July 21st…“DURING YOUR YOUNG DAYS IN MINNESOTA, DID YOUR LOCAL DOCTOR GIVE YOU VACCINATIONS TO PROTECT YOU FROM DISEASE?”
There he stood, in all his doctorial glory; our hometown’s vanguard against disease, sickness and injury. Doctor C. D. Snyder (along with his counterpart, Dr. Lewis Hanson in Frost, Minnesota) served our farming communities for many years in various medical capacities. Their talents ranged from sewing up farm-related injuries, to the event that was about to occur on this special day at the entrance foyer of our public school system there in Kiester, Minnesota.
Even though our region was a thriving family farm culture, in those days, our school’s enrollment was not as gigantic as you’d see in a big city environment. Therefore, an immunization day was set aside at our school to vaccinate the entire educational populace in one fell swoop. As I recall, student “runners” would announce times for various grade levels to queue up for a needled syringe injection. As a tiny guy, I was in a quandary as to what the title “doctor” even meant. In my limited experiences, a doctor only stuck needles in your arm (as would happen on that day), but later in life, I found that the etymology of this word actually denotes one who is the ultimate teacher, adviser and scholar on any topic…….such as medicine, law or even theology. In this case, our Dr. Snyder was “teaching” us all how to stay away from disease with these prickly inoculations.
Now to adults, what was about to transpire was a necessary and wonderfully-intentioned ritual to rid our society of diseases that crippled and even killed uncountable thousands in times past. To us little tiny ones, though, who took life very literally, and couldn’t see past the nose on our face, we saw this upcoming ordeal to be fraught with fear, anxiety and a distinct “OUCH!!!” in the arm (or elsewhere).
Not only did we kids not look forward to this necessary part of living healthy, we also had to deal with the drama of the anxiety in knowing, in advance, that this painful day was coming. That way, we could fret about the whole issue for a week or more and blow this minuscule moment clear out of proportion in our little child minds. To add to this prolonged process of perceived painful poking, there was the fact that our beloved school building was fully enclosed, in our winter-prone Midwest town, and was constructed with very long hallways. So, there we were, a hundred and more scared little whippersnappers in a “mile long” line that went way past the high school gymnasium and down the ramp towards the old school gymnasium.
In jest, a temporary title for our dear town doctor that day could’ve been, “Doctor Sticker Quicker” as he waited to jab us in the arms at least once 😉 For those of us “stickees” waiting in line that day, there was a morbid sense of humor as we’d watch our schoolmate predecessors returning back down the hall (to our classroom) from getting their shots. Most of the boys tried to “man up” to the occasion and would just walk past us with a look that said, “Yah, it hurt, but I ain’t gonna let YOU see me show it”! Other fellow students were outright bawling as they came back down the hallway past us. We who remained, were trepidatiously waiting for our own painful prick of the doctor’s needle. What really grabbed our attention, were times when a boy or girl would actually faint from the stress of the injection. With two teachers, supporting each arm of the “faintee”, as they were escorting them back to class……..that REALLY got our attention!
In all seriousness, though, I was thankful for parents who knew of the terrible suffering that could occur if we little ones caught such a dread disease such as Small Pox. Such a love brought my mother, Clarice, and I to Dr. Snyder’s office one day for a Small Pox Inoculation (also known as a Variolation).
Dr. Snyder brought out a small fork-like instrument called a Bifurcated Needle. A drop of Small Pox vaccine was suspended between the fork of this device. The doctor took hold of my upper left arm and began to scratch the skin surface in a circular motion as he broke through and into my arm’s flesh. With the bifurcated needle entering the wound, so also did the Small Pox serum (or vaccine). That rather painful procedure would now make my body immune (protected) against that scary disease. Yes, to be honest, the penetration of that device into my arm that day hurt……A LOT!!! In a couple of weeks, my mother brought me back to Dr. Snyder to have my “variolation” checked.
The good doctor said my arm was reacting normally to the vaccine and that all was well. Now, it was just a matter of waiting for another two weeks, or so, for the scab to heal fully, dry, and then fall off. From that day, till now, I have a scar on my upper left arm where I received the “protection” to guard me from ever catching that dreaded disease of Small Pox. Such were some of the medical adventures of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.