I’ve been thinking about immunity lately. Why is it that some of us never seem to “catch” a cold? While the rest of us succumb to the slightest bug going around. Why did I develop an anti-immune disease (Guttate Psoriasis) at 60 that normally shows up at 30? Maybe it’s just that since we returned from Mexico, illness has descended on my house like a plague. Today, Bob was diagnosed with pneumonia, about a week after I started feeling “normal” again. Ah, the wonders of antibiotics.
It’s well known in my family that the Flapper gave Bob the original hospital bill of my birth when we married. She stayed in the hospital for 11 days in 1948; remember I was baby number six, and the only one born in a hospital, so the doctor thought she needed a rest. My parents were charged a dollar a day for the nursery, $11 for my care and feeding. And at the bottom of the hospital bill was a section for penicillin charges. Antibiotics were so new, they had an important, separate spot on the bill!
WWII brought us not only the bomb, but the quick development of antibiotics. Eisenhower wanted enough penicillin to treat his soldiers after the Normandy invasion and so the original strain, discovered in England in 1929, had to be made and marketed on a mass scale in the United States after we entered the war.
On March 14,1942, the first patient was successfully treated for strephtococcal septicemia with U.S.-made penicillin. Half of the total supply produced at the time was used on that one patient. By June 1942 there was just enough available to treat ten patients.
Just 10 patients in 1942! According to
legend history a good strain was found on a moldy cantaloupe in Illinois and our Army doctors (along with Merck) managed to synthesize 300 billion units by D-Day 1944. Pretty amazing in just two years. Which is why our parents were so hypochondriacal. The Greatest Generation grew up without antibiotics, afraid of every cold and scratch their children suffered because in an instant, the grim reaper might appear at anyone’s door. My foster father Jim often talked about his sister who died when her older brothers were swinging her, holding her arms and legs, upstairs in the attic. Just fooling around, having fun. A splinter in her back became infected and that was that.
Which leads me to another kind of immunity, something called “psychological immunity.” In this Atlantic article http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/308555/ the author tries to explain why our 20-30 year old adult children are so unhappy, even though their parents did everything they could for them…and there’s the answer. We parents are doing too much, and not allowing our children to learn some pretty simple lessons – like picking yourself up, brushing yourself off and deciding that that wasn’t so bad and I can take care of myself alright. “Well intentioned parents have been metabolizing their child’s anxiety” for so long that once they are unleashed on the world, they don’t know how to handle its ups and downs.
It’s like the way our body’s immune system develops,” he explained. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle. I know parents who call up the school to complain if their kid doesn’t get to be in the school play or make the cut for the baseball team. I know of one kid who said that he didn’t like another kid in the carpool, so instead of having their child learn to tolerate the other kid, they offered to drive him to school themselves. By the time they’re teenagers, they have no experience with hardship. Civilization is about adapting to less-than-perfect situations, yet parents often have this instantaneous reaction to unpleasantness, which is ‘I can fix this.’
It’s hard not to try and fix everything. It looks like it will take more than chicken soup this time to get Bob back on his feet. Thank you General Eisenhower! And thanks to the universe for our last, hopefully, snowstorm.