Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Helpless And The Outbreak of 1952

One my favorite Neil Young songs, Helpless, always brings back my first dated memory.

I was four years old and riding between my parents as we arrived before dawn at Ashton Memorial Hospital four miles from our ranch to have my tonsils removed.  This hospital didn’t open until two years after my birth in 1948 so I had been delivered in Idaho Falls, 50 miles southwest of that Yellowstone-Teton nook where both my great-grandparents and grandparents had homesteaded.

The tonsillectomy was a memorable benchmark for me, but my parents were much more worried about the large outbreak of polio in Idaho that year.  This was one year after Neil Young’s bout with that disease began in Ontario, Canada which later became in part an inspiration for his composition of the song Helpless in 1969, famously released in 1970 by CSN&Y.

Helpless by CSNY–Scenes from Idaho

Ironically they may have been worried by both conditions because some doctors at the time were hypothesizing a link between tonsillectomies and polio outbreaks.

I’m glad I had them out, especially after watching how frequently some friends and siblings became ill with tonsillitis when they didn’t.

My second visit to that hospital in Ashton was with my elementary school class three years after leaving my tonsils there and I recall how we were lined up against the wall in a dimly lit hallway to receive some of the first vaccinations against polio, our heads filled with visions of “Iron Lungs” and the heroic images of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s battle with the disease.

Even as the 1950s came to an end, the disease came close to me  when it struck the younger brother of my best friend who happened to be the same age as my youngest sister.  Maybe historians are correct that the media, even back then, fueled fear of the disease blowing it far out of proportion; but it is impossible to forget that era especially when it touched the lives of so many others as well who, like Young have been cultural icons during my life:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's one of the devastating medical cases in the region. Even dentist summerville have difficulties in their practice.