Wednesday, May 22, 2013
They were the doctors Dick, a husband-and-wife medical research team who, working for years, had developed an inoculation against scarlet fever.
It was a dreaded disease which, if one lived through it, left a child with a damaged heart.
In those days — when I was something less than 11 years old — if someone in the family got scarlet fever, the health authorities came and nailed up a placard in bright red ink, warning of scarlet fever and saying “Keep Out.”
Now these two research physicians had found a medicine to fight it.
My mother had made arrangements to take her (then three) children to the research center where the shots would be given. It would take five of them to complete the series.
This meant catching the inter-urban railroad train the 20 miles into Chicago and to the McCormick Institute in a community of medical buildings. So on five different Saturdays, we headed for the city from our suburban home to get our five shots.
A nurse named Miss Kerr gave the first three shots, but it was Mrs. Dr. Dick herself who gave the last two, and I was aware that it was something of an honor to have her administer the vaccine she had helped develop.
I think we saw Mr. Dr. Dick, but didn’t have much contact with him. Someone before us had left a card of thanks for the doctors, and we did the same.
With each dose, the medicine grew stronger, and all of us were pretty sick and droopy by the fifth dose. Then it was over, and none of us has ever had scarlet fever.
I can still see those huge, looming, rather grim buildings with their medical offices and the medical personnel dressed in the then-current medical smock.
I remember my patient mother with three half-sick and whimpering kids absorbing the protective medicine.
Now fast forward eight or so decades to the present. The medicine has been refined and combined with that protecting against several other of the so-called childhood diseases.
I have had, either the disease itself or the protective shots against it, everything but mumps: Whooping cough, two kinds of measles, scarlet fever and polio.
These days a single shot takes care of three of those diseases – and without having to go 120 miles — five 20-mile round trips – to get them.
So here’s to the memory of the doctors Dick and the pioneering work they did to help protect the lives and length of life of children and adults.
Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for
The Chronicle. This is the 2,836th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.