Richard DeKnoop: Life before vaccines |

Richard DeKnoop: Life before vaccines

I’m a 75-year-old man living my dream here in Grass Valley.

The last couple of months I have been disturbed by things in the news. Not the dumb and pointless slap-fighting in Washington this time, but the appearance of news that diseases — previously thought to be nearly extinct — are making a comeback.

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I came down with German Measles. I don’t remember, but I was told I was covered in a bright red rash. I do remember that I was very sick and my mom told me I ended up with a brain infection or inflammation. I also remember my dad putting tin foil on my bedroom window to keep the light out because they believed that if the sun got in my eyes I might go blind.

I survived but the memory of that scared little boy waiting to die or go blind in his bed for several days will always be with me. That same year, next door there was a boy and girl set of twins who both caught whooping cough. Their bedroom was about 10 feet away from mine and the sound of the coughing, gasping for air and screaming between coughs stays with me as well. For a few nights I dragged my “blankey” and my pillow out to the living room to escape those sounds. They survived, thank goodness.

I worry that things keep going backwards and I’m not scared for me, but for my grandkids and great-grandkids to come.

There were other scary sicknesses as well. One was mumps. As an eighth grader, my friends and I thought that if we caught it our “junk” would swell up and we would live the rest of our lives as a unich. The worst of the bunch was polio. That was the disease that President Roosevelt had that he suffered with the last years of his life. My memory is that every so often a schoolmate would disappear and we would find out later that he was away and living in an iron lung. Nobody knew what that was, but it was scary! Some never came back and some who did come back had twisted bodies and deformed limbs and many in wheelchairs, leg braces and shoes with a huge heel and sole on one foot because of a leg being shorter than another. It was a very sad situation for all.

Every time another epidemic would come we would all be scared that we would be next! Then one day the whole student body gathered at the school auditorium. One by one we were taken to one of three ladies with white uniforms and those cute starched nurse hats. We rolled up our sleeve and they put some drops on our upper arm and then they scratched it in with glass or pointed things and we went home. It left an itchy little rash and healed in a day or two. Some even had a permanent round scar that they carried for life.

We didn’t realize at the time but we had received the gift of the Salk Polio Vaccine. After that, as time went by, the words polio, infantile paralysis and iron lung disappeared from our vocabulary. Polio over the next few years almost completely disappeared from the world. Only a few pockets remained in a few isolated nations. This vaccine was a real gift to mankind.

I know that the “anti-vax people” are all very caring parents and want only the best for their families. But please, please reconsider your stance on vaccines. Read the research that has completely debunked those flawed studies about autism and other things. I realize that in some very rare cases that some will have a bad reaction but these cases are not the norm.

Now I am scared for a different reason. I worry that things keep going backwards and I’m not scared for me, but for my grandkids and great-grandkids to come. My hope is that they never have to go through what my generation did and to see friends and loved ones disappear from their lives and have to suffer in such horrible ways. Please everyone, be well.

Richard DeKnoop lives in Grass Valley.

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