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Tuesday, August 15, 2006


During the 50s, we had to have lots of shots. Every year, before I could go to camp, I had to get a tetanus shot. One year our family doctor, who seemed quite elderly to me, chased me around his examination table before he caught me and triumphantly injected me. My arm swelled up like a balloon and my long-sleeved tee shirt nearly burst its seams. Underneath, my arm was hot and red and stayed that way for days.

The doctor used a big stainless steel syringe, and it looked like an instrument of torture. He carried it in his black snap-shut leather doctor bag when he made house calls. If I had some fever or bacterial infection, out it would come, full of penicillin. It may have saved my life, but I will never know.

The polio epidemic was in full swing then. Every summer, children were kept out of public swimming pools. Victims were kept alive in "iron lungs", where they had to see their visitors by looking into a mirror that reflected the visitors' faces to them, because they were completely paralyzed and had to spend their lives lying on their backs in a steel tubular machine, while mechanical bellows worked their lungs.

There was no vaccine that worked. There was, however, a SHOT. Gamma globulin was tested and seemed to prevent paralysis to some extent.

Dad rounded up my two younger sisters and me and herded us to the hospital, about two blocks from the house. We hated shots in the first place, and this one was reputed to be absolutely horrendous. We all screamed and cried and pleaded, to no avail. He took us to a room in the hospital, where we were told to relax, so that the shots would not hurt as much. Of course, I clenched my little buttocks into mounds of granite. The shot hurt like hell, of course!

We did not get polio, thank God, or maybe, thank gamma globulin. When the Salk vaccine came out, we were injected in long lines at school. Ah, but the Sabin vaccine doses were given in sugar cubes. I much preferred that method.

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