HOW THE DISCOVERY OF GERMS CHANGED SOCIETY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In ancient societies, people thought diseases were caused by an imbalance of body fluids or by angry Gods. Centuries later, scientists suspected that illnesses might be transmitted through air or water but they weren’t sure how. Then, in the mid-19th century, Germ Theory proved that tiny microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses, definitively caused disease. This discovery had a profound effect on almost all aspects of human behavior.

You would be appalled by some of the common practices before people understood that germs cause disease. Families shared toothbrushes as well as dinner utensils and public drinking fountains had a single cup that was shared by everyone. Lodgers in inns routinely shared beds with same-sex strangers and families often had several members sharing beds at home.

Customs changed and laws were passed rapidly to adapt to the new scientific knowledge about infectious diseases. Sharing beds and silverware was suddenly unacceptable and restaurants began making male waiters shave their large beards and mustaches. Long skirts for women and heavy Victorian draperies for windows went out of style because all the heavy folds of fabric were thought to harbor germs. Laws were passed to outlaw public spitting, a very common practice among men. An entire industry came into being producing sanitary products and disinfectants, which is how Listerine was born.

Wicker was believed to be germ-resistant so it became the material of choice for seating. The invention of plastic wrap (by the Cellophane Company) in the 1920s was touted as a major sanitary innovation because it could keep food and other personal items germ-free. Refrigerators and vacuum cleaners became necessities for keeping a clean, hygienic house, the new primary goal of all women.

Another esoteric custom came into being. Have you ever wondered why sheets are folded down over the blanket at the head of the bed? We didn’t always do that. Once germs were discovered, sheets were lengthened so that they could protect the blanket from human touch. Therefore the blankets stayed germ-free and could be reused and needed to be washed less frequently than the sheets. Who’d have guessed that one?

The adoption of sanitary practices had some wonderful effects. For example, the frightening levels of infant mortality were greatly reduced. In 1870, 175 of every thousand infants died within the first year of life but by 1930, that number was down to 75. Unfortunately, there was also a serious negative effect on children, as child-rearing practices took an ominous turn.

By the end of the 19th Century, mothers and child givers were warned against cuddling or even touching children for fear of spreading deadly infections. Chilly, aloof, and almost totally non-physical relationships with children were encouraged by doctors and even the government. Parents were told they would do psychological damage as well as physical harm to their children by ‘spoiling’ them if they showed any kind of physical affection. It was this hands-off approach that did serious damage to generations of children because it goes against the inherent need for physical affection that all primate share.

This awful period of child-rearing didn’t end until WWII. That’s when John Bowlby developed attachment theory after observing the damaging effects of children being separated from their parents when they were sent away to ‘safer’ areas during the Blitz in England. Bowlby believed that the attachment between a child and its parents is one of the most important factors in determining a child’s mental and even physical health. He believed that anything that damages the formation of that attachment, like the absence of physical contact and emotional warmth, would have a lasting impact on a child’s emotional and cognitive development.

Around the same time as Bowlby, an American psychologist named Harry Harlow did world-famous studies with monkeys that proved that all primates have an instinctual need for touch and affection. He also found that baby monkeys who were deprived of physical contact exhibited abnormal and even pathological behavior. His work bolstered Bowlby’s and helped initiate a new era of child-centered and emotionally as well as physically connected parenting. My father was a prominent psychoanalyst and anthropologist who wrote in the 1940s and 1950s about the importance of parental intimacy, stimulation, and affection for their kids, especially in the first, critical three years of life.

I always find it fascinating to unravel the connections between seemingly unrelated events in history. There was a wonderful PBS show years ago, aptly called “Connections” that did precisely that. The concept is similar to the “butterfly effect.” I never would have thought that the discovery of germs would influence child-rearing for several generations.

Maybe our experience with the Coronavirus pandemic will have similar, unpredictable effects in all different areas of life. We can guess that more people will work from home from now on, that many people may eat out less frequently and maybe that shopping online will supplant in-person shopping for most things. But what else will change? Only time will tell.

DOOMED AGAIN? – Marilyn Armstrong

We are doomed. If the climate doesn’t get us, some newly arisen germ will get us. My son is sure the oncoming Coronavirus is a reiteration of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” To be fair, I read “The Stand” such a long time ago, I don’t remember much about it. I have his updated (edited material restored) version in my audiobook library, but it’s a 46-hour listen. The book was long, but now it’s a couple of hundred pages longer.

I’m not sure I have the strength to reread it, but I feel I should. Because, you know, it’s Stephen King and he’s a local guy.

It was October when we got our super flu shots. These are hyped up uber-potent shots they give to older folks — like us — because we are more likely to get sick than younger people. Sicker, because we also have asthma, high blood pressure, heart problems,  chronic sinus problems. Stomach problems. IBS. Fibromyalgia. MS. Cancer. And, of course, arthritis because you can’t avoid it. It comes with age and being mammalian.

How are your allergies? Allergies are just like being sick, but you never recover.

In fact, I don’t know why we don’t just die and give the world a break. Sheesh.

Discovering that in addition to the usual distributors of disease — other people, especially very young people, we can worry about everything we touch including supermarket carts and ATMs.

As if the handles on the shopping cart and whatever my granddaughter is carrying (she doesn’t get sick — at 23 you carry germs, but you’re fine) isn’t bad enough, now I have to stress over ATM machines? Not that I actually use them. I won’t make a deposit without going to a living person in the bank. I want a paper receipt. Signed and dated.


We are doomed. Something will get us.

How about that creeping, unexplained virus eating China or maybe the super-flu which the vaccine can’t control? Or the climate will continue changing and it will rain until the rivers overflow. We will all drown in boiling water because it has gotten too hot to live in what was humorously called “the temperate zone.”

We don’t go out much. When we do, one of us gets sick, followed the other one of us. There’s an inevitability to it, like the slow cars that pull out in front of us while we are traveling. I’m sure these cars are told when to appear by drones from the Super-Slow Drivers’ Department.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the air, there’s a germ-laden drone.


“Look! It’s the Armstrongs! Prepare to disperse germs!”


When we went for our flu shots, they asked if we thought either of us might be sick. At our age, that’s not an easy question to answer. Maybe we are fine. Or not. Is my stomach the usual “upset” or is it a bug? Am I exhausted from last week’s major house cleaning or from trying to find (unsuccessfully) a handicapped space in Worcester the other night? Does this mean I’m coming down with something? If so, what?

Am I worn out because the dogs are more passionate about squeaky balls than I have ever been about anything? Don’t you wish you could get that enthusiastic about a big green tennis ball that squeaks? Don’t you wish you could bite something hard enough to make it squeak?

DOOMED – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: ATM Germs


We are doomed.

Yesterday — or was it the day before? — we got our super flu shots. These are hyped up uber-potent shots they give to us older folks because we are more likely to get sick than younger people. Also, we are more likely to die from the flu because we have other issues — asthma, blood pressure, and heart problems. Sinus problems. Stomach problems. Fibromyalgia. MS. Cancer.

In fact, I don’t know why we don’t just die and give the world a break. Sheesh.

Discovering that in addition to the usual distributors of disease — other people, especially very young people — we can now worry about everything we touch including the ATM machine.

Don’t forget your flu shot …

Really? As if the handles on the shopping cart and whatever my granddaughter has on her clothing isn’t bad enough, now I have to stress over ATM machines? Not that I actually use the ATM machine. I won’t make a deposit without going to an actual person in the bank. I want a paper receipt.

Call me crazy, but once, a long time ago in a bank since absorbed by some larger bank — probably by now it’s all Bank of America — they lost a deposit I put through in an envelope that included an official deposit slip.

It got straightened out but left me with a firm belief for any deposit made by check or cash I want a written, signed piece of paper from a person.

We are doomed. No matter how hard we try, something will get us.

We don’t go out much. When we do, we usually get sick. It’s like the slow cars that pull out in front of us while we are driving. I’m sure these cars are told when to appear by drones from the super-slow drivers’ department. Meanwhile, somewhere in the air, there’s a germ-laden drone.


“Look! It’s the Armstrongs! Prepare to disperse germs!”

Mostly, Garry and I have been exhausted. All the time. For me, this typically means fibromyalgia. Garry had surgery in July and I have a feeling that this might have triggered the same thing for him. Women are more typically fibromyalgia victims, but men are not excluded.

Then again, maybe we aren’t sick at all. Maybe we just aren’t getting enough sleep. The weather has been like hot soup with interludes of rain.  Duke is shedding like a small furry hurricane. Our sinuses and eyes don’t like the ragweed and Garry is getting used to carrying around a lot of electronics inside his head.

So maybe it’s all allergies and getting even older.

When we went for our flu shots, they always ask if you think you might be sick. At our age, that’s not an easy question to answer. Maybe we are fine or as fine as we ever are. But, maybe we aren’t fine.

Am I exhausted from all the running around to doctors and hospitals or because I’m coming down with something? Am I recovering from the major house cleaning last week? Or am I worn out because our dogs are faster, friskier, and more impassioned about balls that squeak than I could ever be?

Don’t you wish you could get that enthusiastic about a big green tennis ball that squeaks? Don’t you wish you could bite something hard enough to make it squeak?

SUSPICIOUS? ABSOLUTELY! THEY ARE ALL FULL OF GERMS!

VALID SUSPICIONS


Garry and I don’t go anywhere and it isn’t because of the weather.

It’s the flu. The stomach flu. The lung and chest and sinus variations on a theme of flu. Go to the doctor? DOCTOR? That’s where all the sick people go! Grocery store? Pharmacy? That’s where the rest of the sick people go.

I swear to you … every time I go anywhere, I come home sick. And so does Garry. Then we give it back and forth to each other for the rest of the winter. Sometime in April, we start to feel better and this isn’t because we got old.

We have been doing this “togetherness” act for a very long time. When Garry was a working reporter, he got everything. If anyone anywhere sneezed or coughed, he came home with it. He still had to go to work because Channel 7 didn’t believe in illness. Sick? So? Unless you were in the hospital on life support, you were expected to be at work.

My work was nominally less grueling, but not much. I inevitably worked solo, so if I didn’t show up, the job just waited. There was only so long I could let it go before I had to drag myself into the office. No one else could do what I did. There are some disadvantages to working alone and that is definitely a big one.

I’m tired of being a little bit sick, a little bit sicker, or finally getting better only to discover Garry is down with something I am absolutely sure I will get in three to five days. If there is an answer to this problem, let me know what it is. Other than living in a bubble, of course.

It isn’t really that I love warm weather. It’s that warm weather means less disease stalking the valley. I can usually count on not being sick from early May through late October. By Thanksgiving, all bets are off.

How are you doing these days?