Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias I believe I was in the first or second grade when I received my badge of courage.

If you're a baby boomer like me, or older, you likely have one, too.

Just look at your left shoulder (or if you're a southpaw like me, your right shoulder).

See that round mark? You weren't born with it.

A bunch of us "older" folks here at the office found ourselves suddenly communing in a special way. We have something that all these young high school- and college-aged kids that are around us in Vermillion don't have.

It's a sign of the times of four decades ago, when important research was finally helping to win the war against some serious maladies that had plagued humanity throughout its time on earth.

My family doctor, Anthony Petres, established a vaccination clinic one evening in Humboldt, my hometown, in the early 1960s.

The event was held in the evening. I had a new baby brother at home, so Dad had the pleasure of taking my twin brother and younger brother and me to this exclusive event.

All of us kids stood in a long line, outdoors in what I remember to be a pleasantly warm fall evening.

We grew more and more impatient, wondering what was about to happen to us. There was talk of needles � big long ones � that would leave us reeling in pain for days.

To keep our minds off of such thoughts, we hung out with our friends. We realized we were all in this together.

There was a very special reason, of course, for us to gather together that evening. It can best be described by our own recent history.

Look through any newspaper's archives � no matter the size, no matter what region of the country � and it's easy to find evidence that the good old days weren't always that good, especially when it came to health care.

One only has to go back about 50 years or so to find news clippings of a new outbreak of polio in South Dakota communities.

During the summer, swimming pools were closed. If the malady struck a community during the fall, schools cancelled classes and fumigated their buildings.

And, of course, young and old who were afflicted with disease often were left crippled for life.

There were, of course, no cases of polio in South Dakota in 2001.

It's probably safe to say that current and future generations will never suffer the scourge of this disease again.

Thanks to research.

The story of the development of the polio vaccine by Jonas Salk and other researchers has become legendary in the annals of significant medical breakthroughs.

The development of other vaccines has practically wiped out other significant viral diseases (and their life-changing side effects), such as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella.

Some of these vaccines hadn't been developed yet when I was a kid. My classmates and I all gained our immunity to measles and mumps by, ironically, suffering a bout of the illness first.

Dr. Petres' clinic, we discovered, addressed two major maladies � polio and smallpox.

The parents who accompanied us brought birth certificates, I believe, so that the health care workers at the clinic could properly record who received their vaccinations.

One of the reasons we had to wait so long was, if I recall correctly, the order demanded of everyone for this event to run smoothly. We couldn't just simply stand where we wanted in the line that snaked outside around the clinic building.

We stood rank and file in alphabetical order, our places in line determined by our last names. Receiving the polio vaccine was easy. I remember how nurses squirted a small dose of the vaccine on a sugar cube and popped it in my mouth.

"No sweat," I thought. Then I moved further down the line, where Dr. Petres was overseeing the administration of smallpox shots.

"Look straight ahead," I remember him saying, patting my head as a nurse cooled my arm with a swab of alcohol.

I clenched my teeth, and felt my entire shoulder burn from the shot.

My brothers and I were rather quiet on the ride home. The evening's outcome wasn't particularly fun. Each of us was wondering when our arms would stop throbbing, and if the evening's experience was worth the discomfort.

Naturally, it was. The marks that the smallpox shots left on the arms of kids of my generations serve as reminders of just how far we've come in conquering illnesses.

Today, as waves of hysteria seem to be sweeping the nation following the discovery of anthrax-infected mail in Florida, Washington, DC and New York, we need to remind ourselves of a very important fact.

Anthrax is treatable. That in no means suggests that we shouldn't be cautious during these rather uncertain times.

We need to remind ourselves that anthrax, like the maladies that would strike without warning on a regular basis just a few decades ago, needn't threaten our lives.

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