One bright clear day on our way back to school after summer vacation, we were reliving our fun times. As we got closer to J.J. McGilvra, our moods began to change. Something was amiss. There was a smell in the air similar to that in a doctor’s office. Oh yeah, that piece of paper I brought home for Mom to sign was a permission slip to get immunized.
Looking back, the experience was a little like getting a six-penny nail driven into my arm. We never clearly understood that this was for our own good. Excuse me, “good” was sharing a hot fudge sundae at the Madison Park drugstore fountain lunch counter. And besides, we still got chicken pox, the measles and worse — the mumps! There just wasn’t any real explanation why we had to get shots. There was no proof until the day we saw signs on Madison Beach that stated: “Polio Epidemic — Stay Out.”
“What is polio?” At a Saturday matinee downtown, we viewed a seldom seen feature showing a person living in an iron lung. He had polio and was highly contagious. When he spoke, he paused, and air filtered into his lungs.
That short visual really hit home. It wasn’t that bathing beaches could cause polio, but polluted water did. Children under 5 were most susceptible. People followed the advice, stayed away and got vaccinated. Dr. Jonas Salk created the first successful vaccine, testing himself and his family in 1953.
We reacted to a lot of things that hampered our lifestyle. Things like, “Close the door, do you want to catch pneumonia?” On any given warm spring day, when you realized you didn’t have your English report done, it seemed time to “stage right” “Cough! Cough!” “Oh dear, you must have a chest cold. You stay home today.”
It was necessary to lay back, eat soup, drink hot chocolate and read those new Dell comic books. Except then came the hot wool (barbed wire) vest with mentholatum ointment smeared on it. The smell, the itch, it was enough to make you sick.
Time for the flu shot. Madison Park’s Dr. Harris visited our homes to administer those. So many people caught it that companies had to crack down due to 50 percent or more being on sick leave. During the World’s Fair in 1962, a naval ship was quarantined with no shore leave. They carried a new strain of flu that was the worst since the Spanish flu of 1918.
In the late ’50s, our 84th Engineers Airborne unit was put on alert. First order: get shots updated. With a copy of the shot record in hand and the original, we formed a line outside the orderly room. Once inside we handed over our copy and received shots. When it was my turn, I said, “Sir, I only have the original, and I am keeping it on my person.” The major asked, “Are you not complying with an officer? Well, without proof, you will get them now.” Never argue with an officer. So, I handed him the shot record and received my shots.
Cholera and typhus vaccines had to be kept at a freezing temperature. It was 90 degrees plus at Fort Ord. After the shots, we all had the cold shakes and took many hot showers, but soon the water ran out. Not a good day. We were ready to deploy, but there was one problem: I had no shot record as the major had taken it. Guess what? I had to take the whole series again. Hello, shakes and showers!
Weeks later, while drinking at the Casbah in Monterey, a friend from S-1 Headquarters told me of a major with orders to Berlin who had lost his original shot record and that he too had to retake the series. Knowing what I had gone through, this friend felt obliged to show me that he had the major’s original shot record. There is justice, after all. Plus, our deployment overseas fell off. It was a good day at long last.
And then, there is now. There were and are so many unknowns about COVID-19. The segregation of family and loved ones, restaurants closing, takeout remaining popular, walking around Madison Park with a cocktail in hand is not the norm now, but that was fun. Masks seemed to help, and for the most part people complied. The vaccinations were a godsend to many needing answers and a farce to others who questioned their validity.
After flying to Medford for a reunion, we noticed that on both flights there were small children with colds near us. When we got home it was time for that last booster, which affected us for a day. Not three days later, Karen came down with a mighty cold that might have been prevented if she’d worn an N95 mask for the duration of the reunion, the flights and the airport. Might as well say we are living in a petri dish.