Today is Memorial Day, or as it was called in my youth – Decoration Day. I have many memories of visiting various cemeteries where family members lie to remember them and care for their graves. This is a special day dedicated to our war dead but expanded to remember the many who have gone before us. I can’t help but wonder if I am the only one who thinks it might be my last.
I went into almost total isolation on March 8, 2020. Fear of the Covid 19 virus made it clear that I should avoid contracting the disease if at all possible. My knowledge of epidemics gained in earning a Master of Public Health degree drives my fear. After more than two months of “house arrest” I am slowly accepting what is blithely called the “new normal”. I fill my time making masks for family, friends and donating to local health care facilities. It keeps me busy and gives me a sense of purpose. I want to feel that I am doing something positive.
Book learning is not my only knowledge of serious illness. Both of my parents barely survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. The disease roared through the Big Sugar Creek valley, killing many and grievously sickening most. In the last week of World War II, my Mom’s oldest brother, Clancy died somewhere in Flanders. The news of his death and the rampant spread of the flu was almost more than my Grandmother Bunch could bear. She managed to stay on her feet to do chores for their farm and of their neighbors. Mom later said that helping others is what saved her sanity.
I grew up in an era where vaccines were being developed. My father was County Superintendent of Schools and was so concerned about public health that he helped recruit and shared an office with the first county health nurse. Consequently, as any vaccine was available, I had to get the shot. Most memorable was the smallpox and my annual typhoid injection. I hated those as my arm swelled and ached, but there were still typhoid carriers in the community, and I had to be protected.
I had all the common childhood diseases – chicken pox, German measles, whooping cough, measles and most seriously – polio. I have also lived through several flu epidemics. In 1968 my boss went to Hong Kong to visit her husband who had chosen to go there for a sabbatical. She returned in August and brought the flu with her. I got sick and missed a month of work. I had to return because I was out of sick leave, but it was a struggle. Later, I got the Swine flu and in an unnamed epidemic in 1998 my husband and I were so sick we couldn’t move off our respective couches. We were lucky that my brother, a M.D. prescribed Tamiflu and my sister delivered it to our porch. Our next-door neighbor waited too long and passed away. We had skipped the flu vaccine that year. A mistake we never made again.
McDonald County history has always fascinated me, so I once spent an afternoon at the McDonald County Library reading obituaries. I lost count of the number of deaths in 1918. It was horrific.
As of today, there are 17 cases of Covid-19 in McDonald County. I suspect it will explode into a major epidemic soon as there is a chicken processing plant and an egg hatchery located there. So far, the owners have refused to have the workers tested. The county has no hospital and limited health care, so if there is an outbreak there will be dire consequences.
As this is being written, in twenty-four states the Covid-19 virus is out of control. I am sad that I am not able to visit cemeteries and pay my respects. Next year there will be many more to remember and keep in our hearts.
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