Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bobby's Dead and I''m Next

The polio vaccine came in when I was in the first grade.  I knew about polio by then.  When someone in the city came down with polio, children were denied contact with anyone outside  their family for several weeks.  If polio came calling in the summer, all public swimming pools closed.   I loved the water, no swimming seemed the ultimate victory for the virus.

A mass vaccination for all children was held in Austin in the summer I was a second grader to be.   High school auditoriums were set up as vaccinations sites.  My paternal grandmother arranged for us to go with our neighbor and her son to McCallum High School.   That was fine with me.  Bobby and I played together every day.  We were best friends.

McCallum was packed.  Bobby and I took our places in line.  Adults were shooed to the other side of the auditorium, so mu grandmother and his mother deserted us.  Bobby and I were left in a line slowly moving toward the place of vaccination..  Bobby, always the brave one, went ahead of me.

I do not know how long it took us to reach the nurse delivering the shots, but it was long enough for me to build up considerable apprehension.  We had had our first shot in our elementary school, one class at a time.  There had been little time to fret about that shot.   Now, however, I had plenty of time to worry.  Bobby did not seem worried.  His nonchalance helped keep me calm.  Some kids behind us were crying
Jonas Salk vaccinating a child.

Now, we were at the vaccination station.  There were two nurses.  One giving the shot and the other comforting the last recipient of the vaccination.   Bobby stepped forward resolutely.  The nurse pushed up his sleeve a little, swabbed is arm, and injected the vaccine.

Bobby's  skin  instantly turned a translucent white.  He fell at my feet eyes closed, unmoving.  Dead, I assumed.  I could not move.  That shot had  killed my best friend.

Out of nowhere my grandmother and Bobby's mother appeared.  His mother scooped him up while my grandmother cradled his head.  They left with the body.

 Bobby was dead and I was next.  My grandmother had left me.  I was as frightened as I had ever been in my life.  I was so afraid that I did not cry.  I wanted to run, but I was frozen in place.

The helping nurse urged me forward with platitudes I do not remember.  All I remember was my heart pounding.

I managed to step to the appointed place.  The vaccinating nurse rubbed my arm with something cold, then deftly injected the vaccine.  I barely felt it.   I took a deep breath.  I was still alive,

The helping nurse patted me on my shoulder.  "You can go now."

I moved away as quickly as I dared, but I did not run.  The auditorium was large it took me a moment to spot my grandmother and Bobby's mother.  I went to them.  Between them on a bench lay Bobby.  Alive.

Bobby was a still pale, but his eyes were open.  The back of his had was resting on his mother's purse.

"Bobby's fine.  He just fainted," my grandmother said.

I said nothing.  Bobby was alive and so was I.

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