Every family has its legends. In my family we have “The Time When Jon Ate Dog Beef Jerky” and “The Time Dad Dropped The Boys Off On A Street Corner Because They Were Misbehaving” and “The Time Cari Ran Into The Coffee Table”. We also have “The Time Jim Almost Died”.
I have two older bothers; Jon and Jim. Jon was born six years before I was, Jim was born sixteen months after Jon. When Jim was four-years-old, he contracted bacterial meningitis. A nightmare ensued.
His fever was very high. My parents brought him to the pediatrician’s office. The doctor told my dad to get Jim to the hospital. Dad paused to dress my brother and the doctor told him, “No, Ned. There’s not enough time for that. Just go!”
Jim’s fever continued to climb. Mom says it was horrible to watch her desperately ill child grow more and more feverish. His small body was fighting with everything it had to overcome the infection.
Back in the neighborhood, everyone who could have come in contact with Jim had to take sulfa drugs, in order to make sure the disease wouldn’t spread. Other parents, Jim’s playmates, Jon’s playmates, and of course my Mom, Dad and Jon took the medication that would hopefully keep them safe.
Jim’s condition was monitored. His fever climbed and the only thing my parents wanted was Jim healthy again.
The neighborhood held its collective breath and wondered– would Jim be ok? Would anyone else come down with it? Was this the beginning of an epidemic?
Days passed. Jim came through it, no one else in the neighborhood contracted it, and it became a McGann family legend.
Fast forward thirty years…I had a child and he went in for some vaccines. I was surprised to hear that the same disease that Jim almost died from, my son would be vaccinated against. In one generation, the terror that had gripped my brother, my family, my neighborhood, had been eradicated. Amazing.
My son had that vaccine at the same time the reports and rumors “proving” a link between the MMR vaccine and regressive autism started to circulate. I heard about them, thought and prayed, then decided to vaccinate my child anyway.
Twelve years later, the study was disproved. In the meantime, after deciding to not vaccinate their children due to this published report, how many parents experienced the hell my parents faced? But with a different outcome? How many people have the family legend “The Time Our Child Died of Measles”? “The Time Our Child Died of Mumps”? “The Time Our Child Died of German Measles”?
It didn’t have to be that way. It has been reported that one sick moron of an individual (okay, the story doesn’t call him a sick moron, that’s my own term for him) created links that weren’t there, for profit; so that a case could be won.
Therefore, legends were created. But they were the wrong kind of legends. They won’t be different a generation from now. They cannot be re-written. They aren’t innocuous, funny stories about human foibles. They are stories of death, and they are stories of inconceivable sorrow. They cannot change. The shame of it is nauseating. There is useless, needless pain so someone could connect dots that were not there. It is horribly, legendarily sad.