Quarantine, 1960 style


January 1960 had a major impact on me and my family. I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade.

The first of two momentous events occurred on January 7 when my youngest sister, Sydnie, was born. What a wonderful and happy experience for my family! Each of us was excited for the arrival of the newest, and last, member of our family consisting of three girls and me (obviously my parents need be included). This day was a time for celebration, and we couldn’t wait for our baby sister to come home so we could love her, hold her, kiss her, and be together as a family. We were also excited that my mom’s mother, Grandma Call, was going to be with us for a couple of weeks.

The second major occurrence to happen in January was not as positive and would impact our family in a way none of us expected or wanted. I remember that a week or so after Sydnie was born, I came home from church not feeling well and went to bed for the rest of the day. The next morning, I got up and felt good and was getting ready for school when my mother suggested I stay home (she didn’t have to ask twice). Later that day I started feeling ill again, went to bed, and slept all night. The next three days the cycle of illness repeated itself, so on Friday Mom took me to the doctor.

I still remember that day. The doctor examined me, then sometime later he came back and talked with my mom. He told her that I had infectious hepatitis (now known as Hepatitis A).

I wasn’t paying much attention to the doctor or my mother until I heard my mom sniffle. I turned my attention to her and noticed a tear in her eye. When I saw that tear, I got scared. I knew it was serious and thought to myself, “I’m going to die.”

I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew my mother and I knew it was serious or she wouldn’t be crying. I walked out of that doctor’s office scared that I really was going to die.

We talked all the way home and Mom did her best to explain what was happening to me and the seriousness of the disease (she reassured me that I was not going to die), how I was going to be treated, and its effects on the family.

I learned the following about what was going to happen to my family and me:

    1) Hepatitis was very contagious, and all my family would be given a shot of Gamma Globulin (today there is a vaccine for this type of Hepatitis).

    2) My mother had just given birth to my youngest sister and Grandma Call was with us to help with my little sister. Both Grandma and Sydnie were in a vulnerable high-risk population and a concern for my family, extended family, and the doctors.

    3) We were all quarantined by the Health Department until tests on the other family members could be done (this only lasted a few days).

    4) I had to eat a special low fat and low salt diet, and Mom was the only one who could handle my dishes and utensils, which had to be stored separately from the other dishes and utensils used by the family.

    5) I missed two months of school and was confined to the house. After one month I was no longer contagious, but the doctor said I wasn’t ready to go back to school. I did receive some relief from the monotony of lying on the couch, watching an old 17 inch black and white television. The school district sent a homeschool teacher to assist me in getting caught up with my seventh-grade class. He consulted with the teachers and worked with me to catch up so that when I was finally permitted to go back to school (after two months’ absence) I was caught up with my classmates. I remember my first day back. My teacher, Mrs. Patrick, smiled, welcomed me back, and, along with the other students, made me feel important.

During the two months I was sick, I had several friends, relatives, and friends of my parents who wanted to visit, wish me well, and cheer me up. Unfortunately, I was quarantined and contagious the first month, so no one was allowed in the house. However, one particular visit was especially meaningful to me. My Uncle Dick, Aunt June, cousins Rick, Mary Ann, and Barbara, along with Grandpa Call came to see me. They couldn’t come in, so they stood on the front porch and visited with me through the window. A poignant moment and memory occurred when Uncle Dick’s family gave me a transistor radio. My family didn’t have much. so this gift meant a lot to me and I used it until I wore it out.

This experience with Hepatitis was frustrating, life-changing, and, in retrospect, it was also a family strengthening experience. How you may ask? Well, as a family we had one goal (besides me getting better) and that was for no one else to get Hepatitis. As a family we united around this goal and it brought us together, and in many ways, it tightened up an already tight and close-knit family. As we worked together, we developed more patience, tolerance, and love. We protected each other (especially Sydnie), we talked with each other, prayed together, and felt the love we shared with one another.

At this time of a nationwide quarantine I hope this story brings a sense of hope to what otherwise might seem like a drab, boring time in our lives and the lives of our family. The resiliency concept illustrated in this story is that every family has challenges and with these challenges every family has choices. First, we can choose to feel sorry that those challenges are interrupting our family dynamics and teach our children that we are victims. Or, we can accept the situation and adopt a positive family attitude. We can discuss the challenges with our children and talk about what we can do to strengthen each other by taking advantage of the time we have together and develop a life full of individual and family growth, strength, closeness, and love.

As a family during this Covid-19 crisis let’s ‘fail forward’ together,

Calvert and Anne

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