By Joan Perry Ludtke
Ms. Ludtke who has frequently contributed photos of the White Cloud Cross team to our pages is retired from a teaching career that included coaching track & field. An avid hiker she can often be found visiting and revisiting trails near and far regardless of the season.
I was the original anti-vaxxer.
It was the spring of 1954, a time when events and results just happened, with little explanation or discussion. Fate was just accepted. I was a first grade student in Mrs. MacArthur’s room, at McKinley Elementary in Warren, MI. I also had her for kindergarten. It was the best classroom ever, with an outside entrance, a coat and boot room, a swinging yard gate, our own bathroom, room for naps and twice the size of a regular room.
But I knew it was coming. I heard the word “polio”, but knew nothing about it, and heard that my mother had signed a paper allowing me and my two sisters to be part of a study to prevent the spread of polio. Back then, few discussed it, but everyone feared it. Being an observant little 1st grader, I figured out it was a SHOT!
On that tragic and fateful day, I had a plan! It came time to line up for the long walk down the hallway, one left turn then a quick right past the second grade classrooms, followed by two rights to the “health room” which was really a broom closet. Well, not me! As others lined up, I disappeared into our classroom’s anti-vaxxer bunker, also known as the bathroom. Safe from all harm. No needles for me.
I’m not sure how long it took, but it wasn’t long before someone missed me, sent Mrs. Edith MacArthur to track me down. Of course, I cried extremely loud , but no one cared. Against my will, without being asked, with no vote, no appeal, and no one to back me up, I became one of our country’s first Polio Pioneers.
Now here’s the rest of the story: By the end of that school year I could read quite well. We were lucky enough to have the Detroit News delivered every Sunday. Comics were read first, but then came the front section with its booming headlines. Many Sundays, after church, I sat in the armchair reading, not just the headlines, but stories that I still remember, viewing pictures that can’t be unseen. Week after week, pictures of hospital wards, children lying in iron lungs, not being able to breathe on their own and suffering paralysis. There were stories overheard from adults about a classmate not doing well, other children now crippled, and some not quite so ill. I said , ``Not me!” one more time.
As usual, a little education can change an attitude. The word “shot” was replaced by “vaccine”. I began to read about Jonas Salk and others and their search for a safe vaccine to prevent polio. I suffered through two more trips to the broom closet with fewer tears, and became a Proud Polio Pioneer.
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