The year was 1955 and I was in the seventh grade at a one-room schoolhouse about 11 miles west of Princeton.

At least that’s the year I think it was. It was about 65 years ago and one’s memory can fade over that amount of time. But the exact year isn’t important.

There were about 18 of us and we were lined up, by age I think, and were to receive a treat. We were living out in the boondocks and that sounded good.

The treat was a sugar cube in a small paper cup. Again the memory is hazy, but I think we all were happy to have that little sugar cube.

If I remember right it had been explained to the older ones of us that what was in that cube of sugar was a vaccine to help wipe out the disease of polio. I don’t remember whether or not parents had to approve the use of a vaccine developed by a doctor named Jonas Salk.

Three years earlier in 1952 60,000 kids in the U.S. had contracted polio and 3,000 of them had died. Iron lungs, something many people have never heard of today (as well as never hearing of polio), were being used to keep people alive. It was a terrible disease for which there was no cure at the time.

Along came Dr. Salk and along came the beginning of wiping out this horrible disease that was sweeping our country and many other countries.

When we lined up to take our sugar cubes that day, I don’t recall anyone saying that it wasn’t a good idea, although there may have been some parents who didn’t think it was a good idea. But anyone who had seen a picture of someone inside an iron lung probably thought the sugar cube was worth a try.

I would agree that 65 years ago it was the Dark Ages of medicine in this country. Most of what we know today about diseases, and most of the procedures that are done today, hadn’t been invented. But here was a chance, I imagine most people thought, to take on a disease that was very prevalent and very scary in the United States. And, by 1979, polio had been wiped out in the United States.

Now we have a pandemic going on in our world with COVID-19 and there have been 5 million deaths in the world because of it, about 750,000 of them in the United States. And yet there are millions and millions who have not taken the chance to use the vaccine. And the debate continues.

Back there in the late 1940s and early 1950s people had to regularly deal with whooping cough, measles, smallpox and mumps. I remember well a couple of us kids in a room by ourselves in our house in southern Minnesota, curtains draped over the entrance to that room until we got over whatever disease we had, although I don’t remember the disease. It was a trying time for parents and kids. Advances must have been made against those diseases because they aren’t prevalent today, a couple of them eradicated, the others rare. Vaccines have been very helpful.

Eight years ago Jeff Hage, present editor of the Union-Eagle and then president of Princeton Rotary, wrote a story about Princeton resident Arlene Sanborn. Ten days short of her sixth birthday in 1946 she was diagnosed with polio and ended up at Gillette Hospital in St. Paul 10 times from 1946 to 1961. She never walked again but to her credit was able to get a job and worked for about 40 years before retiring on a Princeton farm with her mother. She didn’t let polio define her life, she said, and was living in a townhouse in Princeton when Hage did the story in 2013. The story was one of courage and also one of education about polio.

So today, on Nov. 5, 2021, why in the H-E-double-toothpick (a phrase popular in the ‘50s) can’t people use the vaccine to help get rid of COVID-19? Maybe we were naive or uneducated about polio back in the 1950s, but we took the vaccine and it started us on the way to getting rid of the disease in the U.S. It seems so simple! — Luther Dorr, APG of East Central Minnesota columnist

Load comments