I’m sick! Talking about preventable childhood illnesses

I am grateful that vaccinations against many diseases that were commonplace when I was a child are now readily available in Australia.

I am grateful that these vaccinations protect children from suffering the diseases which were an expected part of growing up when I was young.

Thanks to the scientists who studied the diseases and developed the vaccinations, most children in developed countries should not fear contracting diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, smallpox, tuberculosis, whooping cough and others. I look forward to the day when these diseases are eradicated worldwide.

Unfortunately many parents, who have neither witnessed nor experienced the effects of these diseases (due to the effectiveness of immunisation programs), do not appreciate the seriousness of contracting them and choose to not vaccinate their children. In doing so, these people not only put the health of their own children at risk, but also the health of others in the community. Sadly these people are usually misinformed by purveyors of unscientific ‘evidence’. The numbers, and science, stand strongly on the side of vaccination.

This issue is one that I feel strongly about for evidence shows that an entire community can once again become vulnerable to these diseases if enough people reject immunisation. The risk of disability or death occurring as the result of a preventable disease, in my opinion, is one not worth taking.

At the end of this post I will link to various articles and websites that explain in greater depth and with more scientific and medical support than I am able.

The impetus for sharing my thoughts on this issue came from Lisa Reiter who, on her blog Sharing the Story, invites others to share Bite-size memoirs. This week’s topic is Childhood Illness.

I will begin by sharing 10 things I remember:

I remember rushing to be first into the bath, but instead slipping and falling into the pot of hot water that had been heated on the stovetop in readiness to add warmth to the cold from the tap. I remember being terribly scalded and that I was rushed to the doctor. I remember being dusted with powder while I lay on his high surgery table. I was three at the time, so while I have some images that I am sure are genuine, others may be family lore.

I remember a girl in my class at school who had suffered from polio. Her name was Christine and she lived not far from me. She had one boot that was built up, about 4 inches high; and she had iron cages around both legs. She walked with difficulty and a sway from side to side. Interestingly enough my husband, who grew up on the other side of the world, also had a friend who suffered from polio and had a built up boot.

I remember reading about ‘the girl in the iron lung’ and being terrified of contracting the dreadful disease polio.

I remember feeling very relieved when we were given a tiny pink droplet of vaccine on a white plastic spoon. Thank you Dr Salk. Polio has not been a cause of fear for my children or grandchildren.

I remember us all having the mumps when I was eight and my Mum was pregnant with my little sister (the seventh of ten children). I remember that our glands were swollen and our throats were sore. We were tired, headachy and miserable. I remember my Mum got Bell’s Palsy too, and the muscles in her face were affected and never fully recovered. I remember her being sick in bed for weeks and a friend kindly came and stayed to look after us and help out.

I remember having measles and being dabbed all over with calamine lotion to help stop the itch. It was difficult to not scratch.

I remember when the rubella vaccination became available, but it was too late for me because I’d already had it as a child. I remember thinking how lucky everyone was to be able to have the vaccine and not suffer the illness.

I remember having chickenpox during the summer holidays when I was about thirteen or fourteen. It was such a scorching hot summer, or it certainly seemed that way; two weeks of the longed for holidays ruined by this horrible illness.

I remember the chickenpox blisters that started small, then grew bigger and finally scabbed. I remember the pink baths in Condy’s crystals and the strong smell which I would still recognise if not describe. I could never associate it with anything pleasant.

I remember waking one night and finding three neat little piles of vomit on my bed beside my pillow. I remember waking my Mum and her coming and cleaning it up.

What overwhelms me now when I think of all these childhood illnesses that inflicted us with so much discomfort  is the thought of my mother tending to a houseful of sick kids, when she was probably sick herself, and if not sick then probably pregnant or at least feeding a baby. What a life it would have been. One child going down after another, moaning and complaining and needing attention or treatment. I found it difficult with just one child at a time! (There are 12 years between my two.) On top of that she had all the usual household chores and a husband to attend to. Makes me wonder that she wasn’t worn out long before her 90 years! How grateful she would have been had we all been inoculated against these now preventable illnesses.

Thanks, Lisa, for the opportunity of sharing these memories, and thank you, my readers for indulging me.

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

Here are some links to further information about vaccinations if you are interested:

Australian Government Department of Human Services, Immunising your children

My DR for a healthy Australia, Immunising your child

Raising Children Network, The Australian Parenting Website, Vaccinations and autism spectrum disorder

The Daily Life, Adverse Reactions by Benjamin Law

Mama Mia, What everyone’s talking about, 9 vaccination myths busted. With science! By Dr Rachael Dunlop

24 thoughts on “I’m sick! Talking about preventable childhood illnesses

  1. Pingback: How much of a meliorist are you? | Norah Colvin

  2. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    If only everyone knew how important these vaccinations are. Fortunately most people have not experienced epidemics of these deadly diseases and as such do not know how heart wrenching it is to hear a child with whooping cough as they have those agonised severe bouts of coughing, whooping as they try to draw their breath in and then vomiting at the end of a bout of coughing, turning blue as they stop breathing for periods of time, nor have they seen people paralyzed from polio, living in an iron lung. No, instead they are complacent and see the very rare side effect of a vaccine. Without those vaccines we would be seeing hundreds of children suffering. I have nursed children with whooping cough and nursed a woman in an iron lung and it is not something that can’t happen again. In fact, World Health Organisation has now declared the current rise and spread of polio in, at the moment, war torn countries and refugee camps an international public health emergency. I’ll stop ranting – I know I’m talking to the converted. Great post Norah.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Irene, Thanks for your insightful comment. We are very fortunate to not have experienced those epidemics you mention. I greatly admire nurses for their compassion and strength. It is such a necessary profession, but one that I would never be able to join. How distressing it must be to see people suffer so much, particularly nowadays when it should not be necessary. The thought of the incidence of some of these diseases being on the rise again is totally abhorrent!

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  3. Lisa Reiter

    I am late joining in! Thank you for sharing all this Norah. An interesting discussion on the differences vaccinations and smaller families have had on childhood illness. The smaller families themselves probably also help reduce the spread of disease if you think what over crowding does in refugee camps and also in the intensive farming of animals.

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  4. Hope (@NannyShecando)

    This is a very interesting article on so many levels. The insight to your family and childhood is fascinating (for want of a more appropriate word). Having grown up with the benefits of vaccines and never having feared such diseases, I’m grateful. I was speaking with a friend of mine recently and she was telling me that friends of hers choose to homeschool their children (an issue in itself as they seem to equate homeschooling with playing video games all day). However I was shocked to hear they had not vaccinated their children either. It’s surprising to realise that so many people still in today’s society choose to take these risks, and in doing so put the greater community at risk also.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hello, Hope. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is interesting that those who choose to opt out often opt out of more than one thing. I chose to home educate my daughter for a number of years. I wrote about it in some of my earlier posts. However, even though I chose to not ‘school’ her, I did educate her. Video games were not on the agenda. I also included her in the vaccination program that was available (though I did know of other ‘homeschoolers’ who didn’t). At that time there was still no vaccine for chickenpox except for children with life-threatening diseases and immunity issues (e.g. cancer and leukemia). She got chickenpox when she was about seven and had a tough time of it with very high temperatures and uncomfortable itching. However, it was far worse for her 19 year old brother and it made me regret that I had kept him away from anyone with the disease when he was younger. Now the vaccine is available and I’m so pleased that children (and adults) should no longer have to suffer from it. I read exciting news in yesterday’s paper that some Australian scientists are developing a vaccine for dengue fever. Another one bites the dust!

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  5. Bec

    Great article Nor, this is such an important issue, and I really like how you’ve illustrated your views with your personal experiences from childhood. Like you say, when something as horrible as polio becomes ‘invisible’, it’s much less daunting for parents to choose to not protect their children from the disease. Like other posts you’ve written, the theme of lay-person arrogance toward the scientific institution seems to come up here.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it is always more important to take notice of what we have learned through science rather than the uninformed opinions of myth-creators.

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  6. Charli Mills

    Wonderful how you weave your experiences with your support of vaccination. Vaccines are life-saving and we are blessed to have the science to save our children from heinous epidemics. However, my children’s pediatrician was critical of all the changes made in the 1990s and we followed an adjusted schedule that didn’t include so many boosters. When I entered college as an “older than average student” I was still required to have the number of vaccines the typical 18-year old would have had by 1994–except that they were not available when I was younger. My doctor explained that giving me multiple vaccination boosters all at once served no health purpose other than to meet requirements so rigid as to lack common sense. But I’m grateful to have been born in an era and country that offered the polio vaccine when I was a child.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Charli, Thanks for sharing the vaccination experiences of yourself and your children. I’m not familiar with the changes made in the 1990s but I assume the paediatrician made informed choices, as did your doctor with you upon your entrance to college. I don’t like the sound of rigid rules that lack common sense! We are certainly fortunate to live free of the risk of polio.

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  7. TanGental

    Great post Norah and I’m with you 100 percent. We have close friends who refused to have their son inoculated. I think (and told them) they are barking and selfish (they’re the sort of friends you can do that with). It’s the pseudo science the naysayers gob out in justification that annoys me, too. And now we hear of some extremist groups attacking and killing health professionals who are vaccinating against polio. We may, per Steve Pinker, be on the side of the Better Angels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature) but sometimes you wonder.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Geoff, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and the link to the article about Steve Pinker’s Better Angels. It’s a very interesting article and I must admit I was surprised to read that violence is decreasing. I guess the immediacy of media allows us to find out about a lot of smaller incidents which once would have gone unnoticed except in the local community. I love the idea of Better Angels, and especially of being on their side. Long may they reign! It is so distressing to hear of extremist group attacking and killing healthcare professionals. We need to get the Better Angels on their side.

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    2. Norah Post author

      I thought you might like to know, I have just downloaded the audiobook of The Better Angels. I will start listening on my way to work on Monday. Can’t wait! It’s the best part of the working day (I’m not teaching at the moment). It will be the third recommended by our tribe this year. I listened to “The Examined Life” by Stephen Grosz, recommended by Anne Goodwin – brilliant; and have just finished “On Writing” by Stephen King, recommended by Lisa Reiter – also brilliant! Thanks for the recommendation. I expect to enjoy it equally as much.

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      1. TanGental

        That’s great Norah. His case is quite compelling if at times you wonder if he just might be stretching the statistical support. What a great way to shut out the aural misery of a commute (assuming you share it with a thousand others like here in London). If Dante were alive today I know what he’d paint.

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        1. Norah Post author

          I do – but I drive. Listening to books keeps me alert, awake and happy! And now I’ll have to check out more about Dante – didn’t know he was a painter as well!

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          1. TanGental

            Oh heavens (sorry for that) he didn’t! Too early a Saturday. I was thinking of his Inferno and a picture by Bosch and managed to conflate the two and out popped the wrong one! I should have stayed in bed and not struggled up to watch England be humiliated by the All Blacks in Dunedin.

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  8. atempleton

    I remember one Christmas coming down with measles. After several miserable days in bed I finally felt better. My dad handed me a mirror, and I could see I was covered in red dots!. Now only last week I got an email warning from my daughter’s school about a confirmed case of whooping cough. Hope we are not about to revisit that era.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree wholeheartedly. It would be terrible to step back to those times of illness. Whooping cough seems to be more common here again too. We had a scare when my granddaughter was born 2 1/2 years ago. One of the volunteer helpers at school contracted the disease just when Anna was born. He had spent a few hours in my classroom the day before we found out he had it, which was also the day before Anna’s birth. I spent some frantic hours trying to find out if I would be contagious and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to visit her. I had felt confident as I had been re-vaccinated in preparation, but then I found out that the volunteer had too. I certainly couldn’t risk a little baby contracting it. Scary!

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  9. Annecdotist

    Love this post, Norah, the great way you’ve combined your own experiences with the sociopolitical context of how we do or don’t tackle epidemics. Has all kinds of associations for me in Britain, particularly regarding the huge difference made by the advent of healthcare free at the point of use and the dreadful way that our NHS is now under threat from privatisation. And in the poorer parts of the world, children still dying from treatable illnesses. and gosh, your poor mother. Smaller families seems like a great step forward to me.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Anne, Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure that our healthcare has progressed quite as far as yours, but it is heading that way. I agree that it is a tragedy that so many children worldwide are dying of preventable illness; and I agree with you about family size. I could never have coped with ten as my mother did. Her generation so much accepted what life dished up to them. Ours has been able to direct its own path to a greater extent.

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