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Silver Threads: Shot in the arm for seniors

 

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

If you’re better organized than I am, you’ve already gotten your 2014 flu shot, and discovered that this year’s hurts a little more than in the past.

Not enough to make you act like my children and grandsons did when the pediatrician or his nurse approached with syringes containing the many doses to which we subject the little folk. I remember one hilarious scene in a big room at the doctor’s office: Our kids took off when they saw it coming and raced around tables and chairs, trying to dodge the inevitable. The next generation in our family simply howled unceasingly as their mom drove to the torture chamber, the big one taunting the little one with scary descriptions of what to expect.

But back to the present: The Centers for Disease Control has developed a high-dose flu shot for people aged 65 or older, a step that shows their concern for the health of us elders, even if nobody much cares if we ever watch television (see last week's column).

My arm’s still sore and a little bit warm at the site of of the injection, 24 hours later, but I thank you CDC, for this added protection. When you’re my age and remember the days  when medicine couldn’t do much about what Shakespeare’s Hamlet described as “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” you appreciate it even more,

I was three in 1938 when hospitalized with pneumonia, for which there was no penicillin available. The antibiotic had been discovered in 1930 by a Scottish scientist, but the challenge of mass-producing this drug was daunting, reports a medical website. On March 14, 1942, the first patient was treated for streptococcal septicemia with U.S.-made penicillin produced by Merck & Co. Half of the total supply produced at the time was used on that one patient. By June 1942, just enough U.S. penicillin was available to treat 10 patients. In July 1943, the War Production Board drew up a plan for the mass distribution of penicillin stocks to Allied troops fighting in Europe.

Mother and Daddy must have wished for — but hardly foreseen — this “miracle drug.” I got well without it, but her grandmother hadn’t, dying in her 20s of pneumonia.They must have wished in the ‘40s for the yet to be developed Salk vaccine, which made children immune to the virus that caused polio, killer and crippler of the young. I didn’t get polio, but my cousin did and so did the little boy who lived across the street from her. We had a polio epidemic that summer in our tiny village of about 200.

Then, still in the ‘40s, an uncle of mine died of a sinus infection, and another had a fatal heart attack at age 47. He’d been to the doctor, complaining of chest pains, the week before; today, they’d have put a stent in and he’d have been with us probably for 30 more years.

Today, we take for granted more important things than cell phones, laptops and the like or sushi bars and curbside check-ins. Of course, Hamlet was talking about mental and emotional shocks so long ago, but there are taken-for-granted things they can do about those, too. Perhaps he should have been on Prozac or something like it. But then we wouldn’t have his wonderful soliloquy, would we?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune’s Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Send comments to her at[email protected].

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]