As COVID-19 quarantines cause disruptions worldwide, a survivor of a prior pandemic speaks out
By Roger Coppock
Photo: A case of smallpox in 1886; public domain image via Wikipedia
June 10, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- It fell off me in the shower this morning. I felt the brief pinch and saw it before it went down the drain. The little piece of thin plastic suture used to hold together a former pustule on my skin, hiding it. It has been more than a decade since I saw the last of its kind. This may, finally, be the last of them all.
As a preschooler, I followed my late father to a research station in New Mexico along the border. My father was an experimental psychologist who was trying to measure learning in bats. It was a great adventure, until I caught one of the last cases of Smallpox in North America.
Kept in hospital quarantine and given painful baths by nurses wearing rubber gloves and face masks, I was "social distancing" a lifetime before I ever heard the phrase. The period had its effects. When I reached kindergarten my teacher wondered why masks covered the faces of the people I drew. While other teenagers popped their zits, I removed plastic surgery sutures.
So, be patient, bad things do heal, eventually.
Editor’s note: The last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in October 1977 in Somalia. The World Health Organization (WHO) certified the global eradication of the disease in 1980, thanks to the most successful global vaccination campaign in history. The disease killed 30 percent of those who contracted it and left many survivors disfigured for life and/or blind. Today, the smallpox virus survivors only in laboratory test tubes; an ethical debate continues on whether those should be retained for use in case of bioterrorism or destroyed.
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