April 2, 2020
Looking for things to do while remaining mostly at home, following the Coronavirus distancing requirements, I found myself going through old family photos. This stirred lots of memories made as a child. One photo was of a sister and me looking pretty sickly, standing outside on the sidewalk, dressed in our nightgowns, house slippers and house coats with dark circles under our eyes. The photo was marked on the backside by our mother, “Gloria and Glenna recovering from the Asiatic Flu, 1958.” I remember that event in my life. Never have I felt so ill before or since as I did then. Well, maybe I did when I had the German measles. Anyway, I remember about everyone who attended our little country school, Oak Creek, came down with this awful flu bug, and my sister and I were no exception.
We were so sick we just laid still either in the bed we shared or on the divan, all day and night for several days. We either chilled or roasted and we sure kept Mother busy. Looking back, I’m sure Mother was worried as our younger sister was just a year old and she hoped the baby didn’t come down with it too, which thankfully she didn’t. To this day, I’ve found it hard to drink a certain powdered orange drink mixture, Mother thought she was concealing the awful tasting medicine by adding it to the drink mix. Though my sister and I were not sure we’d make it through the flu, we managed to.
Today, I did some research on the “Asiatic Flu” as Mother called it. The official terminology was Influenza H2N2 Virus, Asian Flu. The H2N2 Pandemic was from 1957 through most of 1958. It too, like the current virus, began in China and entered into the U.S. mid 1957. It hit the young children, elderly, and pregnant woman the hardest, with coughing, fever and in the worst cases, pneumonia. Estimated deaths worldwide were 1.1 million and 116,000 in the U.S. Thankfully, a vaccination was found.
Another virus scare during my childhood in the 1950s was polio. Polio became one of the most serious communicable diseases among children. In 1952 nearly 60,000 children were infected with this virus; thousands were paralyzed and more than 3,000 died. It was so serious the insurance companies were selling polio insurance for new born babies. Late summer was termed the “polio season” and public swimming pools were closed. If people attended movies, they had to be seated a distance away from others. Special units were set up in hospitals equipped with “iron lung” machines to help keep the polio victims alive. As a young child I was scared of getting this virus. I saw photos of children with metal braces on their legs, or lying in the big metal tanks called the Iron Lung. This virus had been around since the late 1880s and there was an outbreak in New York City in 1916 with more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths.
In the 50s, polio was the fear of all parents. Thankfully by 1955, a man named Salk came up with a successful vaccination. While attending grade school at Stockton, all the students lineed up down all the hallways of the school house. We were in two lines, and not knowing what was going to happen, only we were to get a vaccination. I had no idea what that exactly was. When I got towards the front of the line, I could see nurses dressed in their white uniforms and caps, standing beside each line. They held a needle and quickly but efficiently, they helped each child roll up a sleeve. Then they carefully pushed the needle into the arm. Some students would cry, some remained steadfast and some would shout. I tried to be one of the steadfast ones, but I remember shedding a tear or two.
After returning to our classroom, I heard the teachers talking about one of the youngest students who had been standing in line, had somehow bolted and ran out the schoolhouse door with two teachers running after her. Boy, I thought, that girl was going to get it! Later when I got home after school, I learned my younger sister had been the one who had made the get away. The story told was that she had out run the teachers and had run three blocks away to the courthouse and into the room where our dad worked. I’m sure she had to eventually take the polio vaccination, but I can’t remember when and where. I’m guessing Mother probably later took her to our family doctor where she had the shot under Mother’s watchful eyes. We still laugh about that story.
A liquid vaccine was later developed by a man named Sabin, in the early 1960s, and with two drops of the vaccine by mouth it made it much easier to take. I’m guessing even though you had the vaccination shot, you still had to take the liquid vaccine. Anyway, I remember the vaccine placed into a sugar cube we were told to eat and I did so. By the 1970s the Polio Virus had become extinct in the U.S.