Jonas Salk … a forgotten hero …

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Today’s Google Doodle is Jonas Salk, whose work gave us polio vaccine.

It got me to thinking back. I am old enough to remember the polio scares of the 50’s. They were real, not like the politicized AIDS and Ebola B.S. floating around right now. No one knew what polio was, nor how it spread then. Public swimming pools and theaters were off limits to many kids of that generation.

Ron, my friend, contacted polio as a five year old, and it caused the atrophying of his extremities. He had one semi strong arm, and one that through much effort, was made strong enough to propel his wheelchair. Ron was afraid to use a powered wheelchair for fear that he would deteriorate. When he reached his sixties, Social Security gave him one after his weak arm gave out. He was right. His arms and chest wall atrophied, and he died in his mountain cabin.

I had another childhood friend who was in an iron lung. That was his whole world as a child. I lost contact with him when I was eight, but I presume that he lived a reasonably long life afterwards. Since then, the clunky iron lung was replaced by a tube inserted into the neck, allowing for more mobility, and no more are iron lungs are being manufactured, although they are still used for people who have spinal deformities. When one is needed, they quickly repair it and put it into service.

This recent Ebola thing shows me that our press, health care system and government is not prepared for a viral outbreak. The CDC was politicized during the Clinton administration to carry forth a gun control agenda, and it did with zeal. I think it was at the expense of developing a plague strategy to contain the outbreak. We have grown cocky, and I think some future generation is going to pay for this malfeasance.

Anyway. Back to Salk. What a national godsend he was, and we dutifully lined up for the vaccinations, as painful as they were. The medic would put a blob of the vaccine on your arm, and then puncture the skin repeatedly with a needle to let the vaccine soak in. Later the sugar cubes came on the market, and finally, an injection. I received all of them.

So today, polio is a byword. It means no more to later generations than the war of 1812 means to me. People reject lifesaving vaccines like those for smallpox and measles without so much as a backward glance. Odd how you can have such negative opinions on diseases once they are eradicated. Sometimes I wish that people could see a pockmarked face of a young girl who survived small pox, or a child confined to a huge tank because of the poliovirus.

Yeah. I am pro inoculation.

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