Our Grandparents and Medical Issues in the Village:
What did our grandparents face when they came to the United States as far as medical challenges to their health and that of their children? Their courage necessitates looking at the serious medical threats that faced them.
This is the first of a series on Village Health History. Because of my own medical career ( extensive nursing education, clinical experience and hospital administration, I also designed and taught a course on Epidemiology on the college level), this research comes second nature to me. It also helps us to better understand our own times and those that established our families here in America.
All four of my grandparents came here in the early and early1900's. World War I started in 1914 and as a result of crowded conditions for soldiers around the world, in 1918 as it was ending, a world wide influenza epidemic took place. In the U.S. alone approximately 675,000 people died, world wide that number rose to the millions. That epidemic still haunts the world and is the reason health officials are so afraid when any type of contagious disease crops up on the global stage.
Stories of that epidemic affecting the Village or my family have not been handed down. Hopefully, readers will help in this regard. I am aware, however, of industrial caused diseases affecting my maternal grandparents. Poor ventilation at Glenwood Range in the early 1900's, for example, caused black lung disease in my grandfather which led to terminal tuberculosis of the kidney and passed on to his infant son with tubercular meningitis. The Glenwood Range story is well documented in health history in Massachusetts. I am aware of at least one other husband and father in the Village also affected with black lung disease. Massachusetts established an Occupational Health Board as a result of that situation, the first in the country. Part of my genealogical research was getting in touch with a researcher at Tufts School of Public Health who was doing her dissertation on that very company and the effects of problems there. I discussed some of this earlier in this blog.
Genealogy takes us often to unexpected places.
The 50's ushered in a era of medical "miracles", especially in the care of the victims of polio. A dreaded disease since about the time of the 1919 Influenza epidemic, we 40's babies recall the fund raising container that was passed during movie intermissions. Also, the song, You'll Never Walk Alone will forever be the soundtrack for a child painfully walking with braces on the movie screen. We have come a long way since those terrible days of fear for our children, and today there is a final push to eradicate polio in the entire world. There has not been a case of polio in the U.S. since 1979.
As a young nursing student in the late 50's at St. Anne's I walked through a corridor in that hospital that still held an iron lung which had once been put to good use. Two of the physicians at that hospital were directly affected as both of their pregnant wives came down with polio and where ever after debilitated.
Dr. Jonas Salk finally discovered a vaccine for polio in the 50's.
It is interesting to note that Dr. Salk never saw a penny of the financial reward for his efforts.
Next: quarantines in the Village.