Does Science Really Matter … for You and Me?

an exploding brain hat in Seattle

We already have the wheel and gun powder and the internet. So … Haven’t scientists already invented and explained enough already?

I don’t think so.

I’d like to relate just one family story about a modern scientific discovery that has benefited people all over the world. Unfortunately, it arrived just a little bit too late for my sister.

It was spring, and Sue was barely eight year old when she fell ill. The symptoms were fever, headache, and sore throat. It could have been anything. After a week or two, she seemed to be all right.

A few weeks later, she came down with a bad case of chicken pox. While bathing her and, I suppose, applying calamine lotion, Mom noticed that one of Sue’s shoulder blades stuck out at a strange angle.

The doctor didn’t know what to make of it, so he just shrugged and prescribed massage. Eventually, however, it dawned on him what the problem was. My sister was suffering from the effects of polio.

A brilliant diagnosis? Not really. In 1955, polio wasn’t a rare disease. In fact, in 1952, there were 58,000 cases of polio in the US and more than 3000 deaths.

My sister and mother spent the next three years traveling thirty-five miles each way to see a specialist who examined Sue and oversaw her treatment and physical therapy. In another section of his clinic, the doctor oversaw the care of some of the most tragic victims of polio, children who had to spend the rest of their lives inside iron lungs.

(The picture below is from wikimedia.)

iron lung ward, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital

 

Years earlier, our Great-uncle Wes and Great-aunt Doddy also had polio. Aunt Doddy was about the same age Sue was when she got sick. Hers was a more serious case, and she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Science to the rescue … just a little late for Sue.

In 1953 Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had successfully tested a vaccine against polio. In 1954, clinical trials began. And in the spring of 1955, (the exact time when Sue was coming down with polio) a nationwide inoculation campaign began.

If you and your family have been spared this terrible disease, you can say a big “thank you” to science.

Here’s a sign being carried in yesterday’s March for Science in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of sister Sue)

Sue and my daughter both took part in marches for science yesterday. Here are a few of their photos:

Make America logical again

brainy hats

standing up for science in Richland, WA

Sue and Jan in Seattle

Seattle Science march, umbrellas, hoods, and bare heads

band playing Bill Nye the Science Guy song in Seattle

some future scientists at the Seattle march

 

Does science matter to you in a personal way?

Neil deGrasse Tyson put out a new four-minute video that I think sums up nicely the crucial importance of science in America today.

https://www.facebook.com/neildegrassetyson/videos/10155195888806613/?pnref=story

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen
Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She’s working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early ’90s.

Health, news, The March for Science , , , ,

22 comments


  1. I’m grateful for the scientific breakthroughs that enrich our lives. Thank you for sharing Sue’s story. I’m sorry the breakthrough came after she contracted polio.

    Great photos! Glad to see you and Sue.




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    • That must have been an era of big medical breakthroughs in health. In 1968, I was on the right side of a new discovery (just barely). The baby I was carrying and I had incompatible blood types. I’m rh negative; she’s rh positive. If there was any exchange of blood (most likely at birth), my blood would build up antibodies to the invader (the positive factor) and my next child would be in trouble, maybe even need a whole-body transfusion at birth. But someone had invented a serum–my mom read about it in Woman’s Day and I told my doctor. He made calls throughout my pregnancy, but we weren’t sure whether he’d be able to get the serum on time. It came through on the day I gave birth.




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  2. Sorry to hear that Sue has polio, and hope that she coped okay with it. Science is amazing in that it can change our lives forever. One discovery can lead to another, and it it weren’t for science, I don’t think we’d be blogging and chatting with one another. In a sense, science has helped all of us physically and mentally, helped us live our lives and do much more. Medicine and treatment have helped me overcome problems like scoliosis and asthma, and that I am very greatful for – and that has lead me with more time and energy to write too.




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    • Thanks, Mabel. She did cope well thanks to her faithful adherence for many years to her physical therapy exercises.

      I’m glad you’ve had success with treatment of you scoliosis and asthma. Surprisingly, I have the same two problems. I didn’t realize I had scoliosis until I was in my forties. They didn’t test for it when I was in school. Too bad. I would have got an earlier start on treating it.




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      • Sorry to hear you have scoliosis, and I hope it isn’t too much of a bother. I was tested for it in school for four years. It got bad a little bit but then not severe. Doesn’t affect me too much these days but I have to be careful of not over-stretching my body. Hope it is okay for you.




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  3. Three of my husband’s cousins were stricken with polio at a young age. They were very ill but recovered with minor effects like a limp or gait. I remember the first big push to vaccinate everyone. I was a kid in grade school. My prayer is that we spend less $$ on wars and more on research. In today’s world, a big pharma company would buy up that vaccine and charge us all mega bucks for it! So glad your family marched.




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    • It’s been so many years since we’ve heard about polio, it would be easy to forget it even existed. And imagine, both of us know three people who had polio. In fact, I know another. A boy a year behind me in school who was quite severely crippled. Joey.

      I’m with you: less money on wars, more money on scientific research.




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  4. Maureen Rogers

    Loved all the photos, Nicki! I’ve known several survivors of polio from our generation. Those were the lucky ones. Thanks for reminding the world the importance of that vaccination.




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    • It seems that inventing a vaccine is only the first step. I googled “polio eradication,” and found that, more than sixty years after it was first being made available in the United States, we’re not there yet. Almost, though. In 2016, they found a few cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

      I’d almost forgotten, the most famous case of polio was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was diagnosed with polio at the age of 39.




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  5. Thank you for sharing Sue’s story. I’m happy she and Jan were able to march together. Derek’s mother had polio as a child. Today, at 77 years-old, she must use a walker to get around. I’m grateful to science for coming up with the first medication, in over 30 years, that’s kept my Crohn’s Disease under control.




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    • I’m surprised at how many people know someone who had polio. Is Derek’s mother using the walker because of her age or because of her polio? I’m so glad you’ve found medication that keeps your Crohn’s Disease under control. I’m so sorry you had to wait 30 years, though.




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  6. My mother’s much older brother was becoming a pediatrician in the 1950s. He’s on FB and constantly railing against the anti-vaxxers, telling them they’d think differently if they had ever seen the swollen testicles of measles or attended the funerals of polio victims. He lost a lot of childhood friends. My grandmother was one of the first moms in line for the polio vaccine with my mother, and the lines went around the block.

    And now science has discovered that measles was deadly not just in and of itself, but also because it “resets” the immune system, wiping out all the hard won immunity already built up.

    So, yeah, Science all the way.




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    • When I was a kid, everyone had what we called the “childhood diseases:” measles, rubella, mumps, and chicken pox. I even heard of some mothers who exposed their children to the diseases so they wouldn’t get them when they were adults. I didn’t catch measles until I was in high school. I was attending a debate competition in a neighboring city when the spots started showing. I have to admit, I was a little relieved to be sent home. Those debate competitions are scary, and I didn’t have to worry about swollen testicles. What!? You mean that wiped out my immunity and I had to start all over again? Darn!




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  7. P

    Great collection of info and photos. Loved Neil deGrasse Tyson video.




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    • Thanks, Paddy. I thought Neil deGrasse Tyson did a great job of explaining a lot in a short four-minute video. Of course, he had a production stall to help him do it.




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  8. I’m a big fan of science . . . and, boy, that shot of the iron lungs is sobering. I can’t imagine being confined to something like that for a day, let alone a lifetime.

    So great that Sue was able to join the march!




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    • When I was in elementary school, I heard about iron lungs. Not sure if I saw a photo, but the thought of it terrified me.

      Sue enjoyed the march. It was a good way to spend Earth Day. I met her and Jan later for dinner at Sue’s favorite Lebanese restaurant.




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  9. Unfortunately, we live in an age of ‘over-information’ and as a result I think folks have started to go off of what they hear, as oppose to research, and what maybe celebs tell them or do themselves. I figure it must be a way of cutting through the noise, the clutter and there is such an invested interest in keeping folks in the dark because there are more important things that people – profits.

    One day I hope to live in a world where people are considered more worthy than profit. Times are a-changing…and I feel that this great polarization will eventually come to a head, it has to, or else…




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    • I think Money is the main reason for climate-change denial. It starts with these who are making money from coal and oil and filters down to people who hear their propaganda.

      Science isn’t perfect, but it’s the best method we have for understanding reality. Scientists have made lots of mistakes about diet, for example. After my grandpa had a heart attach, his doctor told him to eat margarine instead of butter. Now that’s considered a mistake. We were told at one point not to eat fats, and then people OD-ed on carbs and gained weight. Because of mistakes like these, many people lost confidence in science. The thing is, scientist will make mistakes, but they will learn from them. And most of the time, science gives us the best answers available.




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  10. Wonderful photos of the march. I’m sorry to hear your sister contracted polio before the vaccine. Several of my friends did, too, and like your sister, they are all doing well. Thank goodness for the vaccine that over the years has protected so many.




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    • Thank you, Michelle. When my sister and daughter said they were going to their respective marches, I said I would stay home and they could send me their photos for my blog. A division of labor.

      I haven’t heard anyone mention polio for many years. It’s surprising to hear so many of my readers know of someone who had it. Thanks to Jonas Salk and his many years of research, we don’t have to worry about it anymore.




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