Not My First Pandemic Rodeo

It occurred to me today that this is not the first time I have been isolated at home due to a world-wide health crisis. In 1977, I got the flu. At that time, it was called the A1 Asian Flu, later called the Russian Flu. It almost exclusively affected young people under age 23. Because of a similar flu outbreak in the 1950s, most adults were immune to it (let that be encouraging to y’all right now). My doctor told me I was the second person in the US to get it and had the worst case. I’ve always had a competitive nature.

I was 13 years old, starting eighth grade, when I got sick in the fall of 1977. I missed about two months of school prior to Christmas break. In January 1978, I was feeling better, except for severe pain in my back. After a hospitalization and more testing, doctors discovered the virus seemed to have eaten away the discs in my thoracic spine. They felt that immobilizing my spine would allow the discs to heal.

In February 1978, I entered the hospital to have a body cast applied. Really, it wasn’t a full body cast, it was a body jacket. It started with a large neck brace, extending down onto my chest and covered with a plaster cast. The cast was applied from my neck to my hips, hence, “body jacket.” A very nice nurse washed me up, spending a good amount of time using warm water to gently remove bits of plaster from parts of my body that didn’t need it. I stayed in the hospital for a week under a heat lamp to dry the plaster. I could bend at the hips, but not well. My arms were free. I could move them but not lift them completely over my head. This made washing my hair tricky, but once at home, I figured out a pretty efficient system using the kitchen sink sprayer.

Since I had already missed so much school time and was supposed to move as little as possible, I went on homebound studies. I could have visitors, but I couldn’t play. In fact, I got in trouble one day when my Spanish teacher arrived and saw me playing catch with my sister. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but everyone else did (except my sister—bless her heart for taking me outside to do something).

I spent most of my days watching soap operas. Because my cast damaged the furniture, there was one chair I was allowed to sit in. Sleeping was tough. The cast would pop up in the front and dig into my back. Of course, I couldn’t shower. And I rarely left the house because people stared. It was not a good time.

May 4, 1978 finally arrived—cast removal day. I was so excited and terrified. Cutting off a cast that is around one’s neck is scary. Once it was off, I felt so free and light, except my head, which seemed to weigh about 50 pounds! My neck muscles had atrophied over four months of no use. I actually had to use my hands to hold my head up. But my time in isolation was over.

I lost a year of school, being with friends, and playing outside—all without internet or cell phone, talk about isolation. We can do this. Hold your heads up, friends. This time of world-wide pandemic and isolation will be over soon.

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the one who lifts my head.” Psalm 3:3 NASB

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