Monday, November 21, 2011

May You Live in Interesting--and Healthy--Times

I was watching Boardwalk Empire this week and knew based on a previous episode's foreshadowing that a character had infantile paralysis--polio.  Polio was a constant fear in the lives of my parents growing up, and in their raising of us, up until the time that we stood in long lines at our schools to get doses of the oral vaccine.  Imagine what that meant to our mothers.  I can't.  I can't imagine the fear of a summer where every crowd might carry disease, where going to the lake was a cause for fear of contagion.  An elderly neighbor died recently, a gentleman who'd had polio as a child, recovered, but then in old age had a recurrence of the symptoms of weakness in his legs and other issues.  It was a slice of 20th century life carried through into a 21st century age of medical advances.

When I was researching Sea Change and my next novel, [working title] Castaway Dreams, I studied medical practices and beliefs of the early 19th century.  It gave me a renewed appreciation of the germ theory of disease, and clean running water, and antibiotics, and mosquito eradication programs to prevent yellow fever and malaria.  We live in amazing times, but I also developed a great deal of respect for the doctors of the 19th century who did they best they could with the tools and knowledge they had.

I look forward to a day where we will have vaccines against cancer and cures for AIDS.  During this week of Thanksgiving, I'm grateful to all of the hard working men and women who help to better our lives, and especially to those researchers of the past who ensured that I would never spend a summer fearing my children's exposure to polio. 

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