Saturday, November 20


We have grown arrogant in our bubble of modern, American life. I am only three and four generations removed from a time when couples could expect to lose a third of their children before they reached maturity, and husbands could expect to lose a wife or two in childbirth. A day when typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever and malaria epidemics swept through housing complexes in city and rural communities with the same, grim toll.

We forget this.

I am of the generation of school children who received polio vaccinations one by one in the school nurse’s office. Our generation had family members and neighbors and people we knew who got polio; seeing kids with leg braces and corrective orthotics was not all that uncommon.

We forget this.

My own children have been very healthy. They have benefitted from the very best of Western medicine and technology. And, because the vast majority of our society was similarly protected by an impressive infrastructure which regulated safety and health standards from fluoridated city water to fire-resistant pajamas, we have lived a long time in a predominately stable environment.

But, we forget this, too.

It’s not that we don’t have issues. Cancer devastates, and plaques and neurofibrillary tangles high-jack mental acuity and fill nursing homes with vacant faces; lost lives still among the living. We are struggling with a virulent array of aggressive addictions and sexually-transmitted diseases which corrupt virtually every aspect of American life; everyone knows someone who has been hurt or families who have been decimated by these.

But what happens when a marginal infrastructure is toppled virtually over-night? When the matrix of social stability is just too fragile, too impoverished, too compromised to prevent absolute catastrophe?

Cholera happens.

I thought I knew about cholera, at least as much as can be casually understood. One reference in particular is special. In 1849, my Great Great Grandfather was on board a ship bound for one of the busiest immigration ports of the era; New Orleans. A convert to Mormonism, he was on his way to “Zion”. The voyage from Liverpool was difficult, but not uncommonly so, until the vessel was becalmed off the Florida Keys. For 21 days the sails hung flaccidly. Resources intended for a 26 day journey were severely compromised. Cholera erupted. Within hours the groans and agony of the dying filled the miserable hold.

Benjamin Peel, much to the terror of his young wife Nancy Turnbull, bravely attended to afflicted fellow passengers without thought for his own safety. Thirteen adults and fifteen children died in short order. Mercifully for many, death came within only two hours from the onset of illness. It is part of our cherished family lore that Benjamin and Nancy Peel were miraculously spared.

But then Haiti had an earthquake. The world family focused attention on her plight. Funding, specialists, relief workers and supplies have been invested in a broken place crushed by too many cultural failures long before a natural disaster took center stage. Officials watched anxiously for signs of contagion - a dreaded accompaniment to large scale refugee communal living. A Hurricane dumped further trouble on a miserable situation.

Then, reportedly, sewage from a Nepalese base contaminated the Artibonite River. Nepal is a part of the world where cholera is endemic. Haiti’s National Public Health Laboratory identified the cholera strain now ravaging Haiti as the same type typically found in South Asia. Sweden’s ambassador to Haiti fueled suspicions when he asserted his “diplomatic sources” traced the deadly cholera infection to Nepal. Violence erupted as a result.

How incongruous that U.N. peacekeepers may be the carriers that introduced this paralyzing plague! The waste management company responsible for draining the Nepalese septic tanks has also been accused in the disaster. It is an epidemic. With more than 220 cases a day in just one camp, rising to over 300 - 400 new cases a day, beds needed for cholera victims must increase from 1,900 to 3,000 in the next few days.

In a place that has never seen Cholera before, people are stoning officials who come to collect the bodies of the dead. Families abandon their dead on the streets, too terrified to touch them.

Now I know I know nothing at all about Cholera.

We cannot forget this.

Forgetting is dangerous.
Influxes of immigrant populations from developing countries who by-pass legal methods to enter the country have added a new demographic to social health in America. Wherever populations of immigrants are, so is a rocketing rise in diseases we thought we were done with a long time ago. TB, Hepatitis (all varieties), Typhoid (which can reside happily asymptomatic in a single carrier for years while actively infecting others) and unbelievably - Polio - are all blossoming among stable populations in the U.S. Common Chicken Pox and Measles are actually a serious problem again. The obvious alarm, of course, is that none of these potentially lethal diseases stay loyal to the host population.

An additional factor in our changing public health is the growing number of individuals who believe immunizations are not safe. Research has been very thorough in this regard, and so far aberrant side-effects (of significance) from routine immunizations are so incredibly rare, the numbers simply do not justify this aversion. Celebrities are very successful promoters, and Jenny McCarthy is prominent in the campaign to link immunizations to childhood Autism, for example. The fact remains, however, there is no viable science to her claims. Add this element of vulnerable population vs immunized population now compromised (most of our baby-boomer generation immunizations are expired; we should have a booster dose), and third world country microbial/viral ravages literally have an open door into our American “bubble”.

I am no biologist, and I am no germ-freak, either. All I know is we are a very forgetful society. The rising faction of those who revile against fluoride in city water sources as a toxic assault on the populace have forgotten that only two generations ago, it was accepted as the norm to lose all your teeth before you were 50. Public fluoridation put this appalling standard to a screeching halt. If something as simple as adding fluoride to drinking water has elevated public health so dramatically, yet is so thoroughly forgotten, what's next?

We turn on a tap with confidence. We drink out of any public water fountain without a second thought. We order food at restaurants and shop at warehouse-sized grocery stores, and hardly consider what contagion could lurk in our meal prepared by strangers. We shake hands, hug, touch common surfaces, and breathe common airspace - as we should! This is how Life is conducted.

But all that could change. Any number of instigators could turn our world upside down. It doesn't have to take a long, dysfunctional, suffering history such as Haiti's for it to be here, either. I wonder, how secure is our matrix?

More especially, I wonder if I could have done what my Great Great Grandfather did? I hope so.


Cynthia said...

I know I sure take our good health and our public safety for granted. Lots to think about.

Bandanamom said...

Thank you for this. I have seen many women on facebook (usually under 30 or near that age) touting the idea of steering clear of all vaccinations for their children. Sometimes I feel like an old lady who wants to scream "HAVE you ALL GONE MAD!!!!" Do you care if I post a link to your blog? (I probably will, but if you get too many comments or whatever, let me know and I will unlink it)

Selena said...

I hope commenting is OK. My daughter didn't get the Varicella (chicken pox) vaccine because it wasn't covered by insurance. She now has lifelong scarring on her cornea from a chicken pox blister on her eye.

My mom suffers with post-polio syndrome. Vaccine wasn't available until after she had childhood polio.

The world is a fragile and ever changing place. We should always remember the past in order that we don't repeat the mistakes of our forbears.

calizona said...

Thanks for the visit, Selena! I am so sorry about your daughter. Are you now aware that there are reduced fee clinics and free immunization clinics in many locations? Even rural, small towns host these clinics, typically prior to the start of the new school year.

Those chicken pox blisters are nasty. I thought having them in your mouth was bad enough, but no one should have to suffer one on their eye!

Bandanamom said...

Hi Selena!

By way of introduction, Selena is the sister of one of my best friends in high school, and we connected via facebook. Selena is a very smart girl. (weren't all the Thompsons smart though some sort of unfair genetic advantage?)

Cindi is my friend from church who is also quite smart and always has a head full of interesting topics and ideas.

Selena you maybe didn't see it but on facebook several of my 'friends' were going crazy talking about how stupid it is to vaccinate children these days and how we should all just be using more essential oils for treatment of most ailments. I thought it was getting completely insane and finally had to stop commenting or my head was going to explode! Thanks for commenting here!