In early 20th century America, a virus spread throughout cities and homes across the country. Many people who became infected showed absolutely no symptoms. Others had mild flu like symptoms. A smaller percentage developed paralysis. At the time, little was known about this virus or how it spread. People who had the virus were quarantined, and travel was restricted. This was life during the Polio Epidemic.
I mentioned to my boyfriend earlier today that, in my naivety, I spent all of my 24 years (until now) assuming that pandemics were not really a big deal. After all, the medical community conquered infectious diseases in the 20th century, right?
Honestly, my experience up until this point made me think so. Yeah my grandparent’s generation dealt with deadly diseases like polio and TB, but vaccines and antibiotics took care of all of that. (Spoiler, they didn’t).
I never once dreamed that there would be some new virus that would emerge and change life as we know it.. but then, well, here we are.
So as the severity of this pandemic set in, I began researchinig COVID-19 until I would ultimately reach a point of exhaustion, and by exhaustion I mean anxiety so extreme that I would begin to feel physically sick.
The fact that we know so little about this virus makes me scared. I want answers to questions like, when will it end? What could be the long-term affects on our bodies and mental health? Will there be an effective vaccine? Honestly, not knowing those answers sucks. Especially since our health and overall wellbeing are threatened.
So, in my anxiety driven research, I didn’t find any of the answers I was looking for. I can’t possibly find them right now because they don’t exist yet. But, I did find some relief and comfort in reading accounts from past pandemics. Specifiically, polio.
In one article from NPR, three survivors of polio talked about the parallels between then and now. The survivors of the Polio Epidemic (all now well into the later phase of life) are pictured at the top of the article and they look strong, optimistic, and healthy. Maybe it sounds simple or obvious but, while I studied their faces I realized that what we’re experiencing now is not new. It’s human. Disease has always been a part of the human condition.
I know that if past generations got through polio, small-pox, and even the black death, I can, we can, get through this. Pandemics have been occurring since the dawn of humanity. People have always survived and continue to find ways to thrive.
As a species, we are resilient. I don’t know when, but history confirms this: there will be an end to this pandemic and life will resume. Maybe life will look different (hopefully better?). One thing is for sure, affliction and adversity spark growth in humanity. It’s hard to find peace of mind in much right now, but I definitely find peace of mind in that.