The physical differences between my son and daughter grew as rapidly as they did. My son has always been much denser. His torso is sturdy as a brick, with a heft that my daughter has never had, even with three years on him.
So, when he lost about 4 pounds during his three-week bout of strep throat, the lightness of his body afterward scared me as much as his wheezing did when he was sick. But even at the emergency room, I didn't think the outcome would be anything terribly dire. We could fix him; we have the technology. Right?
It's easy to fall into the mental trap that medicine and modern treatments can treat or fix what ails us. As a culture, we're keen to push aside our impending death. And unless we're sick, we also like to believe we are invincible against mundane things like the slow creep of a persistent illness. It's hubris that enables us to make choices from a platform that glorifies the ease of health. A quote from writer Melissa Febos' column titled "What If the Pain Never Ends?" sums it up: "We can choose to what extent we want to indulge the fantasy that wellness is a condition we have somehow earned, instead of an ephemeral luck that is guaranteed to run out."
I'm fond of the idea that you can make your own luck; however, I'm not going to go at an illness alone if a vaccine is available. When vaccine hesitancy comes up in conversations, I've seen it meander into a proud outright refusal and then take a sharp turn at the corner of conspiracy and sheeple. Those conversations make me wonder about the former power of our herd. Has it been too long since we lived through a hard look at our shared mortality? Has it been so long that it makes us doubt vaccines' success in chipping away at illnesses that maim or steal our children?
Maybe we're not listening hard enough to our elders.
Norine Dresser, folklorist and former writer of the Los Angeles Times column Multicultural Manners, decided in her 80s to move to my desert town. I've been lucky to get to know her. She wrote recently about her experiences with the summertime fear of polio and how she decided to vaccinate her then-4-year-old son when she could.
Ten days after she did, his nursery school went on a field trip.
"Approximately two weeks later, three of the nursery school children began exhibiting polio symptoms" — fever, headache, neck stiffness, pain in the arms and legs, weakness, stomach upset, paralysis. "The nursery school shut down," she wrote. "Not only did the children become infected, but they also passed the virus on to siblings and parents."
When my son had strep throat, I was worried about the rest of the family getting it. During a work outing, I decided on a temporary two-mask system. Someone who had already debated the merits of masks with me chuckled and pointed it out. "Are we doing that now?" he asked.
"I don't know; did you maybe want strep throat?" I replied. He took a step back, silenced. Perhaps he knew about strep.
Dresser was also happy to hear that her four grandchildren had been vaccinated against things like mumps, measles and chickenpox. "These were damaging, sometimes fatal, diseases of their parents' childhoods," she said. "Thus, they were spared."
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma (sorry, Cassie), and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She is also a National Society of Newspaper Columnists ambassador and can be contacted at