother were seriously ill and the mother died. Back in that era, funerals were held three or four days after death and since the house was under quarantine, no one could leave nor enter. I'm not sure if or how the undertakers were involved but the body was placed by a window so mourners could pass by and pay their respects while five crying children and their father stood by her side. I recall my parents sadly telling of this indescribably sorrowful scene.
In the 1940s and '50s everyone was consumed with the fear of polio which could be severely disabling. My husband and I and our two children waited in a long queue at a local high school for our little paper cup of the oral polio vaccine in the early 1960s. How grateful everyone was to receive a preventative for this dreaded disease.
The vaccines for measles, chickenpox and mumps came later, after our children had been exposed and endured them. It was on the last day of a two-week vacation in August of 1960 when we noticed our daughter's plumper-than-usual cheeks and by the time we arrived home we knew she must have mumps. This was confirmed by our doctor the next day and soon our son also had them. Unfortunately, mumps was the one childhood disease I had somehow escaped so I also became a victim.
Mumps is not something you want to experience as an adult. I can't remember any other illness during my lifetime causing as much distress and taking its toll on my wellbeing.
A recent article about measles tells of a traveler from abroad visiting in New York when he became ill and saw a doctor who, never having seen measles, prescribed antibiotics.
When the traveler called back the next day to report a rash, the doctor assumed it was an allergic reaction to the medication. By the time he realized his misdiagnosis of what was obviously measles, the traveler had moved on to Michigan. Having been a guest in several homes and attended community events, he had exposed many and is believed to be responsible for the large number of measles cases in those areas.
There may be valid reasons why some children should not be vaccinated, but I would regret the comeback of these diseases from yesteryear and the severe complications they might cause. My hope is that the regression will cease and the acts of prevention prevail.
Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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