My use of the word “vaccinated” in a previous posting led me to think about my own vaccination mark which I haven’t noticed for years. The vaccination protected against smallpox which was declared eradicated in 1977, so we who have the mark are living museum pieces. A close look in the mirror showed mine to be still there, but very faint and camouflaged with freckles and white spots. I had to ask my wife to verify it.
Being left-handed, mine is high up on my right arm, a circle only about a quarter of an inch in diameter. I remember the vaccination marks on my parents and grandparents as being much larger, ugly scars about the size of a quarter. My sister had hers, a small one like mine, on her thigh where they naively thought it would not show, but Alice, our community center’s receptionist from the LAHS class of 1959 (see 9/20/2010 posting) tells me hers is on her arm. She, too, has not seen it for years and only assumes it is still there. She has been wearing long sleeves, so I could not verify it myself.
While I was at it, I checked out my other scars, a three-inch one on my wrist when I pushed through the glass in our high school gym door while in the ninth grade (see 12/19/05 posting), and a half-inch one on my right knee when I fell on our gravel driveway in East Lansdowne at about age six. They were still there, but I could barely see them. I guess all scars fade as we age, or perhaps our bodies just become one big scar.
My vaccination was done by Dr. Rank, a pediatrician whose office was in Clifton Heights on the corner of Baltimore Pike and Springfield Road, but I only remember it from driving by. I don’t remember actually being in the office because those were the days doctors came to your house, and the only time you saw one was when you were sick. If you were really sick, like with chicken pox, he would paste a large, red “Quarantine!” sign on your front door that would make you feel worse than you already did.
I can safely say “he” for doctors because women doctors could not even be imagined. Besides, all doctors had mustaches, a requirement as symbolic as the caduceus. I believe Ruth Cleland’s father, who was our next pediatrician, also had a mustache.
The British producer-director-actor-author (he did it all) Jonathan Miller once had a short PBS series on the medical profession. He was originally trained as a medical doctor, and he pointed out that in the days when doctors made house calls they were only expected to diagnose, not cure anything, which was just as I remembered. Dr. Rank would arrive in my bedroom with his black bag, listen to my chest and back as I breathed deeply when he requested, and would look in my mouth, gagging me with a large wooden tongue depressor, then proclaim that I had something like measles, chicken pox, or whooping cough. He would tell my mother to give me aspirin and keep me in bed for a few days after my temperature returned to normal, which would be in about a week. I could go back to school in two weeks. His job was to tell her what to expect and what she could do to relieve the symptoms. but the cure would only come in due time from my own body.
He would then leave my bedroom. I could hear unintelligible mumbling from the living room, then the front door close. After a moment of eerie silence, my sister would run in, bursting out with, “Nice going, Bilious! Now we’re quarantined!”