Sunday, August 28, 2022

Even Polio Had Anti-Vaxxers

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 29, 2022] 2022

I was more than a little dismayed to read recently that the polio virus has been detected in New York City waste water since May. The United States had been polio-free since 1979.  Not anymore

This is a topic close to my heart as my siblings and I all contracted polio in August, 1955, four months after Jonas Salk's triumphant announcement of a successful vaccine.  I have repercussions of polio to this day.  

Not surprisingly, I can’t even be civil to anti-vaxxers. Not even minimally polite. I think they are ignorant idiots. 

Poliomyelitis, a warm weather virus especially targeting children, was the second greatest fear in post-WWII America after nuclear war. In the 1952 outbreak, 57,628 cases were reported, 3,145 died, and 21,269 experienced paralysis.

 The vast majority of Americans couldn’t line up fast enough to get the vaccine for their kids in the mid-1950’s. But even then, the vaccine had a vocal opponent in the form of a cosmetics magnate, Duon H. Miller, who made his fortune on a first-ever cream shampoo called Vita-fluff. Mr. Miller was convinced the vaccine was dangerous, and more to the point, that polio could be prevented by avoiding soft drink consumption.  He wasn’t too keen on bleached flour either.

 As far as Duon H. Miller was concerned, polio was not an infectious disease (it’s a highly contagious virus) but a state of malnutrition.  Ironically, he wasn’t totally wrong about the perils of a high sugar, refined food diet. It just wasn’t applicable to polio.  

There was no internet then so he was forced to use the U.S. Postal Service to get the word out, ultimately getting shut down by the federal government.  But he still railed against sugar, “processed bread”, and even pasteurized milk for years to come.

While polio particularly targeted children, adults could contract the virus as well.  When teens and young adults remained woefully under-vaccinated, Elvis Presley agreed to be vaccinated on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956 after which vaccination rates in those age groups sky rocketed. Never underestimate a celebrity endorsement.

In truly unlucky timing, given that a vaccine to prevent polio was likely going to be available within months in our small New York state town, my siblings and I contracted polio during a trip to rural Ohio to see my dying grandfather. Most likely cause: we kids spending the week cooling off behind the house in a contaminated creek with a polio outbreak upstream.  Sewage in that era fed into the creek and polio (unknown at the time) is caused by fecal contamination. 

When we returned from that trip, all three of us became seriously ill, the dread polio diagnosis clinched by a painful spinal tap.  There had been no cases of polio in our area, and wishing to keep it that way, the local Board of Health quickly quarantined us.  Let me say, it’s no fun being a pariah. 

For a long time afterwards, none of the neighbors wanted their kids to play at our house. It wasn’t clear at that time how polio was transmitted (even bananas and mosquitos were suspect), and no one was taking any chances.   

When you’re quarantined in a small town, you end eating lot of canned food.  Even if there had been Instacart, they wouldn’t have delivered to us.  I remember literally gagging on Chun King canned chow mein and chop suey, determined I’d never ever eat that cuisine again. When a meal is so awful that you remember it for the rest of your life, you know it was pretty terrible. 

Years later, when I was dating my first husband in New York City, it took him a full year to convince me to go to China Town and try non-canned Chinese food, which I instantly loved.

In those hot humid August days in 1955, I remember being as sick as I’ve ever been.  Probably we kids recovered better than our poor terrified parents. The little boy in the polio ward bed next to my sister’s was suddenly, the next day, in an iron lung, a behemoth ventilator of the era used when polio has caused respiratory paralysis.  

I wish every parent who doesn’t vaccinate their child could time travel back to the 1950s to see how children suffered from now-preventable diseases. I don’t remember mumps, measles, and rubella being any picnic either.

The fact that the polio virus is detectable in NYC waste water is a clear indication that polio is circulating in the city. The New York Times has reported that a Rockland County, NY, man has recently been diagnosed with polio and left paralyzed.  Unlike Covid, polio is totally preventable with vaccination 

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. Sounds an awful lot like shampoo guy Duon H. Miller. 

Sorry, lady.  A healthy diet and wishful thinking just aren’t going to do it.

Brochure from Duon H. Miller, anti-polio vaccine crusader

Iron lung for patients who suffered respiratory failure from polio 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Home Alone

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 22, 2022]

Recently my husband Olof went on an 18-day Trains, Planes, and Automobiles trip combining all the travel he had cancelled during the pandemic.  I stayed Home Alone.

Well, not totally alone.  I had our faithful bichon-poodle watch/attack dog, Lily.  She takes the job seriously.  Try to break into our house and she will sink her three remaining teeth into you.

Of course, you could offer her a bit of raw hamburger, and she will happily let you take whatever you want. The offer of a tummy rub would work as well.

Still, the illusion of protection, even if only an illusion, is nice in this era of increasingly-brazen burglaries.  I think all of us who installed exterior cameras thought we were adding a layer of security.  As it turns out, we just get to watch our stuff being stolen in real time.  Some of the boldest of the bike thieves have probably starred in more videos than the Kardashians.

I confess that at first I felt a little creeped out by being alone.  Olof, however, feels compelled to point out that his presence is the merest illusion of safety and did I really think he could defend me against a knife-wielding intruder?  But upon seeing the look on my face, he hastily added that he would, of course, breathe his last breath trying.  (Correct answer.)

In his career, Olof often traveled on business for over a month at a time to foreign places.  We would Skype on ridiculously disparate time zones, generally requiring one or the other of us to be awake at 3 a.m.   But eighteen days was longer than we’d been separated for quite some time.

Now, I’ll confess there were some genuine upsides. Every day, I awoke and asked myself: what shall I have to eat today that will be made by someone other than me?  I never so much as turned on a stove burner.  I rekindled my love for Mexican food and a local bread bakery’s phenomenal sandwiches.  Definitely not a weight loss regime.

I also have to confess that I kind of liked having an entire king size bed to myself.  I alternated sleeping on Olof’s side, my side, and even right in the middle.  I even tried the diagonals, just because I could. 

Lily, meanwhile, quickly commandeered Olof’s pillow.  I don’t think he’s getting it back.  It’s amazing how fast your dog can forget you.

My biggest fear was that my computer would develop some glitch while Olof was gone. There are infinite numbers of things that can go wrong with your computer. And Microsoft thinks of new ones every day.

But miraculously, when I turned on my machine every morning, it not only came up but I had email. I figured that everything else that happened that day was just gravy.  If you are a techno-moron and Home Alone, you have to keep your expectations low.

Still, regardless of some genuine upsides, I was very relieved when Tech Support, er, Olof pulled up to the house after his 18-day sojourn.  He had had three different extended train trips, two flights that actually left on time and didn’t lose his luggage, and assorted rental cars.  And the pi├Ęce de resistance, he didn’t get Covid.

He got to re-une with his college roommates after two pandemic cancellations, to go see our older son’s now-not-so-new home in Santa Cruz, and even commune with his sister in Eugene. The purpose of that visit was to try to get her on email which she has steadfastly resisted all these years, her preferred media being snail mail and tarot cards.   How the same parents spawned these two people remains a mystery to me. 

Before he left San Diego, Olof was able to show me how to track his travels (or actually the location of his Android phone) from my iPhone.  This was truly fun, especially when he was on the train from Minneapolis to Seattle. Turns out that there is actually a Joplin, Montana in addition to a Joplin, Missouri.  Olof has now been there. 

I, meanwhile, took over aviary duties, normally Olof’s domain. Every once in awhile, I’d hear a massive frantic flapping which I know from experience means either a hawk is trying to tear into the cage in hopes of an easy lunch, or there will be an earthquake in about 30 seconds. If you could just get the birds to lengthen that time to, say, two minutes, they’d be a fantastic early warning system.

In fact, for the next stronger quake, I’m going to see whether our birds beat the Shake Alert I recently installed on my phone. 

Meanwhile, Lily and the now-returned Olof continue to battle out who owns his pillow. In her view, it was abandoned property, and Olof is the one who should be sleeping at the foot of the bed.  Bets being taken.

I felt safer knowing I had my attack/guard dog Lily in the house with me

Lily took over Olof's pillow in his absence and is refusing to give it back. 

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Can't Stand All the Beeping

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 8, 2022] ©2022

I’m trying to decide when our lives became controlled by beeps. When I was growing up, I don’t remember anything that beeped. Now I can’t think of anything that doesn’t. And frankly, it’s starting to drive me a little crazy.

If you’ve got a Smart phone, you know the difference between the email message beep and the text message beep and the “loved your text message reply” beep.  My computer alerts me to new emails as well.

When my husband Olof would do the dishes and wipe the digital panel on the stove, it would often start beeping. As an engineer (and, more to the point, a guy), he wasn’t about to admit that he had no idea why. While smashing it with a hammer after it had been going off for a half hour seemed like a perfectly sane option, he would finally wander into the bedroom and announce, “There’s an incoming message from the Planet Klingon.  I think it’s for you.” 

My Kitchenaid range is actually the source of lots of beep dissension in our household.  I admit that I have been known to set the stove’s timer to remind me to turn off the backyard sprinklers, forget all about it, then leave the house to do an errand. The beeper would go off in my absence, and Olof would turn it off.

“Olof, my little lutfisk,” I said finally, “If you turn off the oven beeper, would you leave me a note? I set it for a reason.”

And, of course, that’s becoming part of the problem.  What reason? Not only figuring out which appliance is beeping, or, if it’s the oven timer, but why I set it in the first place. 

What used to be even more of a problem with the oven beeper was that the electronic touch screen panel on the stove was exquisitely accessible to someone of the pre-school grandchild persuasion.  The Options button, which when combined with any single digit between one and seven suddenly makes something that worked before, cease to.  For example, Option + 2 turns off the beeper so that one could, for example, discover that they’ve had the back yard sprinklers running for seven hours

Some time back, a reader sent me the following email on this subject. “My husband and I often laugh at ourselves because we have constant beeping going on and we are forever trying to figure out what they mean.  Some prime examples are the refrigerator when we don't close the door completely, the microwave when we haven't removed an item, the toaster oven when our toast is almost done, and the coffee pot when it's turning off after two hours.”

I hear ya. And I hear the beeping too. 

My car beeps when the door isn’t shut tight and seat belts aren’t fastened.  Cars that are not my 2005 Corolla even beep as you back up if you’re getting too close to something.  That’s actually one beep I wouldn’t mind.

There are two beeps that make me truly crazy. One is the beep that your ceiling smoke detectors make when the batteries are running low. Smoke detectors have been scientifically programmed so that those batteries only start failing at 3 a.m. It’s like the faucet drip torture only ten times worse. You want to stand underneath it and scream, “Stop it!  Stop it RIGHT NOW! I’ll get the ladder and change your battery in the morning!” But no, it maliciously beeps on.

The other one is the blurp sound that tablet devices make when people are playing games on them.  On airplanes, I can hear it ten rows away. I start having fantasies of grabbing the tablet and its owner and hurling both of them out an emergency exit at 35,000 feet.

Have we become a country of people who cannot remember anything if it doesn’t beep at us?  How did we ever survive before? One answer: we obviously didn’t used to have so many gadgets. Still, I personally could live without the washer and dryer alerting me when they’re done.

Fortunately, some appliances will let you disable the beep alerts. But you need an engineering degree and/or a soldering iron. YouTube abounds with videos on this topic.

Should we be relying on beeps less, just to make those ever-aging synapses keep firing? When you look at all those mental gymnastics exercises advocated for older folks, maybe going beeperless should be one of them.  Well, except maybe the ones like smoke alarms that would prevent the house from burning down. 

In the average kitchen, the beeping options are pretty much endless. With so many appliances beeping, will new ones have to start announcing themselves, like “coffee’s ready”?

I hope not. Bad enough that they’re all beeping at me. When they start talking to me, I’m done.  Because I fear I’d start answering.