Finally, A Reason to Rejoice
I don’t have many memories from my days at Deans Mill School, but a big one began like any other day and ended with blood, sweat and so many tears.
A team converted the auditorium into a makeshift clinic to mass inoculate students from diseases already in decline: polio and smallpox. My mother wasn’t so sure about the polio vaccine, given how badly the Eisenhower Administration botched it more than a decade earlier. Prone to provide as little government oversight as possible, a shipment destined for children’s arms was sent with the virus, not the vaccine. Some recipients died, and others were damaged for life. By the time I was eligible, the Sabin oral vaccine was preferred over the Salk injectable. Small pox eradication, however, still required a bifurcated needle that left quite a scar.
Classes lined up along the main hallway to wait their turn. As we moved closer to the double doors, schoolmates would come out. Some were wailing; some whimpering; all clasping their injured arms. A few emerged unscathed, cheering. Still, those tears and that blood beneath bandages were real. A couple of my classmates made a run for it, but they were no match for our teacher with high tenure. I don’t think there was a single student who wasn’t expected to get vaccinated. Certainly, there were no parents protesting outside the school grounds or claiming medical conditions that put their children at high risk. My mother’s initial hesitations were overwritten by slim odds that I’d die or be crippled, compared to the much greater chance of me contracting a disease that meant I never left home.
Finally, it was our turn to go. My stomach lurched as we were guided individually to a nurse’s station. I was sucking down my polio drops as a swell of cries consumed the cavernous room. The shots had begun. Funny thing is, my shot didn’t hurt nearly as much as I expected. I would emerge and cheer! I thought. Then I watched as the nurse pulled off a big square of gauze saturated with my blood. She applied another. Then another.
Eventually the bleeding stopped, though I’ve no idea when. I apparently passed out. I would for decades bear a distinctive, indented scar like many others of my generation. This afternoon that arm received another potentially lifesaving shot. I was among initial skeptics, believing something was bypassed in the rush to market. But now I see the COVID-19 vaccine is a modern miracle: a 10-year R&D process compressed to a year—and multiple times over—to save the world from an apocalypse.
Maybe if I hadn’t lost family recently, or had a recent health scare myself, I might still be wary. But now almost everyone in our immediate family has been vaccinated at least once. Soon we can visit without hesitation. Maybe that’s why today I did what had been denied to me all those years ago at Deans Mill School. After my obligatory 15-minute wait, I walked out of a CVS pharmacy and, once in my car, let out a little cheer.
Photo of "baby pinecones" from a recent walk in my neighborhood.