Mack Williams column: Vaccinations

  • Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013 12:42 a.m.

Every year, it seems, we are warned of a new strain of influenza which has made the leap to man from either birds, pigs or monkeys, not being content to “party on” with the animal of its origin.

My father had the 1918 Pandemic Flu, which left him with an asthmatic condition for the rest of his life. Back then, there was no vaccine. So masks, quarantine, confinement to bed and the treating of symptoms were the main preventatives of its spreading.

As far as the traces of my vaccinations for diseases go, I have a barely discernible quarter-sized scar near the top of my outer left arm from my smallpox vaccination (the arms of people born after about 1972 being in more “pristine” condition than mine).

I also have a little, couple-millimeters wide, extra-white “remnant” on the inside of my right arm, representing a TB test which turned out negative (if the scar were much larger, I guess it would represent a much more unpleasant memory than just the test).

More in the manner of “desensitization” than vaccination were the bee and wasp anti-venom shots which I received from Dr. Frank B. Marsh’s nurse at his office, but nothing remains of that multitude of “pinpricks,” because they were so small, and possibly because it seemed that the nurse stuck me at just about the same place each time, like Robin Hood shooting a previously shot arrow in half. Her aim, of course, was taken not in Sherwood forest, but in Dr. Marsh’s office on Barker Street. (As a youth, whenever reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s references to his famous fictional detective of “Baker Street,” I would sometimes get the two confused — not Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Marsh, but instead, the two streets.)

Only one of my vaccinations had something “sweet” associated with it. That vaccination was the Salk Oral Polio Vaccine and it was made sweet by the agent of its “inoculation” — a sugar cube. Entire families, not just students, were administered that oral “preventative” at Granite Quarry School on a couple of weekends in the early 1960s.

The nurse administered those medicinal drops which fell onto the sugar cube and were absorbed by it, turning it pink, but I don’t recall any taste of flavor, just a taste of sugar.

Another memory of that day of sugar-cube vaccination concerns fellow classmate and friend David Shue’s younger brother Robin on crutches, his parents helping him up a set of steps to go inside the building where the polio vaccine was being given. Robin had lost part of one leg to cancer, and I remember thinking what truly good and valiant people his parents must be, not wishing to leave polio to chance, even though cancer was already a certainty. Not very long afterward, the cancer claimed his young life.

Just a few years after my friend’s little brother passed away from cancer, my father’s life was also taken by it, not the same variety, but cancer just the same. I later remember seeing, filed away in a drawer, the official card of my father’s oral polio vaccination, bearing his signature, from that early 1960s day on which both he and my friend’s brother had received the Salk Vaccine at Granite Quarry School.

Today, many young people use the expression ”sweet” in describing a variety of superlative, positive happenings or material things which may occur in their lives. How truly “sweet” it would be if that evil “thing” which took the lives of Robin Shue, my father, old friends like Esther Rufty Hodgin and a multitude of others, could one day be felled by its nemesis, similarly hiding in a sugar cube.

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