Gasping for Air


Whooping Cough

When I was a baby, I almost died of whooping cough (that’s me on the left with Mum). As the story goes, my father rushed me into the hospital emergency ward, where a nurse heard my desperate gasping for air, ripped me from his arms with a look of horror and ran down the corridor to put me in a humidicrib with no time to spare.

No doubt the story has been embellished over the years, but I swear I still have a memory of that terrible feeling of trying to draw breath between wracking coughs.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease. We may think of it as just one of those things that babies and kids used to get, but in fact, according to Wikipedia, it affects 48.5 million people yearly resulting in nearly 295,000 deaths. It’s also completely preventable due to a vaccine.

Of course, there are a growing number of complete idiots that think they know better than all the scientists and researchers whose efforts have saved millions of lives, and advocate not immunising your child against whooping cough (and other preventable diseases). Despite the fact that the vaccine, introduced in the 1940s, has dramatically decreased the number of deaths from the disease, unscientific and unsubstantiated anecdotes and rumours swirl about on the internet that vaccination can cause brain damage.

I was thinking about the idiocy of people who would rather trust anecdotal evidence than scientific research, as I’ve recently been suffering from what my doctor suggested may be whooping cough. My last immunisation was at the age of 15 and apparently it can wear off in your forties. Then I read this article which claims that a recent epidemic of the disease may be attributable to the ‘conscientious objectors’ of Byron Bay and the eastern suburbs and northern beaches of Sydney, who are not immunising their children. It’s not too far beyond the realms of possibility that I got my dose of it from just such a child.

Seriously, what is it with these parents? Want to go back to the ‘good old days’ folks? Back when mumps, tuberculosis, meningitis, smallpox and measles, to name a few, caused millions of death worldwide? In the same way smallpox was eradicated, we could actually conquer these diseases, wipe them from the planet, only some people read a few crackpot internet articles or believe their village witchdoctor or priest and decide they know better than the people who devote their lives to this research—and the disease lives on, feeding on ignorance and fear.

Science is not perfect, and there’s been the occasional misstep along the road to enlightenment. But by its very nature, it learns from its mistakes, and it’s the best method we’ve got of saving lives and making the world a better place. We have to eradicate the ignorance that causes people to believe anecdotal evidence and superstition, and to think that science is somehow involved in some vast evil conspiracy of secrecy. Everything I’ve read about the history of this planet tells me that there were never any ‘good old days’; in fact, most people led nasty, brutish and short lives, right up to the most recent of times (and of course, many people in less developed countries still do). What has improved most lives in almost every conceivable way? Science.

The most cursory review of the facts tells us that the human race has never had it so good—let’s not start going backwards now.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lyle Williams
    Nov 18, 2010 @ 00:55:24

    Thank you for bringing the ignorance of some parents to light. We have the same problem in the U.S. As Einstein once remarked, “Two things are infinite: the universe and man’s stupidity.”

    • universalhead
      Nov 18, 2010 @ 08:44:00

      Einstein knew his stuff. My new favourite quote.

      I just looked it up and the full quote is even better: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.”

      • Lyle Williams
        Nov 18, 2010 @ 10:53:01

        Thanks for the help. I couldn’t think of the full quote at the time.

  2. queenwilly
    Nov 18, 2010 @ 13:23:36

    Two of my adult friends in Sydney have whooping cough right now. I immediately leapt to the same conclusion you did.

    These idiots need to live for a spell in the 1800s, see all their children die, and then come back to 2010 and apologise to all of us (and their kids).

    • universalhead
      Nov 18, 2010 @ 13:35:08

      Damn straight your majesty!

  3. XIII
    Nov 21, 2010 @ 06:38:36

    I have been trying desperately to convince my younger friends who are starting to have children of their own to ppease, please, please get your children vaccinated. I go on to let them know I nearly died from one of those childhood diseases(also whooping cough) when I was a 3. A long hospital stay before I returned home. I also explain diseases have been erased from the world through vaccines, not ancient natural medicines. It is not just irresponsible of these people, it is selfish. some try to correlate autism with the rise of vaccination usage, studies say otherwise. Thise facts are lost in people. keep up the fight, I will here in the US. Peace,

    • universalhead
      Nov 21, 2010 @ 10:03:20

      Thanks, Gene. Of course the link between vaccination is completely unproven and ridiculously tenuous – it simply grew out of the fact that the symptoms of autism tend to be recognised about the same time as vaccination; and that doctors actually only successfully diagnosed what we now label ‘autism’ relatively recently. Also, an extremely small percentage of children have a minor allergic reaction to vaccines.

      These small coincidences have been developed by the ignorant into full-blown conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, it seems some people would rather believe hearsay and Chinese whispers if it gives them a ‘reason’ why their child is autistic, than deal with facts.

      This bizarre concept that an unproven natural medicine or whacko religious philosophy is somehow intrinsically better than the modern scientific process just because it’s ‘old’ really betrays a complete lack of understanding about how human beings think.

      Good luck over there!

  4. Luka
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 23:38:15

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is really refreshing to come across such posts on the universal hub of superstition that is web (ironically, when you can access the vast majority of human knowledge through it, if you choose to).
    I’m a student of medicine and my “professional” curse is I notice any and all such idiocy I come across; but I can’t even begin to imagine what mr. Head (and others posting here) must feel after their personal experience with the disease. I think the discrepancy between the humbling progress the science has made and the willingness of some to believ the half-baked anecdotal “evidence” (or god forbid all the bioenergetic crap) has never been so great as it is now. I firmly believe basic education should give better courses on how the science works and why it is important to use the statistics propperly. That, and some basics on how the vaccines work, because I still come across grown-ups who are genuinely shocked when they find out that some vaccines are made from viruses.
    I appolgise for my personal version of the rant, but the above posts really gave me some hope today. I knew a girl, who diead of treatable cancer, because her mother would for months take her to some bioenergy/resonnance sharlatan instead of a propper doctor. They brought her to the hospital in the final stage, when this delicate, happy girl whom I never saw get really angry had just about a week left.

    Please folks, don’t give up in educating people.

    • universalhead
      Nov 27, 2010 @ 00:18:32

      I agree, there must be some flaw in our systems of education if people are so willing to believe charlatans and conspiracy theorists. And for some bizarre reason it does seem to be getting worse, despite the fact that at least a lot of the New Age garbage that was everywhere in the late 90s seems to be finally retreating from the mainstream (surely there aren’t any hold outs left who still believe that crystals have ‘healing properties’ – surely …)

      It must drive health professionals to the point of despair. I can’t imagine what makes people think they know better, but presumably it is a symptom of the “me, me, it’s all about me” epidemic that is the cause of a lot of other problems in this day and age. And as you say, the internet has, ironically, made things even worse. Perhaps we could all put a bit more energy into educating ourselves a bit better instead of updating our Facebook pages and Twittering our social network …

      Thanks for writing Luka.

  5. Sarcasmorator
    Dec 02, 2010 @ 06:20:18

    I was falling-down sick with whooping cough nine years ago, at 22 — I had black eyes and burst blood vessels in the whites from coughing so hard. The spasms are so severe they can break an adult’s ribs. It took more than six months for me to shake the cough entirely, and it’s much less hard on adults than children, especially babies. We had our daughter vaccinated within days of her birth — if they get it that young and it isn’t caught very quickly, there’s not much to do but watch them die. Anyone who doesn’t vaccinate their child is beyond a fool.

  6. Talos63
    Jan 01, 2011 @ 13:37:05

    I sympathise with the whooping cough stories. We have just been through a dire period of illness at home that bore more than a passing resemblance to it. Not much of a way to spend a Christmas holiday…

    I’m a parent of three children, two of which have been formally diagnosed with Autism. I’d just like to say that when you hear words like that, ones you know may change you and your child’s life forever, you become desperate in looking for a cause. It’s human nature. You are frustrated, angry, and about as sad and helpless as you can possibly be, all at once. Yes, the thought of blaming vaccinations crossed my mind. It didn’t stop us from making sure all the kids have had their full course of vaccinations.

    It is unfortunate timing that the accurate determination of Autism coincides approximately with the 3 year batch of vaccinations. Better education and availability of the services through school clinics, etc, would go a long way to improving the vaccination numbers. The way the system works now, it’s all too easy for kids to be allowed to slip through the cracks.

    • universalhead
      Jan 01, 2011 @ 17:54:14

      It’s a shame that the opponents of vaccination use such difficult and highly emotive issues to advance the spead of misinformation. I applaud your bravery and wish you a happy 2011 Talos63—thanks for commenting.

      There’s been some great comments on this thread from some smart people.

  7. anaglyph
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 10:30:05

    But Universal Head – you have it all wrong! It’s a plot by Big Pharma to sell us more of their drugs! The only way to combat these diseases is by using homeopathy.

    I know. A friend of my uncle’s girlfriend said it cured her cancer.