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Archive for February 13th, 2016

Four score and a bit over a year, it has come to me that the Lord, yes, the same God who judges us all after we exit stage left, right, or into the orchestra pit, has a remarkable sense of humor. Man works like hell to solve problems, and it seems that just when he has the answer to one, the Good Lord smiles and tosses man another little problem to solve. Examples? How about the diseases that plagued London in the 18th Century? There was sewage in the streets and filth everywhere; smallpox was killing people by the thousands. Bye the 19th Century, however, man had semi-conquered smallpox with a new device and sera called vaccinations. No sooner was smallpox considered more of a minor irritant than cholera and typhoid appeared. It was rather like the God saying, “If you’re going to do nothing about sewage and cleanliness, I’m just gonna keep tossin’ these little diseases attcha until you wake up!” Of course, mankind did finally wake up, which is perhaps one of the reasons for the cliché, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but let us attempt to keep the clichés to a minimum.

In 1845, the Great Famine that killed over a million people in Ireland was another little gem tossed to the beings on the planet. It took 168 years to figure what the hell it was, but in 2013, scientists finally figured what the infestation was that caused crop failures worldwide, but that hit Ireland particularly hard. According to one source, Ireland has yet to recover its full population.

I really shouldn’t say the God is responsible for the famine and disease that has plagued the earth since the time Eve took the first bite of an apple. Man seems to have done a fairly good job of mucking up the gene pool on his own. The Native Americans were far healthier than the European settlers who landed in North America. According to Native American Netroots, “The diseases brought to this continent by the Europeans included bubonic plague, chicken pox, pneumonic plague, cholera, diphtheria, influenza, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. The diseases introduced in the Americas by the Europeans were crowd diseases: that is, individuals who have once contracted the disease and survived become immune to the disease. In a small population, the disease will become extinct. Measles, for instance, requires a population of about 300,000 to survive. If the population size drops below this threshold, the virus can cause illness and death, but after one epidemic, the virus itself dies out.” Nonetheless, our European forbearers did a pretty good job of infecting the Native Americans with disease. Other than stealing their land, this seems to be a pretty good reason for the Indians to be pissed at the settlers.

When I was a child (okay; no wisecracks; no, I did not know Adam and Eve…or their kids), my world was terrified of chickenpox and measles. It was believed that exposing us to a neighbor child who had one of the diseases would give us a lesser case or at the very least would give us immunity after the disease had run its course. Today, we know that the chickenpox virus remains in the system and can result in shingles in later life. It was just last year that my own doctor recommended a vaccination to prevent the virus from resulting in shingles. In addition, I don’t believe it’s any accident that one of my pox scars later turned into a basil cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that is rather easily cured.

Another frightening disease throughout my childhood was infantile paralysis or polio. It’s a disease that has been around probably has long as man has been here. In The History of Vaccines, it is noted that “Polio reached epidemic proportions in the early 1900s in countries with relatively high standards of living, at a time when other diseases such as diphtheria, typhoid, and tuberculosis were declining. Indeed, many scientists think that advances in hygiene paradoxically led to an increased incidence of polio. The theory is that in the past, infants were exposed to polio, mainly through contaminated water supplies, at a very young age. Infants’ immune systems, aided by maternal antibodies still circulating in their blood, could quickly defeat poliovirus and then develop lasting immunity to it. However, better sanitary conditions meant that exposure to polio was delayed until later in life, on average, when a child had lost maternal protection and was also more vulnerable to the most severe form of the disease.” The one thing that I know for certain is that a 16-year old named Jerry left work at the A&P in Rockland on a Saturday night in 1951 feeling great. On Tuesday Jerry was dead from polio. I still pray for his soul. He was a good kid, and I’m sorry I never got to know him better. Thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk and company, polio has nearly been eradicated, although 250,000 cases still appear annually in lesser developed countries.

Like polio, cancer has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Hippocrates, yep, the same guy for whom the oath was named, used the terms, “carcinos,” and “carcinoma” when describing some ulcer like sores that spread and killed. Today, we are still fighting the fight to find a cure for the disease. I do not know of one person I have ever met who has not, in some way, been affected by cancer. I lost my wife, my Dad, and two grandparents to the disease. You have either lost someone or know somebody who has lost a parent, child, or some other relative. Cancer is the most insidious disease I have ever known. Yes, Jerry died of polio and that was terrible. Worse is watching as your spouse, the mother of your children, waste away and stop breathing. Cancer will not be cured in my lifetime. Hopefully, it will be eradicated by the time my great grandchildren are born.

It’s easy to toss a lot of the disease and death in God’s lap. ”Man plans and God smiles.” No, that’s not really it. Perhaps the Good Lord did throw us a few speed bumps when things first got going, but we have certainly done a fine job of creating our own little killer bugs. I wonder what’s next on the agenda.

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