Measles is coming back. According to the Courier Mail, since August 16 people have contracted it in southeast Queensland, and the Chief Health Officer is writing to families of unvaccinated children urging them to get their children vaccinated. A boy came back from overseas recently with measles, and yesterday there were radio warnings for people who had been at Movieworld – Movieworld! – on 2 October to go to their doctors if they felt ill.
I had measles when I was 6 or so, and trust me, you will feel ill. For nearly 2 weeks, I lay in a darkened room because my eyes hurt so – measles causes blindness – and the rash, the high temperature and general disability made me utterly dependent on my very non-non-working mother to nurse me through it. I also remember going back to school, and having trouble catching up – in geography they had ‘done’ Continents and Peninsulas while I was away, and I gave up geography soon afterwards.
I wasn’t here for the polio epidemic that hit southeast Queensland in the early 1950s, but I had a friend with a withered arm from the disease they still called ‘infantile paralysis’. Another friend remembered how she had a friend for a sleepover, who was diagnosed a few days later with polio. Her mother stripped her room of everything – sheets, bedding, clothes, rugs, toys – and burnt them in the backyard. She doesn’t remember what happened to her friend. What she remembers was her toys piled on the bonfire, and the terror in her mother’s eyes.