Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Doubting Florence Presents: Vaccines and Autism- A Skeptical Nurse Perspective

"I was nine when my childhood mother had taken me to a number of doctors, but they could find no reason for the fatigue or the insomnia that now plagued me...[at my ninth birthday party] I pushed myself off the wall [where I was sitting] and a surprise pain, a bad one, shot through my legs, back and neck as I dropped straight down onto the pavement...I was mortified. It was my birthday and I couldn't even get up...I forgot which nanny carried me to bed, where I lay flat and quiet, listening to my party outside my window...After entering the hospital, I was abruptly taken away from my parents, without explanation, and wheeled into an elevator. That was when I came apart. I screamed all the way upstairs to a big room where there were curtained cubicles and lots of children, all on gurneys, all screaming, just like me. A nurse wearing a mask over her nose and mouth hissed, Be quiet you're only making things worse for everybody, but I was beyond terror. I threw up. Everything hurt- my back, neck, legs, arms, and chest; it even hurt to breathe...It was 1954 and polio was sweeping the country. Nobody knew how it was spread, so you didn't go to movies or swim in public pools because of was supposed to be a children's ward, but the iron lungs that lined the halls must have contained some adults too. I could hear men's voices wheezing and shouting in the night. When my turn came to be in the iron lung, I kept calling out, I'm okay, I feel fine now, please. But nobody came, and you can't even scratch your own nose...[in my room there was] a crib in which lay a little girl about two years old with brown curls, a quiet little thing who never made a sound, except for an occasional soft whimper, but I don't remember seeing her move. One night the lights went on and the curtains were pulled around her crib, and doctors and nurses all crowded into that corner in a hurry, talking loudly. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to pretend I was somewhere else, but that's not so easy when terrible voices fill the room. The next morning the crib was empty, and then I had to put that quiet little girl out of my mind."
This quote is from Chapter One of Mia Farrow's autobiography, What Falls Away. Farrow was nine when she contracted a mild case of polio, from which she made a complete recovery after several months. According to the CDC, polio has had a 100 percent reduction in morbidity as a result of adminstering the polio vaccine to children.
I admit that I just committed a logical fallacy. I used an appeal to your emotions verses a rational argument to try to explain why you should vaccinate. This blogpost was originally going to be about how disappointed I am about the recent coupling of World Wrestling Entertainment and autistic parent group Generation Rescue (board member Jenny McCarthy will be a guest on the WWE broadcast of Saturday Night's Main Event). But I realized that I'm too high-strung on this topic to look at it objectively.I love pro wrestling. The banner on shows the attractive McCarthy, and her cherubic smiling son Evan. At the same time, Mia Farrow's story also breaks my heart. Either side of this debate involves kids and the potential harm that could come to them. Needless to say, it's very easy to latch onto emotion. I don't have any kids, nor am I in any hurry to procreate. But I live next door to a couple of 'em and they seem really likeable. I don't wanna think about them having to deal with the scary diseases that Evan and Mia dealt with. There were appeals to your emotions all over the nine or so revisions I've been working on since 9 yesterday morning. I'm done. Instead, I would like to focus on how nurses are involved with the adminstration and safety of vaccines. That is a lot easier on my psyche and most likely will be a bit more informative for you, gentle reader. Part 2 will appear in the next blogpost.
Resources for this blog entry
1) Farrow, Mia. 1997. What Falls Away. New York: Nan A. Talese Doubleday
2) Shermer, Michael. 1997, 2002. Why People Believe Weird Things. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
3) Judelsohn, Richard G. Vaccine Safety: Vaccines Are One of Public Health's Great Accomplishments. Skeptical Inquirer 31, no. 6:32-35.

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