I bring you Mr GingaJoy, PhD:
Late in November of 2002, according The New York Times journalist Donald G. McNeil, Jr’s article “When Parents Say No to Vaccinations (30 Nov. 2002), Vashon Island, a small, somewhat prosperous enclave across from West Seattle via a 20-minute ferry ride, experienced an outbreak of the measles. Not really a big deal overall, but the scenario is increasingly less rare these days, not because measles is becoming immune to the common vaccine, but because, like the residents of Vashon Island, many parents and guardians are becoming, in the common idiom, “philosophically exempt” from normal vaccination requirements: “exemptions that in Washington and several other states, including California and Colorado, can be claimed simply by signing a school form” (McNeil, 2002).
Vashon Island is, as I said above, no longer atypical; I have repeatedly heard on news reports and in articles in various newspapers and magazines, concerns over health problems that many parents directly attribute to vaccinations: mercury in the vaccine, a terrifying correspondence between the rise in vaccinations and the increase in autism, and horrifying side effects that often include illnesses worse than the disease treated by the vaccine. Although I firmly believe any of the pharmaceuticals available should safer and better, what the well-intentioned parents and guardians fail to realize, largely because most of them did not live prior to the vaccinations we take for granted, particularly those that give us the upper hand against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and chicken pox, is that what may seem just minor illnesses remain potent dangers and are still possibly deadly.
Rubella, or German measles, according to Paul A. Offit’s Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases, may only cause a minor red rash on the person who develops the disease, but if a pregnant woman contracts it, her baby, more often than not, can be born blind, mentally retarded, or dead as a result. Mumps, which most people think of today as an amusing disease where the sufferer’s face simply swells up, is also very dangerous: “In the 1960s, mumps virus infected a million people in the United States every year. Typically the virus attacked the glands just in front of the ears, causing the children to look like chipmunks. But sometimes the virus also infected the lining of the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis, seizures, paralysis, and deafness. The virus didn’t stop there. It also infected men’s testes, causing sterility, and pregnant women, causing birth defects and fetal death. And it attacked the pancreas, causing diabetes” (Offit 22). In under a decade, the vaccine worked well enough that we could laugh at Bobby Brady’s silly worries that he may get the mumps because he kissed a girl who was infected; it is amazing that a serious childhood disease could be the subject for comedy!
Offit’s book, therefore, comes at a very important time and stands, not just as an important biography of Maurice Hilleman, the man who nearly single-handedly worked to create most of the vaccines for the diseases listed above, but as a testament to our need to keep our children vaccinated. The book itself is a tour de force through Hilleman’s life and genius at being able to make exactly what was needed, and often to begin to make them before an epidemic erupted. For example, it was Hilleman who recognized that the flu virus recycled itself, so to speak, and that influenza pandemics seemed to come every sixty-eight years, realizing that “This is the length of the contemporary life-span ... [which suggests] that there may need to be a sufficient subsidence of host immunity before a past virus can regain access and become established as a new human influenza virus in the population” (Offit 19). Because of his actions at developing a flu vaccine against the virus that caused the 1889 pandemic (the H2 virus), thousands of Americans lives were spared in 1957 when it returned, whereas four million people, who did not have the proper vaccine, died elsewhere of the same virus. This same strain is set to attack us again in 2025 and Hilleman said, tongue in cheek, that his prediction for its arrival is more reliable than “the writings of Nostradamus or the Farmer’s Almanac (19); sadly, Hilleman died in early 2005.
Although the book is, in my opinion, a direct, unapologetic, and authoritative response to those who are problematically denying their children and wards the chances most of us take for granted, namely a life without worry over diseases that rampaged through prior generations, it does get quite heavy-handed in many places, and its tone too easily becomes a somewhat irritating homage to Hilleman. Offit’s sentences read more like the sentiments from Leonardo/Total Television’s 1963 cartoon The World of Commander McBragg, whose theme song claimed “With a canon in hand, he can beat any man. He can do anything ...” In that sense, the book is quite off-putting – I welcome a biography of a gifted scientist, researcher, and humanitarian, but I am skeptical of any narrative that offers a story that is so unabashedly glowing in every angle its reporting. Few obstacles, it seems, stood their ground before Hilleman.
In one case, Hilleman needed specially bred chickens to help him develop his measles vaccine (all vaccines are grown in animal or human organs, but most are initially developed in eggs). He went to Kimber Farms in Fremont, California, to ask the owner, W.F. Lamoreaux, if he could buy all of his leukemia-free chickens; he asked Lamoreaux several times for the chickens, suggesting that Lamoreaux could directly and positively affect future children’s lives, and to each request Lamoreaux refused. As Hilleman was leaving, “he stopped, turned around, and tried one more time. Recognizing a familiar accent, he asked Lamoreaux where he was from. ‘Helena’ said Lamoreaux. ‘Miles City’ replied Hilleman, extending his hand. ‘Take them all’ said Lamoreaux, smiling broadly. ‘One buck apiece.’ The first measles vaccine required a virologist and a chicken breeder. If both hadn’t been born and raised in Montana, the road to a lifesaving vaccine might have been much longer” (Offit 55). Scenes like this are often quite satisfying in movies, but in a biography, particularly a biography of a gifted scientist written by the head of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, they come across as ostensibly amateurish and unbelievable.
Another example that is actually quite disturbing shows that not even Hilleman’s use of retarded children as lab rats gets more than a sentence of critical scrutiny. I must admit, I was surprised that when working on vaccines, many scientists went to asylums where retarded children were cared for to see how their drugs worked prior to giving it to other members of the human population. The unethical practice is immediately explained as just yet another humanitarian move on the part of Hilleman – many of the children in these institutions were abused, there was rampant over-crowding, which directly helped to spread the various diseases; therefore, Hilleman presented what he had done through in the most uncompromising terms: “My vaccine gave all of these children the chance to avoid the harm of that disease. Why should retarded children be denied that chance” (Offit 25)? Seemingly to counter the ethical problem presented, Offit does explain that Hilleman and others also used their own children to test the vaccines, which is my opinion makes the research even more problematic, despite the benefits that I and all others who have received as a result of their invention.
Rather than always attempting to show how Hilleman had only the greatest intentions in every act he did, it would seem more appropriate to explain that he was a man of his time: brilliant but often myopic and clouded as a result of his own perspective, when it came to his scientific desires and his past exploits. These oversights are explained somewhat via the prologue where Offit tells that prior to Hilleman’s death, he had a chance to sit down and speak with the gifted virologist and the book is a result of those conversations. I must admit, after reflecting on that statement, it is indeed clear that Vaccinated, in many places, reads more like a companion to an oral history transcript than an objective biography. A few more revisions could solve this problem.
Nonetheless, it is a good read. The historical and medical value of Vaccinated is without question – yes, any drug has side-effects, but the possibility of abandoning vaccines altogether is, as we see in the details of what life was like for many without them, terrifying and dangerous to everyone (it is interesting to note that when some parents and guardians stop vaccinating their children, we all become more susceptible to viruses again – it is called a reduction in the “herd immunity” which is actually strengthened when a majority of the population is resistant – they act as a barrier, stopping the disease from attacking even the most vulnerable). Hilleman’s contributions to medicine are obviously unquestionable, and it is a necessary biography of someone who did so much to help maintain the general health, in the same way that we, as educated individuals, must know the names of Jonas Salk, Edward Jenner, and Louis Pasteur; however, the text’s true worthiness is its response to the many people’s problematic denials of vaccines’ usefulness and their necessity in keeping everyone healthy – that above all else is what I see as Offit’s crowning achievement in writing this book.
Meanwhile activity has been occurring here and here.
Sorry to be so absent--was "Oop North" in Michigan where it has been unrelentingly hot this last week. Cure for this heat: Lake, Pontoon Boat, Friends, and endless supply of Beer Keg. Oh, and no internets. Weeee!
And then there's the mental absence. Despite all this tranquility (although life knows no tranquility with a 4 yr old and a baby, least of all by a Lake) my head is in a rather chaotic space right now. I can't go into particulars, but suffice it to say it has something to do with this, and how the "Long Term Plan" has turned into potentially "Huge Life Changing Decision Within a Couple of Weeks." Holy crap. Extremely exciting, and just a touch nervewracking. Sorry to be opaque. Once I can write more on this I will, and hopefully it will be good news. (EVERYBODY SEND ME GOOD NEWS VIBES NOW, PLEASE)
I'll be back with more of my self-deprecating witty banter ASAP. Though if you have a meme you need to tag someone for, especially if it's an asinine one, I'm available.
This list included:
--Color hair (and yes, I am a natural redhead, but the grays--they are impinging...)
--Add "illuminating highlights" to hair.
--Clean downstairs bathroom
--Go to gym
--Stop by at work to pick up some items I want to work on over the weekend
--Pack for weekend trip to in-laws
--Buy cute summer outfit for baby for weekend trip to in-laws
--Take a nap
So far the list looks like this:
--Add "illuminating highlights" to hair.
--Clean downstairs bathroom (closest I have come is to peer closely at the sink and toilet and think "I need to get the bleach out on that one...")
--Go to gym (By this, I obviously meant: Go to refrigerator and eat 3 cheesesticks and a slice of cheesecake. Stop a moment and think "I need roughage" and have an apple. For health).
--Stop by at work to pick up some items I want to work on over the weekend (or: blog incessantly)
--Pack for weekend trip to in-laws (stalk various British expat and job sites and dream of England)
--Weed garden (blog incessantly)
--Buy cute summer outfit for baby for weekend trip to in-laws (get dressed)
--Take a nap (I think I can do that. But first I need to blog incessantly. Then a shower's not a bad idea either...)
My crowning achievement? I am now an official L'Oreal Couleeeeeeuuuur Experte. For I have used the Expert Multitonal Color System on my now "Beautiful, Rich shade of Ginger Twist, with Golden Copper Brown Illuminating Highlights" hair. And I will say just this about the "illuminating highlights"--No it is not as easy as putting on mascara. Unless you're Tammy freakin' Fay, that is...
So far this day is a resounding success. I have pretty much done nothing. O rare and beauteous thing. If the kids were not going to be needing a ride home in an hour or two, I'd be getting buzzed just about now. But you can't have everything. There is more cheesecake in the fridge, after all.
A decade plus with me, and he is a changed man. He's all about the holidays and takes our son swimming most weekends (though he still does not much like to get his nipplies wet in the icy climes of Lake Michigan or the English Channel).
Since we bought our first home four years ago, my husband is Home Improvement nuts. He skulks the aisles of Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards carefully comparing prices and customer service (Results: Menards= Cheap and Shit Service; Home Depot = A little more expensive and nice, knowledgeable service....). He comes back home, proudly declaring that he "managed to get that wax ring I've been wanting," or "there's a Dremel on sale with a Flex Craft attachment..."
(Did you know, it's physically impossible for a man to make one run to Home Depot in a day? Universe says that if there is one run to the Depot, then at least 3-5 subsequent runs must be undertaken, which we do not complain about at all if he also takes the manic 4 yr old...)
In the last four years, the man has:
1. Ripped out our upstairs bathroom sink, toilet, and (gulp) wall, and completely reinstalled new ones.
2. Refinished our basement study. i.e. ripped down nasty-assed walls and shit, and rebuilt them with wood and dry wall and plaster and nails stuff. He used a nail stapler thingy and everything.
3. Completely removed each and everyone of our rickety, 1926 windows, stripped, sanded, painted, and restrung the things.
4. Stripped and refinished wooden floors
5. Painted six of our rooms (I did choose the paint color)
6. Built a garden fence, from scratch (none of that pussy-assed premade fencing for this boy)
7. Painted our garage (I did choose the paint color)
8. Stripped and refinished various pieces of furniture so they look effing fabulous
9. Built, from scratch, two Arts and Crafts Style bedside tables, and stained them ebony. (his color choice, and actually very marvelous despite my initial
10. And now. Now. He's gone and built this: Again. FROM SCRATCH. From big bits of lumber he had to cut down to size. The spindles you see here? There are something like 150 of them, and they very nearly did him in, and destroyed our marriage in the process.
This masterpiece (now also stained ebony) is going into our boudoir, which is at this very moment being painted by...him. As I sit here in my office, I like to think of him silently cursing me for choosing a two tone paint palette (slate gray and duck egg blue) and thereby creating an edging nightmare...
I have been informed that if we move to England, this "%$U*%" bedframe is getting &%&$#*$ shipped....
Cons (i.e. reasons to stay put...)
1. Our Home. Not our house, but our home. I do not have any family in this country, and my husband's is also remote. But somehow we have managed to find ourselves with a (if I do say so myself) gorgeous older home in an honest-to-god Community. Our neighbors have become our dear friends. In fact, we call it the "Enablerhood"--we skit across to one another's houses, kids in tow, Flyer wagons loaded with bottles of booze and delicious snack-food items, and then wax lyrical (after a few tipples) over how lucky we are to live in the 'hood and to have found this commuuuuunity. (Yes. I am commuuuuunity obsessed, even in real life). When I was preggo with Baby Boy, we did not have to think twice about enlisting the help of neighbors to jump into action when we hotfooted it to the hospital, and our 4 yr old did not bat an eye over "sleeping over" next door while mummy had the baby.
Our home. i.e our friends. It would be very hard to leave this part of our lives behind. (though they would have a great vacation destination, no?)
2. And also our house. Our things. Though life is much more than material things we collect around us, it's pretty hard to just cut loose from it all. I LOVE MY THINGS!!!! Our house is an old colonial, and by British standards it is large and airy. It's got green siding and cherry red shutters and shiny red front door. (sniff...) It has several bathrooms and a big fat ass refrigerator, and is just easy to live in... Could I ever, ever go back to not having a downstairs loo??? It is also filled with things like furniture, and pictures, and bedding and curtains. There would be a day when we'd put price stickers on it all, and open our home to strangers and let them cart it away for the right (or wrong) price. GULP. And the minivan. The mini-vaaaaaaan!!!!!
3. Income. Income is good. We have one. We have jobs, and they pay the bills. We live comfortably, and we both quite like our jobs. And the cost of living here is so, so much cheaper than the UK, where the housing market is through the fucking roof. Income in Britain, so far, is a very uncertain thing. Though ideally one of us would get a job before we made the move, realistically it's very hard to compete for a position when you are across the Atlantic. A move over there would likely take an enormous leap of faith. It's a frightening prospect, especially with two children. I am sure we can make it happen, we do have skillz after all (as long as we're not looking for academic teaching jobs, which are pretty much out of the question--but there are other interesting options).
4. America The Beautiful... Say what you want about this country, but it's a pretty amazing place, and it's been good to me. It's a cliche, but American is just friendly, and you only have to be back in the UK for two minutes, growled at by a surly shop assistant and you're off dreaming of the days when you were being stalked around Macy's by someone with a "canIhelpyou??" grin plastered on her face. I would miss "Have a nice day" because though it is a nicety, in my experience people actually mean it. I would miss not being asked by the supermarket cashier "how are you?" and saying in return "I'm fine. How are you?" I would miss my OB-GYN office and its soft furnishings and roaring (gas) fire welcoming me in the waiting room. I would miss humane dentists.
Ah. yes. I am not even gone, and I am idealizing already... I'm going to have to watch that.
So. The pros (i.e. why we should do it):
1. My family. Now with two children, yearly visits from/to the grandparents just seem woefully inadequate. Now, with two children, I know how awful it must have been for my mother and father to pack me off on that plane (gulp) fifteen years ago, 21 and clueless. I was meant to be here for two years, and since then all the big life announcements (I'm engaged! I'm pregnant!) have all taken over long distance phone calls, as have the moments where my father has undergone triple bypass surgery, or when I am told that one of my grandparents has passed away... and "people will understand if you can't make it to the funeral..."
Last week at school, my 4yr old had to answer "Does your Mommy have any brothers or sisters?" And there on that sheet of paper was his answer: No.
I have a brother. Did you know that? Yes. One baby brother. And he and his partner had a baby two months ago, a baby I have never seen except through digital photos, and who I am not likely to see until at least Christmas. Of course, Jack does know about "Uncle Jonathan" but he's not seen him in 18 months, and so he...forgets.
2. It's Time to Move On. Despite loving our house and our neighborhood, we have lived in this area for as long as I have been in this country. If you had told me at 21 that I would be settled here with a spouse, a mortgage, two children, a lab, and a minivan, I'd have laughed in your face. And then I would have become very, very afraid. And then I would have become hysterical.
We've made a great life for ourselves here, here in Lansing, Michigan. This is home, and we love much about it.
Do we want to be here in five years? In ten years? I am not so sure.
And I come up with the same answer when I look at my job. Again, I love my work, and enjoy the people I work with, but in many ways I have gone as far as a non-tenure tracked academic can go in a position like mine. I attended Grad school here, and in many ways, until we make the change I will feel like the eternal faker, and the Old Man often feels the same way.
3. Custard Creams and Cadbury's chocolate in plentiful supply... And Sarah, a sweet and funny blogging friend, a Kent girl just like me, sent me a care package containing those items this week. This, along with her stunning photographs of the countryside where I grew up make it very hard to not feel homesick...
Damn you woman!!!
(THANK you Sarah!)
Well. No doubt this little saga will rear it's head a few more times in the next few months. (months? years?) But right now my head is filled devising a master plan for our return in the next year to eighteen months. The paperwork alone is mindboggling, not least because ironically I find that if we do it, it would be a very good idea to become a citizen of the U.S.A. before we go, because if we ever change our minds, or the boys want to take up residency here as adults, it would be very difficult for me to come back. The Green Card would go "poof!" after 364 days. Yikes!
Fact is, if we are going to do it, it has to be soonish, before my boys get older and then hate me forever for depriving them of basketball and "football" and baseball and, and....make them speak in poncey English accents, or worst still, make them objects of derision because they say "budder" and "blahg"
Oy. The handwringing.
On the other hand, it is also exciting.
Thanks for bearing with me, folks. I'll keep you up-to-date.
(and, God, even clicking on "Publish" is frightening--somehow commits this as something very real... Gaaaaah!)