Thursday, December 8, 2011

Infection Connection: Double Shot!

The Panic VirusThis isn’t about any particular bacteria, virus, or other wee beastie. This is a review of two books concerning infectious disease, one fiction and one non-fiction. (By the way, I’m up to 50 books read this year. My goal is within sight!)

First is one I’ve been wanting to read for some time, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, by Seth Mnookin. Of all the articles and a few books I’ve read about the anti-vaccine movement, this reigns supreme. Mnookin does an incredible job of discussing the devastation of infectious disease, the development of inoculation/vaccination, and how the anti-vaccine movement began and took hold.

He also masterfully skewers the arguments put forth by the anti-vax crowd, although I would agree with him that they aren’t just anti-vax; they are anti-science. It is inexcusable for anyone to simply ignore the facts of the high rate of efficacy and low rate of complications of vaccines, not when children’s health and public health are at stake. One of the rationales for some is that there is so little exposure to these infections that they aren’t worried about their child getting it. Do you know why there is so little exposure? Because vaccines have been so successful! It is simply not acceptable to say, “I know, because I have mommy-instincts.” Science simply does not work that way. My great-uncle Sid died in his early twenties of diphtheria. People have forgotten that these infections can and do kill people.

Mnookin gives plenty of space to Andrew Wakefield, the unethical, sorry excuse for both a doctor and human being who started this whole ridiculous mess with his flawed and unscientific paper published in the British medical journal Lancet. The paper has since been withdrawn, and Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in England. His studies were horrible, including contamination from control strains of the measles virus, and not including positive and negative controls in each experiment. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of laboratory tests knows that in order to confirm your results, you must have known positives and negatives included to show that your assay is working properly.

Mnookin also provides much criticism to the media, who gave this story legs despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s a good thing for journalism to be fair and balanced, but sometimes, the other side of the argument does not bear up under proper examination; such false and harmful misinformation should not deserve equal treatment. There are two sides to every story, and sometimes one side is simply wrong.

A fantastic book, and one of my new favorites. Anyone who is sitting on the fence or has doubts about immunizations should read this. Anyone (like me) who believes that vaccines save lives should also read it, in order to bolster your arguments if you’re ever in the situation where you want to debate the subject with someone who really doesn’t get it.

Year of WondersNext is Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. Although a fictional book, it is based on the real village of Eyam in Derbyshire, which voluntarily quarantined itself during the Black Plague of 1665-66. Brooks puts a human face on sterile statistics; it’s one thing to know that Europe possibly lost one-half to two-thirds of its population, or that bubonic plague has a 40-90% mortality rate if untreated. It’s quite another to read about Anna Frith, a housemaid who must face the death of loved ones and see her rural village felled by the Plague.

Anna is a likable character, compelled to learn, and she is strengthened by her trials. The same can’t be said for many of her fellow villagers, who at times descend into irrational fear and murderous ways. The sadness that Anna had to deal with brought tears to my eyes several times throughout the book. The horrors of the deaths and losses, her triumphs and the failures of others, shows how devastating such a pandemic would be upon even our modern-day world. Although our medical knowledge and support is substantially greater now, the stress placed upon our infrastructure and society would still be devastating. People haven’t changed so much in four hundred years or so to think that there wouldn’t be blame to be laid upon others, certain ethnic groups or religious sects forced to be the scapegoat.

This book reminded me very much of Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Although Porter’s novella dealt with the 1918 influenza pandemic, the psychological and social strain of such a devastating and lethal pandemic is the same. The horrors of such widespread disease and panic is brought to life in both books.

Those who would condemn vaccinations would be wise to read both of these books and learn more about just how bad infectious disease can be.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Operation Retro Furniture: Complete!

Retro1I’ve posted a few pictures on Bookface of the furniture we’ve been putting in the basement. A little background....

My Uncle Burt passed away some months ago. His son, my Cousin Doug, and Doug’s wife Suzanne had been living at Uncle Burt’s house in order to care for him. Now it’s a matter of doing some remodeling on their own house prior to moving back there, and starting to go through things at Uncle Burt’s house in order to sell it. Anyone who has been through this knows how difficult it is, and they really have their work cut out for them!

I remembered some of the furniture that Uncle Burt had in the basement, and asked if they would be okay with me having it. They had no problem with that at all, and after a couple of trips, it is all in place. This is original ‘60s furniture and it is in incredible shape. Doug doesn’t remember exactly what year it is from, but he’s sure it is at least 50 years old, making it a genuine antique. I remember it from when I was a kid, and I’m pushing I guess that makes me almost an antique! He remembers it being in the office of the body shop that his Dad started in the ‘50s, I believe, and that Doug runs now.

The fabric is intact on the sectional sofa—who knew they made sectional sofas in the ‘60s?—and the pieces are very solid. Even the cushions are heavy, and I believe they actually put springs in such furniture cushions, rather than today’s flimsy foam. I am delighted to have it, and I think it pleased Doug to know that someone in the family has it and loves it.

I think most of you know that I love all things retro, and the chance to have such beautiful, original, and funky furniture for our basement “rec room” is just wonderful for me. It will also be a great reminder of all the good times our families had together, just getting together here in Indiana, or vacationing together in Minnesota.

There were a few things I wanted to add to it, and I got the zebra print rug, the zebra throw for the circle chair (that was the only piece that had some damage...some of the upholstery had come off), the pillows, and the lamps. We still need to hang some curtains at the sliding glass door, and please pardon some of the mess—I still need to work on some things. The triangular end tables are unique in that they can be combined into a square, or used separately, as I have done. I had to get a little lava lamp to set on the larger end table! I will look for a few other retro items to put on the tables, but I don’t want to clutter them too much. In the meantime, I put a few of my Route 66 things on the one table, my fabulous Las Vegas sign (it lights up!), and one of my all-time favorite fun things, my Cowboy Cactus.

I’m pleased with how it has come together, and it makes me want to don a ‘50s-style dress and sip a martini. Don Draper, come on over! I think it makes for a fun basement rec room, and our first test will be when our niece Jen and Shane and Matt come over after the New Year. Jen has already called dibs on the circle chair! We’ll have Rock Band upstairs, and pool and ping pong downstairs. As Devo says, “Something for everybody!”

What do you think? Would you hang out in a basement like this? We’ll show you a good time!