The Weeder, the Girl, and the Vaccine

12 07 2012

When we were but moppets, Dad paid a nickel for every weed my brothers and I and the neighborhood kids pulled out of our yard on Saturday mornings.

He’d appoint my oldest brother to be in charge, and then he would disappear into the house to watch a game.

One hot day, my best friend stepped on the pointy end of her hand weeder and a spike punctured her foot. I remember lots of yelling and blood and my dad suddenly being there in the yard, picking up Lori, and running with her into the house.

Mostly, though, I remember how afraid we all were that Lori would get tetanus. Well, we called it lockjaw, because most of us were under 10 years of age and didn’t know the word “tetanus.”

Tetanus goes way back in recorded history, all the way to the fifth century BCE, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the cause of tetanus was discovered.

By WWII, a tetanus toxoid was available and widely used to prevent tetanus. This toxoid was combined with a pertussis vaccine and a diphtheria toxoid in the mid-1940s to make up the DTP vaccine. Many years and versions later, we have several combination vaccines for use in preventing tetanus.

Tetanus disease happens when certain bacteria usually found in dirt or dust get into a cut on the skin and, once in the body, produce a toxin. It’s the toxin that causes the symptoms we associate with tetanus, including:

  • Headache
  • Tightening or spasms of the jaw
  • Muscle spasms
  • Fever
  • Difficulty swallowing

It can get serious, with spasms strong enough to break a child’s bones, and the fatality rate is high—10 to 20 percent.

Tetanus isn’t something that passes from person to person, and it can be prevented through regular vaccination. Which vaccine you get and when you get it depends on your age and immunization history.

Anyway, that was a thrilling day in our childhood. Lori hobbled around the rest of the summer, free of tetanus but banned from the creek and other of our favorite haunts.

Mom no longer allowed Dad to leave the wee weeders under the care of my brother. Instead, he sat in a lawn chair on our tiny porch and listened to the game on the radio while scanning the yard for potential hazards.

The upside to this was that Dad would overheat from the sun bouncing off that concrete porch, and he’d take us for ice cream after the weed-pulling was done.

To read more about tetanus, visit these links:

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of Garden Guides



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