52 weeks of Personal history & genealogy: Week 11: Injuries and Illness

Well I’m behind the eight-ball this week!

Week 11’s challenge in Amy Coffin and Geneablogger’s 52 weeks of Personal history and genealogy is “Illness and Injury”. Describe your childhood illnesses or injuries. Who took care of you? Did you recuperate in your own bed, on the couch in front of the television, or somewhere else?

I have to say I’ve been very fortunate and had very few illnesses and even fewer injuries in my childhood.  When I grew up it was common for kids to run the gauntlet of the routine infectious diseases: measles, chicken pox, German measles and mumps as there were not yet immunisations for them.  Inevitably I went through measles and chicken pox as a child and the only odd thing was that I caught measles three times. Each time my mother called the doctor for a defined diagnosis hoping that it would be German measles, which I didn’t have until I was an adult.

TB was tested for and I recall the school nurse coming to “punch” our arms with a strange circular needle that looked a little like a modern computer connector. The wound was then inspected some time later to see if you already had immunity. As I recall I did and then didn’t have the immunisation.  The Salk vaccine was brought in when I was at primary school and I remember getting the spoonful of liquid to prevent polio. We knew what polio was in those days and occasionally saw children who had suffered from this disease.  In fact we had a young boy in the class below me who’d had it but recovered very well – he played a “mean” game of tennis! Treatment previously had been with the use of the iron lung, but Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian former military nurse developed a more effective, less invasive treatment. http://www.cloudnet.com/~edrbsass/poliohistory.htm

Like many kids I had my tonsils out and this was a very scary experience. My surgery was done at the Mater hospital and it was quite frightening to be left alone at the hospital. I still remember the chloroform anaesthetic –most unpleasant. While the general view as that you could eat as much ice cream and jelly as you liked while recovering, this didn’t work for me because I caught chicken pox (or was it one of those measles attacks, not sure?) at the same time and was quite ill. My mother always looked after me at home when I was sick like this, giving me all her attention, but my grandmother would also visit from next door to check on how I was going. While much of the recuperation was bed-rest I seem to think I was sometimes resting on the lounge. I have a fond memory of Dad bringing me home a special photo book to read when I was sick like this –there were some Bible story comics which I enjoyed.  Basically I was very happy to get something to read. Television had not yet arrived so lounging in front of the TV wasn’t an option.

The only injury I had was a three inch cut in my leg when a bike pedal cut my shin. I had to be carried home by the father of the children I was playing with and from there went to hospital for stitches. A very uneventful childhood injury I’m pleased to say.

Thinking on this topic made me reflect on how many illnesses have vanished from public memory and community sight.  In those post-War days it was common to see men missing limbs, blind or handicapped in some way –or just plain drunk, quite understandably. They would often be selling newspapers on the corners of the city’s streets, perhaps because it was the only work they could get. It’s very sad and depressing to think how they would have been young men, who’d gone off fit and healthy but no longer had prospects or good health. Women (and it usually seemed to be women) were often seen with huge thyroid goitres in their throats. These are things you just don’t see any more.

Other women had “blue babies” –babies lost to illness soon after birth.  Scientists eventually found that this was attributable to the Rh negative factor where a woman with Rh- blood had a child to a man with Rh+ blood. The clash of blood groups could result in the loss of the child. Some years ago I was astonished to meet and become friends with a fellow family historian who had been on the research team to discover this. These days, women with Rh- blood are routinely given an injection to control the “conflict” and ultimately it’s possible to do a blood transfusion.  This condition meant that a mother might have her first child quite successfully but subsequent pregnancies would fail as her body had built up immunity to the baby’s “foreign” blood group. This is my simplistic understanding of it. I’m sure there are other readers who could clarify it for us. However I remember in my early family history being told that when you see a family with only one child, to consider this possibility.  http://pregnancy.about.com/od/rhfactor/a/Rh-Factor-in-Pregnancy.htm

2 thoughts on “52 weeks of Personal history & genealogy: Week 11: Injuries and Illness

  1. I found this post fascinating. I had chicken pox but so far as I’m aware that’s the only “routine” infectious disease I had. There was no TB or polio about – at least none I was ever aware of – when I was a child. I only knew anything about polio from watching “I can jump puddles”. I have a mark on my arm from the smallpox vaccine, which my younger siblings don’t have.

    I remember my mother telling me that she had to have an injection after I was born, or her next baby could have been a “blue baby”. I was Rh+ so no drama for me when I had my children. My sister is Rh- but there’s no problem for her as her husband is Rh- as well.

    Thanks for sharing this.


    1. Thanks Shelley -the joys of generational differences I think! It seems from your blog that you closer to my children’s ages and they were vaccinated for most of these illnesses, plus taking malaria tablets (living in PNG). It goes to show the importance of medical improvements. Like your sister I am Rh negative but so is my husband, though when I had my first child in the “bush” in PNG they told me I was positive. Two years, two operations and one child later I found out that I was negative. I don’t think there were injections available when I had my children, at least in PNG. Thanks for your comments -the differences are fascinating. Cheers. Pauleen


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