Horrible memories of whooping cough were brought back to me last week when a friend sent me a link about a new whooping cough epidemic in California (CNN, too). I actually contracted whooping cough as an adult, and it was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life.
And it was triggered by religious ignorance and my own ignorance of the disease.
My whooping cough started as a mild cold with an annoying cough. But before long, it was a vicious, deep, wracking, relentless cough. My throat felt like fire, my head pounded from the pressure, my ribs nearly broke from the force, and I tore the muscle in my diaphragm. And not just for a day or two ... this went on for weeks. I took so much codeine cough syrup that it made me slightly psychotic and I started raging at my young children for the tiniest offense. I could barely work even though I was working full time at home. I only slept an hour or two each night. The cough didn't completely go away for over two months, and even six months later I would occasionally be wracked with another fit of deep coughs.
I wouldn't wish that on anyone, especially a little baby. But that's exactly what the religious anti-vaccination nutjobs are doing.
These epidemics happen from time to time around America, and they are one hundred percent the fault of religious fanatics who go on anti-vaccination crusades. I got this dreaded and deadly disease because of a bunch of religious communities in Santa Fe whose members didn't believe in vaccinating their children. Apparently the whooping cough bacteria weren't impressed by these people's healthy lifestyle, prayers, vegan diet and all the pyramids and crystals they employed. They thought all those young lungs were quite hospitable, and pretty soon there were dozens of children who were gravely ill. And since whooping cough vaccinations wear off, adults like me caught it too.
Modern Americans don't realize how truly horrible this disease is. We're so insulated from the pain, disfigurement and death that our ancestors faced every day that we've forgotten why these vaccinations were so avidly sought and eagerly embraced by our grandparents and great grandparents. Ironically, the vaccination is its own enemy. It used to be that mothers and fathers personally witnessed the tragedy. When a vaccine came along, they welcomed it.
Those who don't understand evolution, those who have been insulated from the true horrors of "the good old days," are able to convince themselves that nature is beautiful and that illness is caused by "polluting" our bodies or getting away from "nature," whatever that means. It mirrors the core Christian belief that God created a good world and we screwed it up. Anti-vaccination advocates believe that if the human body gets proper "all natural" nutrition, it becomes like Superman, invulnerable to everything.
This is pure bullpucky. It's utter religious nonsense, based entirely on faith and in direct conflict with scientific fact. Anyone who studies evolution knows that we're in a constant life-and-death struggle with millions of creatures, from viruses to lions, that would like to have us for dinner. It doesn't matter how healthy you are, a lion will eat you for dinner, and a pertussis bacterium will dine on your lungs. It's only because people have been trained to reject logic when it conflicts with faith that they're able to believe this tripe.
But I share some of the blame – I didn't know that childhood whooping-cough vaccination wears off. Did you? Have you had your pertussis vaccine updated lately?
(BTW, this story is included in The Religion Virus. I wrote a bunch of little personal stories about my life, one of which was titled A Cough That Kills.)