21 September 2010
Day 178: Nemesis
It's been about 60 years since they discovered the polio vaccine. I have lived in a mostly polio-free world. I don't know anyone personally who is or was afflicted by it, but my grandparents must have lived in terror of it every summer. They were born in the 1910's and 1920's, they likely knew people who died, they may even have played with a little girl or boy who didn't make it past their 12th birthday.
Do kids even know about polio these days? I know about it only because we visited a museum where Franklin Roosevelt sought treatment and relief in special pools. Do kids know how lucky they are to live in a world where they don't have to worry about whether they'll wake up one day to find that they will be trapped in an iron lung for the rest of their lives? I half wonder if the constant fear of death lent a certain character to previous generations that later ones lack, a certain hardiness and understanding that they are specks of dust in the cosmos rather than the bright burning sun around which the world revolves.
It's hard to bitch about ruining your iPad (or not having one) when the kid next door dies and the one down the street lost the use of her legs.
I bet they don't know that polio is only a plane ride away. All you have to do is hop a plane to India and come in contact with the wrong food vendor, shake the wrong person's hand, kiss the wrong stranger, take the wrong money as change. Or come in contact with someone who has done these things. It is not impossible for polio to make a come back; we're already seeing the return of whooping cough. And while our flus are getting more pernicious and more likely to cause death, they haven't yet gotten to the levels of polio in its heyday. I don't know that we'll be faced with population-decimating diseases, but I do know that this is the largest population we've had on this planet, and the times are ripe for large numbers of people to spread a highly communicable disease at a very quick rate. Enjoy your life; if these are the worst days, I'll count myself lucky.
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