I’m confident that 100 years or more from today someone, who like myself enjoys researching history, will be reading about today’s times and wondering what it would be like to have been alive in 2021. Meanwhile, until the time machine is invented — and it will be — I find myself thinking about what time period I would like to visit. Would it be the roaring raucous 1920s in Logan, or perhaps 1932, when Mamie Thurman was murdered? Honestly, I would simply return to the days of my youth, even though diseases like the measles and mumps had not been eradicated.
Speaking of diseases, allow me to delve into Logan’s past at a time today when emergency rooms are filled to the maximum, school classes are being canceled, and in the meantime, some people continue to act as if all of this is normal. It is a time when only about 50 percent of eligible Logan County adults have received COVID-19 vaccinations.
First, I shall name the first children known to have died from one of the world’s deadliest diseases in what would become Logan County, Virginia, and then in 1863 good ’ole West “By Gosh” Virginia. The following are the names of the children who died tragically young from smallpox in 1776 and are buried in downtown Logan — Boling Jr., Running Deer, Waulalpha, Snow Lilly (Conee) Princess Raindrop (Gimewane), Blue Feather, and Pattie.
Many readers will likely identify the above names with their parents, Aracoma and Boling Baker; names that go hand in hand with what is now known as Midelburg Island in Logan, the scene of the 1780 attack on Aracoma’s tribe in which she and most of her Indian tribe were killed. Aracoma was laid to rest in the cemetery in which all of her children had previously been buried. That cemetery is now covered by what became the town of Logan, after previously being known by other names, including Aracoma.
So it is that disease-causing epidemics have been in existence for thousands of years, and millions of lives have been taken by one malady or another. Unfortunately for the native American Indians like Aracoma, the “white man’s disease” decimated many of their people some 241 years ago.
As the unsettled hunting grounds of the Indians began to be infiltrated by those rugged men and women who sought freedom in the ginseng-rich Appalachians, most illnesses within a family were handled by methods such as making concoctions of yellow root or ginseng tea. Another common plant, bloodroot, was used for many skin irritations and cuts. With families usually located miles apart, major disease outbreaks were rare in these hills.
As more and more people came into southern West Virginia to engage into the timber industry, and especially in railroad construction camps, sanitary conditions were often terrible, with dysentery and typhoid fever particularly a problem.
Around the turn of the 20th century and after coal mines started opening in nearly every hollow, which led to importing potential workers from just about any global location, crowded coal camp conditions led to the spread of many diseases, with diphtheria being a horrible ailment that led to deaths of children.
However, before the community of Logan began to grow at an amazing pace due to the opening of the coal industry, when a person was infected with smallpox, that person was isolated in a way that is far different from today’s intensive care hospital units. The diseased person was placed into what was called a “pest house.” According to one account of that time period, “About the best one could say of such a place was that its occupants were out of the weather.”
From other written accounts, family members were allowed to place food, clothing and other necessities at the entrance gate to the pest house but were not allowed to get anywhere near the diseased party. Following weeks of confinement, if the person lived, he or she would be released. If the person died, they were almost always — for reasons not specified — buried at nighttime.
In what is eerily familiar to today’s environment was what was transpiring in October of 1923 at a time when diphtheria was claiming the lives of many children. The Logan Banner headline read: “Deaths of Children From Diphtheria Can Be Prevented.”
“Deaths of children resulting from diphtheria can be prevented,” said State Health Commissioner Mr. Henshaw in 1923.
“Experience of the health department for several years,” Henshaw explained, “shows that children who have been inoculated do not contract diphtheria, no matter how much they may be exposed. If every child in the state were vaccinated, there would be no diphtheria in West Virginia.”
That was the situation 98 years ago, and since that time diphtheria has been eradicated in the United States, as have several other devastating diseases, including polio, the mumps, measles, chickenpox and other health hazards that formerly caused much misery. As an example of past suffering, it should be noted that during the 1940s polio outbreaks in the U.S. increased to the point that 15,000 people annually were becoming paralyzed.
Following the use of a vaccine in 1955 and the oral vaccine that came in 1963, polio cases fell to 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 by the 1970s. Thanks to the vaccine, dedicated health care professionals and parents who continue to vaccinate their children on schedule, polio has been eliminated in America for more than 30 years.
As an old codger who as a child suffered from both measles and mumps and who was vaccinated for polio in 1963, allow me to present to you the following real life account of a woman who has been employed by Logan Regional Medical Center as a nurse in the intensive care unit there for the past 15 years. Her words written Sept. 28 explain the dire situation that we face.
“I’m sitting here, exhausted, thinking over the events of the past three days of this weekend. I have worked at Logan General/Logan Regional Medical Center for more than 25 years. Nearly 15 of that has been as a nurse in ICU critical care.
“I have never experienced a weekend as heartbreaking and gut wrenching as this past weekend. Our critical care staff and services have stretched beyond the doors of our ICU/CCU as we are overwhelmed with COVID-19 ventilated and other ventilated patients. Code blues, rapid responses, multiple sequence intubations the entire weekend, all of which are the ICU teams’ and respiratory therapy’s teams’ responsibilities.
“Our ICU team is the VERY BEST. We have gone far beyond what is even expected. You name it, we can do it. Our respiratory therapists are the BOMB! Dr. Billy Mullen is unflappable. Like Kramer sliding into a room out of nowhere, there he is. Always. All of our faces are weary.
“Multiple, multiple, multiple ventilated patients. Unless you could see this and experience this, you have no idea. We feel like we are working in a bad B grade horror movie with no budget that’s only seen on TBS at 2 a.m. But it’s not a movie. It’s real. It’s very real and it’s more horrifying and heartbreaking than anything we have ever seen or endured. Watching people decline, then die. All while we know we have done everything humanly possible.
“We have done it without judgment. Without malice. We have done it and will continue to do it with all of our hearts and our knowledge. That’s what we do. This post is not for praise. It’s for education that’s coming now. 99.9 % of our ventilated patients are unvaccinated.”
The nurse went on to say that the hospital’s physicians rely on science journals and published articles from peer-reviewed and reliable sources. “They are EDUCATED. Nurses are EDUCATED. All of use are experienced,” she wrote.
“We have not admitted nor seen ONE SINGLE patient in our hospital with adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. If you are considering getting a vaccine, but have been waiting for whatever reason, I highly suggest to you GO TODAY. I’m really tired of pronouncing times of death.”
All I can add to the above scenario — at least for that futuristic person who 100 years or more from now chooses to research the years of 2020-21 — is the hope that I’ve adequately provided you a picture of the situation currently at hand.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.