I had measles when I was a kid. Actually, I had Rubeola (measles), mumps and Rubella (German Measles) because I was born before vaccinations. No MMR for us’ns. But this story is about measles.
In a quick aside I do remember being a little disappointed by the mumps. I was pretty miserable but I felt completely cheated because, as miserable as I was, I didn’t get big ol’ swollen cheeks like a cartoon. What was the point of mumps if I couldn’t have my face all wrapped up in bandages knotted on top of my head? (I’m not really sure why I thought this was a treatment for mumps.)
My Rubella and the Rubeola experience kind of blend together in my kid brain in that I’m not certain which one made me really, really (pretty sure I scared my parents) sick.
The weirdest thing about my measles memories is that my mom isn’t there and my dad is. That’s weird because my mom was always there and my dad worked- a lot. My adult self realizes that mom wasn’t there coz she was likely pregnant and couldn’t be there. (Y’know, measles and fetuses.) My dad must’ve taken off work, which (as I’ve said) was pretty weird. I remember that the sun shone so bright it hurt my eyes and made my throbbing head thump and he shouldn’t have been there. Not in the middle of a sunny day.
So there we are, in my memories, my dad and me doing battle with measles. The sun is shining. My father is sponging my hot little body over and over with a wash cloth from a basin that I was convinced was filled with ice water (and again here my adult self speaks up and knows this was tepid water) and I am crying. He pulls a blanket up over my shivering self and the blanket feels like sand paper against my rashy, feverish skin and gives me St. Joseph Children’s Chewable Aspirin and sips of water. (That’s it. That’s what they had. Aspirin and sponge baths.) I don’t know where the other kids are. They aren’t in my memories. Were the older ones at school? Where were the littler ones? Were they with my mom. My memory doesn’t furnish these details.
I do remember the fever dreams though. Terrible, fear ridden, incoherent, fever inspired dreams. I woke screaming and sobbing because a giant black spider was pushing, forcing itself down on my chest and biting my head. I dreamt that bricks were pounding my head. I re-dreamt the spider. I remember believing that German Measles had something to do with Nazis and I was pretty sure I knew why. This was some nasty stuff. Rotten Nazis.
I don’t know how long this lasted. One day or a couple? I have no idea. I know that my dad was was always near when I woke. Ever ready with the ice water torture and spider banishing comfort. I also know exactly when the fever must have broken because when I woke up I was feeling normal but hollow and kind of empty and I was very upset to find myself on the couch, in the living room, covered with a blanket and wearing only my UNDERPANTS!!! What the heck? Where were my PJs and why wasn’t I wearing them? I was even more upset when my father smiled and laughed at me. Sheesh. I was really mad. (Poor man, poor parent, he must have been so very, very relieved to have this angry little bundle of non-feverish daughter blustering at him.)
I survived my battle with measles. Many kids didn’t. I didn’t know any who died personally but I do remember that a classmate’s brother never returned to school. Our little kid grapevine reported that he got measles on his brain wouldn’t be coming back. (Encephalitis? My adult self wonders.)
Now, as a parent and a grandparent, I feel for the frightened, helpless parents of that oh-so-sick little girl. What would they have given for a vaccine?
I do know that as the vaccines became available we got every one we were eligible for. I remember that when the Polio Vaccine was discovered it was such a miracle. Such a life saver. We got vaccinated at school. Long lines of kids snaking through the gym for sugar cubes with serum and, later, vaccinations. Kids who were going to be safe from Polio and telethons and iron lungs.
Our parents, what would they have risked to keep us as safe from disease as we can keep children today? What would they say to parents who listen celebrities over science and don’t protect their children? I think I can guess.
The Anti-Vaxx Movement…it makes me crazy.