All the controversy swirling around about measles these days makes me think back to our experience with what used to be thought of as the inevitable childhood diseases.
The DPT (diptheria/pertussus/typhoid) vaccine was not licensed until 6 years after I was born, so I'm not sure if I had it...probably did, but not as a baby. But I was 20 before the measles vaccine was licensed, so I missed out on that protection.
I remember having measles. I don't remember a lot about it, except that I had to stay in bed in a darkened room for a week. The doctor even made house calls to check on me (yes, I am that old). I don't know how long the disease lasted, but I do remember that just about the time the measles had run its course, I came down with German measles (rubella), which is the much less serious 3-day variety. (Even my mother remembers that today)
Polio was the biggie when I was a kid. I had nightmares about getting polio. I didn't know exactly what it was but I knew that kids with polio had to live in iron lungs and as a child who was terribly claustrophic, I was so afraid of getting the disease and having to be confined, I thought, for the rest of my life.
I would wake up in the middle of the night more than once in a sweaty, full blown panic because I was so afraid of getting polio.
The Shriners, in the 50s, had a hospital for kids with polio in San Francisco, and I was too afraid to look at the hospital as we drove by for fear I would see an iron lung through one of the windows and that would somehow make me catch the disease.
I was almost out of grammar school when the polio vaccine came along and I remember lining up to get a little sugar cube with a pink dot in it that was going to keep me from getting polio. Must have worked.
Our kids had the benefit of vaccines for most of the childhood diseases and never had measles or mumps. They did, however, have chicken pox, which was quite a memorable time in this family.
Jeri came down with chicken pox on her sixth birthday. She was so disappointed that she could not go to school, because they always made a big deal about birthdays.
The kids in her first grade class made a poster-sized greeting for her with a drawing of a huge birthday cake and get well wishes. It was signed by everyone in the class, and delivered by her best friend, Jenny Blackford.
For her birthday dinner, I baked her a chicken pox cake, a round cake, frosted pink, with a face on it and spots all over it.
The quarantine lasted until the pox began to dry up. She would have "visits" at the front door through our wire mesh screen, she sitting on one side in a little chair and her friend(s) sitting on the other side. (I always wondered if those germs passed through the screen or not.)
Two of the boys got it next, as soon as Jeri was well. I don't remember which two, but we went into round 2 of the disease, and then when they were on the road to recovery, the 3rd son -- and David, who was 3-4 months old -- came down with it. We had over a month of non-stop chicken pox.
I was delighted that David got it so young because he only had a couple of spots and didn't seem to be uncomfortable at all. How nice, I thought, to get it all over with in one fell swoop.
What I didn't realize is that when a child gets chicken pox too early and has too light a case, it makes them more vulnerable to shingles as they get older. David was 5 when he came down with shingles. My mother had it many years later and said the pain was worse than anything she had ever experienced, including childbirth.
(A year later a classmate of his also came down with shingles. She was also from a large family and her mother said that she, too, had a light case of chicken pox when she was a baby)
Shingles travels around a nerve path, so only one side of your body is affected. David's traveled around his lower spine to his belly button and down his buttocks. At its worst it looked like someone had filled his underwear with bright red cottage cheese.
Apparently the pain of shingles is when the lesions are erupting and then there is a respite until another batch erupts. For such a little guy, David was so incredibly stoic. It still makes me cry when I think of him lying on the couch and calling out "Mom, it's starting...hold my hand." I would hold his hand while he squeezed with all his might and then the pain would pass and he would let go of my hand and say "Thank you." It was that "thank you" that broke my heart because I was helpless to do anything else to make him feel better.
I am glad that there are vaccines today for measles and chicken pox and shingles and I'm angry with parents who talk about parental choice when it comes to the diseases for which they are putting their children, and others at risk.