Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I Remember When Nobody Knew

I remember....

I remember when they closed all the pools in Birmingham and all the public swimming lakes in the area, too.

I remember when we didn't go out to play ... or go to the movies... or eat ice cream from the bicycle vendor ...or go anywhere if we could help it. Children on our block stayed home that whole summer, as much as possible, and we didn't complain a whole lot about it, either.

After all

HE had it.

The boy down at the end of our block had polio,
and nobody knew how or where he got if from.

There was no medicine. There was no cure. There was no vaccine. There was little hope. Only iron lungs ... and horrible braces.... and pain... and twisted limbs.

There wasn't a pandemic like they're talking about the bird flu being, but it was a very scary time. The two words that could strike terror in anyone's heart in those days were cancer and polio, and if you didn't live during that time, you really can't appreciate the horror those words held.

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zzsimonb said...

I was born in 1955, in the Noth East of England, A little village about 8 miles from newcastle. As a kid of 5-6, my mother impressed on me the need to NOT play under the nearby bridge over the river tyne. If I did I would surely catch Polio!

To a 5 year old this was good enough of a scare to keep me well away!


Mama Mouse said...

I have a vague memory of my mother being frightened of polio but it never played a big role in my life ... at least that I remember. However, my sister had died about 13 years before that at the age of 3 from meningitis and my mother was paranoid about me getting ill. Polio probably went along with the whole scenario for me. I just wasn't allowed to do ANYTHING ... period. I do remember the first time I had the vaccine though.

But cancer ... Yes I know the horror of that word only too well. It is horrifying to people today to hear it ... but unless you have watched virtually every single member of a large family for generations die of it ... it is hard to totally understand the full meaning of HORROR.

The good old days weren't always good.

Shilo said...

I was born in 56 and do remember a little of the polio scare. I remember all of us school-kids lined up in the hallways of our school to get our shots and polio vaccine. We were all terrified, I might add.

Years later, I had a friend whose mother had an Iron Lung on her enclosed back porch. I don't remember who she said had to be in it, but it was the most horrible looking piece of equipment I had ever seen. Very scarey!

Dirty Butter said...

For the kids on our block,zzsimonb, it was the open drainage ditch that ran right next to HIS house. Nobody had to tell us twice to stay out of it, after he got polio. The city covered it up the next year.

Dirty Butter said...

I can ever so slightly understand what it must have been like in your family, MM, when it came to the word cancer.

When we were filling out adoption application forms, I needed to find out what my Great Aunt had died of. It had always been a topic that was never discussed, so I always figured she died in an insane asylum or something like that.

Anyway, she had bone cancer, and that was the big secret that had been kept all those years.

Chana said...

well i can't remember any talk or fears...i don't know if it's because of the age or because of my memory...hmm, it sounds horribly scary, sad...All this talk about bird flu is overwhelming sometimes. It's hard to go on with life all happy and go lucky, when you know what may come in the future. But i guess we can say that about anything really..Still i wish we wouldn't have to go through any of it...

Mama Mouse said...

Every generation has their bogeymen from their childhoods. Horror is horror regardless of what causes it. Fear of polio or cancer or bird flu or atom bombs. Fear of terrorist attacks. Sadly it is a part of life and I think learning how to cope with that fear is a fundomental lesson that we must all learn.

Dirty Butter said...

I think we can blame this one on the age difference, Chana. I did a quick Google. The polio vaccine that Salk developed was widely available in the United States by 1955.

I was much too old to be playing in a drainage ditch by then. And that ditch was the likely source of the virus, too, as the polio virus is found in water contaminated by stool with the virus in it.

Dirty Butter said...

I'll agree with Mama Mouse, Chana, it seems there's something for every generation to deal with that becomes a life altering event.

Nietzche, I think, said, "That which does not kill us, strengthens us."

And no, the "Good Old Days weren't always good, as one of my recent posts proved for me.

jan said...

Many years ago our next door neighbor at the time had been left paralyzed from the neck down by polio.

Once a year they would take her back to the University of Michigan Medical Center for a complete check up. At one time the polio center was a large building, then a wing, then a floor of a wing, then a single office staffed by young doctors and interns who had no first hand knowledge of the disease.

Thus goes the progression of a vaccine. Would that all of our diseases should have a similar fate.

Dirty Butter said...

I can't even begin to count how many of those cardboard dime folders my classmates and I must have filled up over the years, each time the March of Dimes pushed for a money drive. Multiply that by all the other school children all over the US, add in all the adults who felt compelled to contribute, and this was a charity that actually did the research and worked its way out of a reason to exist!

Mama Mouse said...

I worry that when the forces that be announce to the world that yet another devastating disease has been 'wiped out' that sometime in the future it will sneak back and attack us again ... refreshed, rejuvenated and stronger and more devastating than ever.

I remember when I tried to get smallpox vaccinations for my boys and was told ... OH NO, we don't DO that any longer ... the disease has bee 'wiped out'!!! RIGHT! And here we are today stock piling smallpox vaccine in case of a worst case scenario. And NOW we are told that the vaccinations are no longer good ... those of us that had them have no immunity and would need to be vaccinated all over again!

Sometimes I don't think there is anyone with any kind of a brain left in Washington, or anywhere else in the world in a government capacity!

Dirty Butter said...

Do you have the big scar they made that had the huge ugly scab? Suppossedly, my DH and I are old enough that our vaccinations are still good, that ours were different from ones they gave in later years.

You are definitely correct that there is no such thing as a completely wiped out disease. Not even bubonic plague is completely gone.

There was a very interesting program on PBS some time ago about the plague, and how the people who survived the plague passed a gene along that helped their descendents survive the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, that killed 25 million and possibly twice that.

So who knows what genes some of us may have that will protect us from the next pandemic.

MsDemmie said...

I was born in 1957

Meningitis needs to be added to that list and to some extent measles - the full blown version. These may have just been more common in the UK at that time.

I can remember the sugar cub with horrid brown mixture in it that was the polio vaccine - ewwwwwwwwwww.

Dirty Butter said...

It's quite possible, msdemmie, that the UK was having an epidemic of meningitis in the 50's about the same time frame that polio was giving the US such a scare.

I remember the yucky sugar cubes, too, and the long snakey lines all over the Fairgrounds parking lot, inching forward, waiting patiently for the opportunity to take the life changing polio vaccine. As I remember, we had to come back and take several doses of the vaccine for it to be effective.

Mama Mouse said...

Yes ... both my husband and I have those lovely scars. We may also be old enough to have had the early versions of the vaccine ... one can hope that our age is good for SOMETHING! LOL

I had a hard time with mine though. The needle broke off in my arm and they had to fish it out. I ended up having a second vaccination and a HORRIBLE reaction. Was deathly sick for quite awhile.

Then there is my cousin who, after finding out that her vaccination didn't take ... ALSO found out that it didn't because she has a natural immunity to smallpox! No vaccination required! Maybe she has the gene that protected her!

My mother's first child died at the age of 3 (in 1933) from meningits. A very NASTY disease.

Dirty Butter said...


Jen said...

That's amazing! I wasn't born until '69 so don't remember that. We're all so lucky that preventative medicine has come so far and can prevent so many diseases now! Hey you're from Birmingham? I'm from the Huntsville area.

Dirty Butter said...

We're long overdue, Jen, for all the money that's been poured into research in the last few years, for a cure for one of the major diseases to be found.

We can only hope and pray.

Norma said...

Because my sister had polio and a cousin died of it, I've written several times about this at my blog. But did you know the epidemic as caused by improved sanitation? My grandparents, and even my parents didn't have this problem when they were children.

"Epidemic poliomyelitis first appeared in the United States a century ago, at a time when America was rapidly evolving from its post-colonial agrarian roots toward industrialization, urbanization, and the ascension of the middle class. Polio, a new "emerging infection," was an unanticipated consequence of the invention of the flush toilet and the adoption of the use of toilet paper. These hygienic advances brought about the control of most diseases transmitted by enteric bacteria, but they paradoxically increased the risk of paralytic disease by delaying poliovirus infection beyond the age at which infants are protected by maternal antibodies acquired by way of the placenta. (John E. Modlin, NEJM, 353;21, 2308-2310)"

Dirty Butter said...

If I understand what you're saying, Norma, improved sanitation helped to eradicate bacterial infections spread via sewage systems, but actually facilitated the spread of viral diseases?

I sure hope you stop by again to clarify.

Jackie said...

I remember it well, even in Africa, as my Mother was Matron of the Isolation Hospital in Gwelo Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at that time and half my classmates were in there with polio, they had to double the size of the hospital, many died.

I was one of the lucky ones.

Dirty Butter said...

Oh, Jackie!! I can't even imagine what it would have been like to have half my classmates sick with polio! And we were traumatized by one child on the block. You certainly were one of the lucky ones!!

So it wasn't just in the United States then.

Norma said...

To clarify about sanitation. Yes, the epidemic was one of the unintended consequences of improved sanitation. Instead of being exposed as infants when they had protection against a mild disease, children got it much later. I was shocked to read this too, but the source is the New England Journal of Medicine, which I think was reviewing a book on the topic.

Another unintended health consequence is the resurrection of malarial deaths because of the banning of DDT. Malaria had practically been eradicated before our environmentalists took over. Now millions die every year in 3rd world countries. No one has ever died from exposure to DDT.

Anonymous said...

I did a little research just now on DDT, and I found some interesting information. It seems that most of the scary "information" we've all grown up believing about DDT, may not be true, after all. Gee, what a surprise.

So, thank you, Norma, for clarifying, and mentioning the DDT, too.