all of the selves we Have ever been
The pandemic has shaken the world
and dismantled our standard operating procedures.
How will we safely re-open businesses? How will we get children back to school? How can we get people to wear masks? The experts weigh in and the politicians counter every recommendation. If the coronavirus doesn’t get us first, we will either worry ourselves to death or die from stupidity.
When I was a child, in the nascent vaccine epoch, parents were more pragmatic. We lived through many childhood illness outbreaks. The standard, recurring diseases were rubella, measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Tonsillitis was common too. Thankfully, there were vaccines for small pox and polio and no reported cases of leprosy.
Urgent care did not exist, and I never heard of an emergency room. When I fell on the playground and tore open the flesh on my knee, the school principal marched me over to the doctor’s office across the street, and Doc stitched up my leg. My parents got a phone call. When my brother got hit square in the eye by a speeding fastball, dad drove him home in the back of our Ford station wagon. Mom called the doctor, and the doctor made a house call later that evening. There were no x-rays involved, just a small flashlight and the doctor’s attentive eyes and clean hands. My brother recovered, and the pitcher went on to the minor leagues.
One time I slid down the entire staircase from our second floor to the first, coming down so fast and hard that both of my legs went through the plaster wall at the bottom. I passed out. My parents heard the crash and came running. My father got me up and helped my woozy self to the couch. I could walk and talk. No doctor visit required. Never again did I attempt to climb the polished wooden stairs in slippery socks. The wall was patched and covered with a wall paper only slightly more attractive than the gaping hole.
Back then, mothers, not ER doctors and pediatricians, were the arbiters of illness. They held the secret powers that determined if a child was truly ill and what, if any, medical care was needed. A mom could tell by looking at her child if the kid was sick or faking it. Maternal intuitive powers came from looking into her child’s eyes and checking the calendar and the homework. If a test or a particularly unpleasant unit in gym class was scheduled that day, a child could do her best acting, but she was unlikely to get past the MRI--mother receiving information.
Unless you were in a full blown grand mal seizure, a fever was the hallmark sign of illness. It was a child’s only hope of being taken seriously and staying home from school. A seizure would pass and wasn’t contagious. You might find yourself getting to school a little late.
In this age of coronavirus, we have new-fangled, high-tech, instant, non-contact, digital, infrared thermometers. That’s a lot of power to hold in your hands! When I was a child, moms didn’t need thermometers. A mother would tenderly place her palm or cheek across her child’s forehead, feeling the heat, Mom would determine the presence of fever…or not. If Mom had any doubt or wanted to validate her findings to provide the school principal with actual data, the mercury thermometer came out of hiding. Mom would shake, shake, shake the thermometer and then slip it under my tongue. I had to sit with my lips tightly sealed for at least a minute. People are too impatient for such devices now, and that is far too long to keep your mouth shut in 2020.
Minor injuries were taken in stride. A sprained ankle meant time on the couch with a leg elevated and a homemade ice pack attached to the injury with an old, soft bath towel. There was usually a used crutch somewhere in the basement that could be called up for duty if hanging onto the furniture was insufficient for mobility. Today, a teen would go into the emergency room and come out with a handful of opioids.
Other home remedies were applied in this era before big pharma. Despite my mother’s oft-stated social commentary, “That gives me a pain where a pill can’t reach,” there weren’t that many pills from which to choose. Chief among the maternal prescriptions was rest on a comfy couch. Other interventions included baby aspirin, Vick’s Vapo-Rub, and cartoons. Weak tea and cinnamon toast delivered to the couch along with some soft kisses on the warm forehead rounded out the treatment plan. Occasionally, the interventions were unique to the disease. I can remember that my siblings and I wore diapers around our faces when we had the mumps. What was that about? Perhaps it was intended to be a badge of honor, the uniform of a stalwart soldier battling inner suffering. Even so, I’d rather wear a mask.
A few times during my youth a child did disappear from the classroom for an extended period of time. Occasional serious illnesses or surgeries that required hospitalization did occur. A kid could miss months of school as surgeries were more invasive and complicated, alternative treatments far fewer, medications more limited. Recovery times could be lengthy, stretching into months. Sometimes a fellow student did not return to school for the remainder of the year. There were no computers or high-tech devices connecting classroom to home. The youthful patient used an actual book to self-educate. No parent was going to spend an entire day every day “home-schooling,” but older siblings or parents were willing to be the go-betweens, exchanging assignments between home and school. If necessary, children repeated the year of school and everyone understood. It was a reasonable option in extreme circumstances.
With one foot in the past and one in the present, I would rather wear a mask on my face than that old cloth diaper around my head. And most definitely, I prefer either of those face coverings to a ventilator. Books and pencils along with thoughtful assignments, some self-discipline and a little monitoring can go a long way in the absence of technology. Women sent men to the moon with their good minds, a few books, and pieces of chalk. Nothing will be lost if a living, healthy child spends an extra year in school when the pandemic is over.
And if you wake up and want to know if you have a fever, call and ask your mom…if you are lucky enough to still have her.