Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Trip Back To The Early 1950s

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published February 26, 2015] © 2015 

April 12, 2015 will be the 60th anniversary of the announcement of the Salk vaccine’s ability to prevent polio. Had it been available at your local CVS like flu shots are today, they would have had to call out the National Guard to handle the stampede. In the early 1950’s, there was no diagnosis more terrifying to parents than polio. In the 1952 epidemic, nearly 58,000 cases were reported, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with varying degrees of paralysis. There wasn’t a parent in America who would have requested a “personal belief waiver” to exempt their child from that shot.
In truly unlucky timing, mere months before the vaccine became available in my community that fall, my siblings and I contracted polio during a trip to the family homestead in rural Ohio. (Likely cause: swimming in a contaminated creek with polio cases upstream.

My parents were, of course, beside themselves. The little boy who had been in the bed next to my sister in the polio ward was in an iron lung the next. Anything bought to the hospital could not come home again so there was not even the comfort of a favorite toy or blanket.

 As with all such cases at the time, we kids were quarantined. Reading about the cases of people who suffered a similar fate after Ebola exposure a few months ago, I had a sudden flashback to the summer of 1955. It is so not fun being the local pariahs.

Oddly enough, my parents weren’t quarantined although my mother might as well have been. Her “help wanted” ad would have read today like: “Sitter for three kids recovering from Ebola. Probably not still contagious?” 

Polio aside, in my childhood, there was no hope of avoiding measles, mumps, chicken pox and rubella (German measles) – miserable afflictions that I would never have wanted to inflict on my kids. (All but chicken pox had vaccines by the time they were born.) There could also be serious lasting repercussions to these illnesses: our pregnant neighbor who contracted rubella (German measles) whose baby was born with severe birth defects; cases of deafness following mumps; encephalitis from measles. The curvature in my spine (and decades of back pain that has gone with it) is likely from polio. When rubella came around again, my mother sent me to the home of a friend who had it to be sure I’d contracted it well before my child bearing years.

A new generation of young parents have never personally experienced diseases now preventable by vaccines. That’s both the good and the bad news. I guess for some, it’s easier to fear the autism spectrum they actually see.
But I wish every parent who doesn’t vaccinate their child could travel back to a 1950s polio ward full of kids in iron lungs, or watch children suffer horribly – and sometimes permanently – from  now-avoidable afflictions. I recently read an interview of a woman who said that in lieu of vaccinations, she was feeding her children a totally organic regimen so their immune systems would be able to resist infection. Seriously? As my parents knew too well, a healthy diet and wishful thinking just aren’t going to do it.
 Polio epidemic, 1952 [not me or sibs]

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

**Uber Overboard

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published February 12, 2015] © 2015 

In my previous column, I wrote about what a boon Uber cars could be to the elderly, especially in San Diego where buses are unreliable (and frequently don’t run at night) and many taxi companies, which are expensive, won’t do short runs. Uber has given me a whole new outlook on life. They’ll go anywhere! Anytime! On a moment’s notice! For fairly cheap! In fact, I should probably sell my car right now and just use Uber!

OK, getting a little carried away there. But I’ve also been thinking of all the other applications Uber might be used for with the elderly. On your 65th birthday – as soon as that Medicare card is laminated and tucked into your wallet, the dementia anxiety attacks – and jokes – begin. We laugh, of course, to hide the fact that we’re completely terrified. Watching the 11 o’clock news about the elderly person who has wandered off from his facility truly puts fear in your heart. You can’t help but super-impose your face on the screen. And you just know your hair would look like hell.

I read an article a while back that said if you can’t find your car keys, that’s getting older. If you don’t remember you have a car, it’s dementia. Every time I’m searching in my mind for a word for a column or crossword, I find myself muttering a refrain in the background, “I have a car, I have a car.” Probably if I stopped doing that, I’d remember the word a lot sooner.

It didn’t help that soon after my 65th birthday, my older son, the perpetual prankster Rory, saw an ad on TV for a placement service for the severely memory-impaired. Several days later, a very sympathetic woman called and asked for my husband Olof, and when told he was at work, was dismayed to learn that I had been left unattended. She seemed to have a great deal of information about me and when I adamantly insisted “I do not need institutional care!” soothed, “You seem to be having one of your good days, dear.”

But back to Uber. I think Uber has huge possibilities for the senility set. It could have your address installed in the app so that if you got lost and couldn’t remember where you lived, you just press the Uber app and the driver shows up and takes you home. That, of course, is assuming you can remember to push the Uber button but that seems inherently easier than remembering your address.

But I had some even better ideas after my younger son, the nice one, told me that over the holidays, in the process of extricating themselves from three tiny kids, he and his wife arrived at a dinner party without the chocolate soufflé they’d promised to bring for dessert. Dismayed at the prospect of going all the way home to get it, my son had the brilliant idea of sending an Uber car to his home where the sitter handed off the soufflé to the Uber driver, who delivered it to the party. It was automatically charged to the credit card without their ever getting in the car themselves. (For the record, the soufflé rated the driver very highly.)

So, I’m thinking, if soufflés, why not Mom?

Letting my ever-overamped imagination run wild, I was thinking that Uber could develop a sub-application called “Find My Mother.” Mom wanders away from The Home and son is alerted by the Escape Alarm on his phone that she is no longer tied to her bed. Son presses his new Uber-GoGetHer app which immediately gives a GPS location on Mom who presumably has her phone in a little velvet carrying case around her neck. (OK, you may have to microchip her.) The Uber driver swoops in, puts mom in the car (hopefully she goes quietly) and returns me, er, her to The Facility, courtesy of the “If found, please return to” app on Mom’s phone. Avoids that whole embarrassing evening news thing. Never mind that son didn’t even have to blink during his Power Point presentation.

Now, as a senior, I think these Uber applications should go both ways. Don’t like the nursing home your kids have stashed you in? Before you make a break for it, you install an override app on your phone with special instructions to the Uber driver: DON’T TAKE ME BACK TO THAT PLACE. LEAVE ME AT THE DOWNTOWN RAILROAD STATION AND CHARGE A ONE-WAY TICKET TO SAN FRANCISCO ON MY CREDIT CARD. THEN THROW THE PHONE IN THE BAY. Like, we have rights too.

Now that I’m on Medicare, issues of aging occupy a lot of my brain cells. Olof thinks they would probably be better spent on memory exercises. The important thing is, I’m pretty sure I have a car.