Saturday, April 25, 2009

Remembering 1918 influenza, and the 1976 swine flu shot, hoping for immunity

I have tried to explain to my kids that I am old enough to remember hearing stories from people who survived the 1918 pandemic influenza that killed FIFTY MILLION people worldwide. My mother's brother died as an infant then. My mother hadn't been born yet, but two older brothers had contracted the virus. Doctor Jacquish came and tended to the family through long winter's nights. He finally had to ask my grandmother to choose between two sons, the infant or the four-year old, because he had to work continuously to keep either child breathing, siphoning off fluids etc,...and couldn't tend to both. My brokenhearted grandmother had to make her choice, and she chose the four year old because, she said, she knew him better, and he knew life better. In her eyes, the baby would be welcomed back and restored to health by the angels he had so recently left. And so it was.

Noone knows what lies ahead. People don't want to hear, and can't believe, that such long winter's nights as my grandmother's could happen again, to them. I'm scared. I have listened for years to old scientists predicting with fearful confidence that another pandemic is coming. I hope this isn't it. But there's hope. I was vaccinated reluctantly in 1976 against a swine flu, along with about 25% of the U.S. population. That turned out to be a fiasco, which caused Guillaine- Barre syndrome in some people, against an outbreak that never materialized. My father, the doctor who gave the shot to my mother, my sister and me in our living room, always said those who developed that syndrome were hypochondriacs, though I swear I was never the same after that shot. But I've decided, using my ever-active-imagination, that maybe there's an upside.

Here's hoping that it's not illogical to think that that controversial immunization may have provided some protection to those who received it, and, through subsequent pregnancies and lactation, to children who are now young adults in the at-risk age group. Since I have five children in that demographic, I'm going with that.

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