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military persons in front of vaccine area

Our turn for a first Covid vaccine was yesterday, three days after we became eligible to register for the shot in New Hampshire as members of category 2B (the 50 – 64-year-old crowd). Pretty speedy turn-around we think.

In our corner of the world the vaccinating is taking place at the Keene State College Athletic Complex and being administered by Monadnock Public Health officials and chaperoned by the National Guard. Yesterday, it was running like clockwork despite the presence of a few glitches with a new system in use on everyone’s Apple iPads, of which there were enough for every volunteer, National Guardsman and Healthcare Worker combing the parking lots. “The last system also had plenty of glitches,” noted a volunteer who had arrived at my car window, plugging away on her iPad. “But those were old glitches. These are new glitches. It’s all good though,” she exclaimed, smiling all the time!

(Everyone was cheerful and smiling at the vaccination site. That is what I will remember.)

“Are you ready?” she beamed, which made me think of closing my eyes and tapping my heels together three times.

Then, jab.

“Car flashers on please. Lean on the horn if you feel faint or are struggling. Wait 15 minutes and drive home safely.”

Lastly, “Congratulations, George!” (My first name is George, but I am only ever referred to as George by the government.)

When she was 43 years-old, my grandmother contracted polio, often referred to as Infantile Paralysis because it mostly attacked children. We suspect she was passed the disease by someone in the acting troupe she was part of that summer, during which time the women were sharing lipstick around the dressing room.

I have heard the story of that fateful day many times, of how my mother stood at the door to my grandmother’s room and was told by her don’t come in. Next the stretcher down the stairs into the back of a waiting ambulance and my grandfather, pacing in the front hallway, running the math in his head. Now what?

You may be interested by these facts about polio from the MedLife website:

About 25% infected people suffer from minor symptoms like sore throat and/or fever, coupled with pain in the arms and legs (akin to the symptoms of a severe viral fever), stiffness in the neck, and headaches. People who suffer from minor symptoms make a complete recovery in a couple of weeks. The most interesting bit of polio infection is that nearly 70% of those infected remain asymptomatic.

This is the clever thing with viruses it seems: stealth weaponry. My grandmother did not fall within the asymptomatic 70%, however, and would spend six months in an iron lung on the adult polio ward where she was likely the oldest patient, receiving Last Rites at some point along the way. She emerged at the end as an invalid, but gallant and full of life – a columnist afterwards for the Buffalo Courier-Express, among other things – and we all enjoyed happy times with her over the many years that followed.

(As a boy, when my grandmother visited, I would prepare two boiled eggs and toast for her breakfast, assisted by my mother, of course, and carry them to her on a tray. Her enthusiasm for those eggs and toast led to my love of cooking. Now we are innkeepers. Now you know.)

Anyway, you will understand my connection to vaccine. When the polio vaccine came out my mother and aunt and uncles were among the first to receive the shot – among the first, I tell you, after 6000 years of polio’s recorded torment. Dr. Jonas Salk was a hero in our family. Sitting in the car this morning waiting as the teams moved down the line of vehicles, I thought back to standing in the hallway outside my first or second grade classroom at the Colytown school in Westport, Connecticut. waiting as the nurses, likewise, moved down the line of children dispensing sugar cubes laced with the polio vaccine. I remember the cube. I remember it’s color (slightly pink). I remember it going into my mouth. I knew it was important – important to my mother.

Marcia and I took two cars to the vaccination site yesterday needing to divide and conquer afterwards. She was ahead of me in line and first to pull away, stopping to check on how I was feeling, which was fine, as she was also, filled with the anticipation and excitement of hugging grandchildren…hugging everyone! Beaming! All good. She drove on and I took-up my mobile telephone to text my mother.

One shot down, I wrote her.

GREAT!!! came the reply.

gamper, my grandmother in 1954

(Gamper, my grandmother, in 1954 at age 44, one year after polio)

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