I’ve been battling chronic pain for most of my adult life. A series of accidents, surgeries, and conditions has not been kind to this old body so it doesn’t always function without protest. I don’t talk about it a great deal because for the most part it is the “background” of my life, something I’m so accustomed to that it doesn’t interfere with my daily tasks. And thanks to modern medical practices and medication I sleep well, walk without much of a limp, and lead a fairly active life. Had I been born a few generations ago, the chances are great that I would be living my life in a wheel chair. Having spent one summer, years ago, in a wheelchair, I can tell you that I feel very blessed with my life as it is now.
And perhaps to balance my pain, God has granted me a very healthy immune system and I am seldom sick. I have had only a couple of viruses of any kind in the past ten years. I hardly ever use my sick leave for sickness, just for stitches and nosebleeds and such. I wonder sometimes if I am healthy now because I had nearly everything as a child- measles, mumps, chicken pox, flu, pneumonia. I also had migraines when I was younger and I remember our neighbor once going into “panic mode” because she thought I might have meningitis (symptoms are headache, stiff neck, and fever).
Anyway…that rambling preface is my attempt to explain my reaction to some of my genealogy research this week. I have been doing some reading in 1912, a year when Bryan County was plagued by meningitis. In 1911-12 Texas experienced an epidemic of over 2,000 cases of meningitis and the disease spread north to this area. These are just two of the obituaries from that time:
February 2, 1912
Ray Johnson, age 18, son of Jim Johnson, who lives near Kenefick, died of meningitis last Tuesday. They are well known to Caddo people.
Wiley Killian, of Kemp, one of Bryan County’s prominent citizens, died Tuesday morning after two weeks of suffering, another victim of the dread disease, meningitis. Mr. Killian was thought better a week ago, but took a relapse and human aid could not save him.
February 9, 1912
Meningitis in Caddo
Last Friday morning Dr. Gunby was up from Sherman and pronounced the illness of the little child of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett to be meningitis; immediately there was quite a furor in town, everyone nearly, became scared. Due sanitary precautions, however, were taken and no danger is apprehended of the spread of the disease. The child is getting along nicely, and will recover, it is thought.
No other cases have developed in Caddo. Every known means of disinfecting have been used. School was dismissed Friday afternoon, but resumed again Monday morning. The meeting at the church was not discontinued, but is running with increasing interest. The opera house also is filling every date. So, from these evidences one must judge that little danger is apprehended.
I read those obituaries with the assumption that modern medicine is much more effective now and the statement made about Mr. Killian would be very different concerning a current patient. How very wrong I was! A little googling came up with many frightening stories similar to this one:
“…his headache got worse and he began vomiting. She told him to go to the emergency room, "but they told him he had nothing to be concerned about and kept him overnight." By morning, ___ was in the intensive-care unit with a 5 percent chance of survival. He fought the disease in three different hospitals. In the end, 10 hours of grand mal seizures caused irreversible brain damage and his parents took him off life support.”
I was appalled to read that despite a vaccine (which many parents don’t know about) and antibiotics, meningitis is still a problem and there are between 1,000-2,000 cases each year in the U.S., mostly among the 15-24 age groups. It is especially prevalent on college campuses where students live in close proximity to each other and may also make poor lifestyle choices. It has a mortality rate of around 13%, making it more deadly than measles. It also kills very quickly, often within a day. Some doctors recommend a booster vaccination for college freshmen. And as always, hand washing and other general practices such as covering your mouth when you sneeze can help prevent the spread of the disease. The germs that cause bacterial meningitis are very common and live naturally in the back of the nose and throat. As many as 10% of us are carriers of meningitis but never have symptoms.
So…I told you that I never know what I will feel compelled to write about. This time there was a juxtaposition between my hobby and my health concerns that lead me to today’s topic. I feel certain that someone needed this information for some purpose. I hope that anyone who has a college student will consult with their doctor before sending them back to campus this fall. And I hope the rest of us realize that despite tremendous advancements in medicine, there are still diseases out there that are deadly. Let’s be careful!
(Note: Yes, that is a drug store ad from 1912.)