I am on the front lines of the immunization debate as a primary care physician. Periodically I get questions about whether or not I will allow children in my practice who are not vaccinated or whose parents wish to make up their own vaccination schedule.
My response to them is this:
“You probably don’t want to discuss this with me.”
Invariably there is a shocked look. And then the question, “Why?”
First, let me say that I feel for parents struggling to do what is right by their children. Particularly when it comes to wading through conflicting data about vaccinations and autism and mercury and all manner of crap out there. They are not necessarily trained in evaluation of research. They do not necessarily know where to look for reputable sources. And let’s face it, medical professionals have a lot of mud on their faces as we waffle back and forth on salt, blood pressure control, fat in diets, etc and the pharmaceutical industry itself cannot be trusted.
But I will admit that I am not able to approach the topic free of bias.
Because my father had polio.
He missed the mass vaccinations in his community by two weeks. He spent almost a year of his life being experimented on in a hospital that would not allow his family to visit except for a few hours once a month. Imagine a second grader coming down with a terrifying illness, realizing that he will never walk properly again, undergoing multiple experimental and painful surgeries at the charity hospital because his family could not afford medical care elsewhere…all of this without getting to have his mother hold him or kiss him and tell him it would be OK.
But he was one of the lucky ones. Do a Google search for iron lung to get a picture of what it was like for others.
Imagine growing up with a man who was consumed by anger and hate and spite as a consequence, so much so that almost every day was a misery.
Was polio to blame?
Over the years I have watched my father tortured and suffering. I felt how it affected myself and my family. There were more victims of polio than the ones who actually had the disease.
My father is not the only one I know who had polio. There are others. Some bore the consequences of their disease with dignity. Some carried the burden, buoyed by anger. But these people are dying off and with them, their stories of the hysteria, the fear, the pain. And then we will all forget.
That is my side of the coin. What is yours?