Life Before Vaccinations

Part of my childhood was coated with Calamine Lotion

Every-so-often I look over my previous writing. Doing so mostly annoys me; I find mistakes I shouldn’t have missed, ideas I can’t believe I didn’t include, punctuation that would up the blood pressure of my elementary school teachers. Sometimes though I find a column, written about the past that is screamingly relevant. This is one.

Hypodermic Needle
a worthwhile ouch

I had every childhood illness known to the Western Hemisphere, or so it seemed. Kids today, and their parents, just don’t know what they are missing by getting vaccines that rob them of these experiences. I had German measles, regular (American?) Measles (for a month, 30 full days!), Mumps, Rheumatic Fever, Chicken Pox, and my all-time favorite Whooping Cough.

In the days when “home schooling” was something one read about as done on the Prairie when the one room school house was too far away, pre-vaccination childhood could give one a real taste of it. School was the great breeding ground for everything. Once something hit, whole pieces of the student body would disappear. Parents today only get a taste of it when they take their previously completely healthy baby and put her or him into pre-school. Within weeks the child is sick for the first time because some selfish do-do bird of a parent wouldn’t or couldn’t stay home with a sick child, sent it to school, and got everyone else’s kid sick. And then kid’s parents on top of it who got sick from taking care of their own sick kid. My mom used to say the worst cold’s she ever had, she got from us as kids. I pooh-poohed it—until some do-do bird got my kid sick who in turn got me sick.

Part of my childhood was coated with Calamine Lotion, so much so that its mere mention brings the smell instantly to memory. It is permanently embedded into my nose hairs and smell receptors. I was painted pink for weeks at a time.

Part of childhood I spent high on a cough medicine now I think outlawed, or should be, called Elixir of Terpin Hydrate with Codeine. A worse tasting concoction was unknown to children—yes, worse than Cod Liver Oil– and  120 proof grain alcohol was the only thing since I’ve ever tasted since that came close to how it felt going down. Fire water. But oh the feeling 10 minutes later…. It wasn’t that it stopped the cough. It stopped you caring about the cough, or anything else.

First came the mumps. It was a bad way to start because it wasn’t so bad. True I went from having swollen glands to looking like a squirrel who thought winter would never end and therefore had stored so much food in its mouth that the lower face took on the semblance of a pumpkin. Fever, sore throat, hard to swallow. No big deal. Then came the Measles. That one folks, was a lollapalooza.

It started, as it always does, with a rash and low grade fever. Trusty Uncle Ben, in his Buick, carrying his black bag, showed up after dinner one night to make the diagnosis. Measles everyone knew about. We had no clue however what “Billy’s measles” were going to be all about. My virus fell in love with my body and there began a long, miserable love affair, 30 full days long. If there was a place to have a measle, I had it. Top, bottom, inside, outside. In my hair on my scalp, all over my butt, even in my stomach so I couldn’t hold down food. In my ears too which made me want to scratch a tunnel through my head. In my eyes they were, so I couldn’t see.

misery takes many forms

I knew I wasn’t supposed to pick them, but I couldn’t wait to be left alone so I could devise ways of touching them that wouldn’t leave scars but would give me the tiniest sense of relief. My scalp became a road map of bumps. My chest and back looked like a modern art painting. And everywhere were either wet splotches of calamine lotion or dried ones flaking off into my bed, both with bits of cotton ball hanging from them. The dried ones were hateful. If I pulled them off, the dry lotion would crack, and there would appear yet another measle.

I missed four complete weeks of school. Yes my classmates made me get well cards and after the first two weeks teachers sent over assignments. My life was confined to either the couch in the den downstairs in front of the TV or in my bed listening to soap operas and mysteries on the radio. Listening to radio voices was like drinking warm tea with a lot of honey, but usually had the same effect on me as taking Terpin Hydrate. I slept most of the month. I did get better.

But it was “the fever” that won the prize for sleeping. One morning I woke up with a fever and it didn’t stop. By the time it got to 104 or 105 I was getting alcohol rub downs and it was time for Uncle Ben again. The short of it was at close to 107 and feeling a way I can only describe as weird, I over heard him say “maybe rheumatic fever” and “hospital if….” But then it began to subside. I was, as grandma used to say, “Weak as Hector’s pup” for days. About the only other thing I remember was that I got to watch Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees on TV. That proves I was really sick because as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, I hated, with a capital “H”, the NY Yankees.

By the time I got the German Measles I was a pro. They were “nuthin’” hardly worth writing about. But the Whooping Cough. Now that was “sumpin!”

Whooping Cough gets its name from the ghastly sound one makes as one coughs—and coughs—and coughs. To say the cough comes from way down deep doesn’t do it justice. It is as if someone sticks their hand down your throat to somewhere below your intestines and pulls the cough up with it. The repetitions leave one in a cold sweat that goes nicely with the warmth of the fever. You could hook up an IV of Terpin Hydrate and it wouldn’t help. “Wrung out” is how the coughing jags leave you, when it leaves you. Then you start again. It truly can be a killer cough. I would have them all again except for this one. For this one, thank G-d for vaccinations.

Young Nurse
a welcome sight

The final thought of course is to go get vaccinated. You owe it to you family, friends, and all of us you don’t know but with whom you inhabit the planet. If you think you won’t take it or better yet have had it and figure your job is done, look at Michigan or worse yet India. The finish line may be in sight but we’re still many furlongs from crossing it–at least from my perspective.


Your question for the week is this: why is Ghislaine Maxwell in jail and Matt Gaetz not? While you’re contemplating that Don’t forget a mood lifter cheaper than a prescription is, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn.” Amazon or B&N. Electronic or soft-cover. Lot of pictures… And keep in mind, volume two of the trip through my life, “George Washington Didn’t Sleep Here” will be out for you to take to the beach.

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