Mom wasn’t an anti-vaxxer, she was distracted. I had received my smallpox vaccine at school in Texas. I remember lining up in a huge lunchroom, but after that we moved back to the small rural town in Alabama where she and a few more generations of my family had grown up. I really don’t know what happened, but the ball was dropped somewhere and the rest of my vaccines didn’t happen at school, or the health department or my doctor’s office. My vaccine card was also missing Polio, maybe something else as well, but Measles and Polio are the ones I remember. I test positive for antibodies of all the childhood diseases that doctors over the years have ever had a reason to check, including ones I don’t recall having.
I was in the 5th grade when it happened. I noticed the rash in the bath at home. I don’t remember how quickly the shift from “not that sick” to “nearly dying” happened or how long I was sick. I remember lying on the sofa in front of TV (no remote, black and white) drifting in and out while Mom was at work. I lost 40 lbs. I remember Mom telling me if I didn’t eat they’d take me to the hospital and stick a needle in my arm. For a long time I remembered the weird hallucinations I had, and the delirious nonsensical conversation I was told about later, but those are lost to me now. I remember my hair falling out like a cancer patient, but only about half of it. Some of it never came back. I wore my hair in braids and they were never as thick again. No one else in my class got it. I ate a lot after I got well and became chubby for a few couple of years afterward.
I remember Mom telling me I had a really close call, but just how high my temperature got was a little fuzzy. The mercury was up in that tip of the old glass stick thermometer where the numbers end and just a little bit of tube allows the liquid to continue to expand into the twilight zone of guessed the temperatures. As an adult I wondered if there is a way to figure out how high it got. I looked up the symptoms and things that happened to me to see if they happened at a specific body temperature. It was disquieting. The phrase “denatured proteins” was in what I saw and it wasn’t very far from the temperature range I’d been led to believe my body and brain might have reached. The article likened denatured proteins to scrambled eggs for those who weren’t familiar with the term. In fact, the only reason I’m sure my temperature didn’t get all the way to that level is because I’m alive.
Shortly before I had my first child, I read an article about an unvaccinated farmer who contracted Polio when his daughter was vaccinated. When I took my son in to the pediatrician to get his Polio vaccination, I asked the Dr to vaccinate me as well. I told him about the article and about getting the measles after missing that vaccine. He laughed and gave us both the drops. I didn’t mind the laugh. I wasn’t going to get Polio from taking care of my child and that’s all that mattered to me. They don’t give Polio drops in the US anymore. This article from the CDC explains that the liquid drops vaccine can lead to what happened to the farmer and that’s why those drops are no longer allowed in the US.
Catching the measles isn’t quite straightforward. There are some after effects. I wonder sometimes what new research could mean diagnostically to my health in the future, so I try to keep up with it, but I don’t dwell on it. From time to time, when someone teases me about being distractible or forgetful, I wonder if I did experience some brain damage. I don’t really remember if people started teasing me about my distractibility before that illness, and no one else does either. In some respects it doesn’t matter. This is the one life I have and it’s had some pretty awesome moments that I’m grateful for.
I do tell the story fairly often though. Measles is dangerous and the effects can compound. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to others. I hope that sharing my story will help people to avoid it.