I remember being quarantined, separated from family — at age 6

Carolyn Cary's picture

All the discussion lately about swine flu and quarantine reminded me of a time in my past, one that took place before the war, as they say. I was living in the Kenmore community of Akron, Ohio.

It was the fall of 1938 and I was 6 years old. The current epidemic at that time was whooping cough. There was no CDC at that time, just a county health department that took it upon themselves to quarantine each house that had a victim housed therein.

I remember them tacking a sign, probably about 8x10, outside our front door. It told all who read it that they were not permitted to go in the house. I also remember my mother being somewhat mortified, as if she didn’t keep a clean house.

Evidently, I coughed and coughed until my left lung collapsed. So I was taken away from home and put in a tuberculosis sanitarium. No comment, please, about the sanitarium part.

I remember having to stay in bed day and night. I can’t recall getting up to use the facilities, but surely I was allowed to do that.

I had begun grade school in January 1938, and was in grade 1A. The school told my parents that I did so well they were going to let me skip 1B and go on to 2A.

And then I got whooping cough. There was some schooling while I was at Edwin Shaw Sanitarium, but I doubt that it was according to state regulations.

Consequently, when I got out six months later, I was put in 1B after all. Oh, well ...

Visitation was on Sunday afternoon, and my parents and assorted relatives were most faithful. I have a sister, three years younger than me, and she was not permitted inside the sanitarium.

So Mom and Dad would have me stand on one side of this glass door — yes, I was in my pajamas — and stare at my little sister, Shirley. At the age of 3, and with my being absent for so long, she had no clue why she was there and, for heavens sake, who was that stranger with her pajamas on in the middle of the day?

Besides staring at my sister through a glass door, there are several other things I remember. It seems to me that we had two Thanksgiving meals that year. I haven’t researched the matter, but I believe President Franklin Roosevelt declared a specific Thursday in November to be the official Thanksgiving Day, and that there were two of them that year.

I remember getting a book on “Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy” that I have enjoyed ever since and is now treasured by my son David.

My birthday is Dec. 2, and I spent it that year in the hospital, having my tonsils taken out. I got my first watch as my birthday present while in the hospital and then it was back to Edwin Shaw.

Since Christmas was in the offing, a women’s guild or other gave us all a piece of paper and told us to write down what we wanted for a present. I don’t remember what all I wrote down except for one thing, a red polka-dot dress, which they provided.

Once again, I embarrassed my mother, bless her heart! Now I know the Depression was still making things difficult for families, but my father was a steam engineer at Firestone Tire and at least had enough money to buy his daughter a dress. Sorry, Mom.

I got to come home that Christmas Day and renew my acquaintance with my sister.

In light of the research since that time, I wonder if I would have been allowed to hob-nob with TB patients in 2009 simply because I had a collapsed lung, much less be in quarantine with those who exhibited a strange new-type flu.

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