Measles’ Cost for Carol

 Carol and her eldest
daughter, provided by Carol with permission to use.  
Carol was born in 1961, before there was a vaccine available
against measles. She contracted measles the first time at the age of two, but
that was probably a mild illness, she says, because she has no memory of it and there are no family stories.  She was three and a half when she contracted
measles again, and this time it was serious. She was covered in a rash from top
to bottom, she hurt, she itched; and she vomited constantly. She thinks the
vomiting was why she had to be hospitalized. In spite of her young age, her
memories of the hospitalization are very clear: “I still remember the smell of
ether that was the typical hospital smell”, and since then, “any time a male
nurse or a male doctor came near me as a child I used to scream because they
were going to do something that hurt me.”
She tells of her experiences:
“I was not in a big bed, I was in a cot, I felt imprisoned.
I was isolated somewhat, I was kept in the corner of the ward; there must have
been about ten cots in this particular children’s ward, and there were three
empty cots between me and the next one that had a child in it. In order to have
a bath they actually had to carry me out because I couldn’t walk, I was in so
much pain and covered head to toe in this measles rash.  It’s probably my earliest memory, being
carried to the bath in the hospital and crying because I hurt so much, I was
itchy, and my eyes were sore.
“I vomited constantly for these three weeks. I was vomiting
so much – it was very, very brutal. I couldn’t even keep water down. [When she
arrived at the hospital] they tried to put an IV into me. It didn’t happen. And
so they managed to get me to suck ice chips. I think I managed to keep whatever
water I could get from the ice chips down. So they just kept an eye on me,” and
did not try again to insert the IV. “I still remember the smell of lunch time
and dinnertime coming, and it made me feel sick. Mom used to come up at
mealtimes to try to get me to eat something. I don’t know how many times mom
went home wearing my vomit.”
Traumatic as it was, it was not the vomiting that affected
the rest of Carol’s life: it was the sore eyes. 
Upon leaving the hospital, Carol’s eyesight was very bad, especially in
her left eye. She does not remember much, but she does remember double vision.
She also remembers one occasion when a teacher, at the young age of four and a
half, attacked her: “I was sitting in a desk in the front row, and we had to
copy this sentence that said ‘We went to…’ I can’t remember where we went to,
and I couldn’t see past the ‘We’ and then the ‘w’ ‘e’ from ‘Went’ – and I got
that written down and then everybody else had finished. And I was looking at the
blackboard and seeing this ‘we we’ and that’s what I’ve written, and the
teacher, she belittled me in front of the whole class. ‘We we, this is all you
can think of. Well, when are you going to the toilet?’ It was really quite
frightening. And I remember it quite clearly, I was four and a half, nearly
five.” Two weeks after that Carol had eye surgery: she was finally diagnosed
with a “visual impairment that required surgery”, an impairment directly resulting from the measles.  It was performed by a visiting specialist,
because they lived far from the city and the hospital was a small country
hospital about three hours from Sydney.  After the surgery her vision improved
somewhat, though she was still legally blind in her left eye.
“I had to wear a black patch over my eye for years and
glasses, we’d get those horrible cats-eye glasses for kids and they came in
pink or blue… childhood wasn’t real easy, shall we say. And nobody understood,
and nobody wanted to understand.”
She was never good in sports, because of that disability. She felt keenly for
other children harmed by diseases: “I went to school with a boy who contracted
polio pretty much through the birthing process, his mom had contracted polio a
week before he was born, he was virtually born with polio, and this was truly
the tail end of the polio epidemics that we had. He wore calipers, I lost contact
with him when I left primary school, I was 11, and he was two years younger. I
don’t know what happened to him.  I still
see this kid sitting on the sideline on sports days, not being able to do
anything because he had these iron calipers on his legs and those special
boots. These are vivid memories, probably because I had such a horrid time with
my vision.”
In her 30s, a specialist told her she should have gone to a
special school for the visually impaired, but she says – “the closest visually
impaired school was a long way, so to catch public transport, which wasn’t very
accessible, I would have had to have left home at 6 o’clock in the morning to
get to school, and catch three buses.”
Her vision problems caused her difficulty through adulthood,
although she learned to cope with most things. 
She describes a car accident: “I can drive a car, but I can’t drive a
car on mainland Europe or in the United States because I can’t really see the
traffic coming whereas it’s fine over here (Australia) because the traffic
comes out from the right. I did try driving once when I visited Holland and I
ended up losing the hubcaps from the passenger side wheels in the gutter.  I stopped to retrieve the destroyed hubcaps
and refused to drive after this experience. I was so frightened…”
Carol always has bad sensitivity in her left eye, her “bad
eye”, and has to almost close it in direct sunlight, unless she has very dark
glasses on. In the picture above you may note that Carol’s left eye is almost
Having suffered all her life from the after effects of
measles, she cannot understand why anyone would choose not to protect their
children against it. “Thank God I didn’t end up with SSPE (see also here, here and here).
I carry with me for the rest of my life what measles did. The side effects of
it. These diseases, there is no excuse for them to be around. Absolutely none.
There is no cure for these diseases per se. And they are preventable.”
Acknowledgments: I’m grateful to Carol for sharing her story and correcting my typos, and to Alice Warning Wasney for comments on the draft. 

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