My brother and I both had the measles when we were young. The Colonel was stationed in Germany. I can’t remember if we lived in Mannheim or Stuttgart at the time; we lived first in one and then the other for about about a year and a half each. My earliest memories save one stem from that time, both good and bad. It’s funny, reflecting now, I realize I was exposed that young to the knowledge that the world is both in roughly equal measure. A harsh epiphany for a three- or four-year-old. And the balance of my life has borne out that observation.
My older brother’s remembered Measles Moment became a family funny: During his fever he left his bed and tumbled down the top flight of stairs to the landing. He hit his head and was out for a few seconds. When he came to he was crying “I’ve lost my marbles! My marbles! I’ve lost my marbles!” My mother was terrified, crouching over him, thinking He’s lost his mind! In fact, he had just lost his marbles, which lay scattered all around them on the floor, and which she noticed after her panic subsided.
My Measles Moment was utterly private, though I lay in the same room as my brother, both of us in high fevers. Whether it was nausea that fed the hallucination, or the spinning colors on the walls that nauseated me I can’t say, but I spent hours, maybe days, in a sickeningly hypnotic hallucination: polka dots, of all sizes and myriad colors, oddly in the day-glow hues that defined the Sixties’ aesthetic. The jarringly colored circles swam and swirled, throbbed and grew and shrank, all of them all at once, all day, every time I opened my eyes. Maybe it came from some Mod thing I’d seen; this was 1963 or four.
I grew up with those colors and played with them, colored with them, sometimes wore them, saw them everywhere, and liked them just fine. But sometimes they’d show up in a particular pattern that would trigger the nausea. Until recent years (so at least fifty after the fever) I couldn’t stand to look at polka dots or swirling colors, though over time the nausea subsided. You do get over things, now none of it bothers me. But that’s my Measles Legacy.
Or is it? This outbreak of measles recently reported in the news got me thinking. Can any of my current (and longstanding) physical frailties or ailments be credited to the severity of the childhood illness that cooked my system so hot I tripped out as if on acid as a tender toddler? It’s an honest question: Who knows? The CDC lists no long-term complications from measles (Rubeola) except a very rare and fatal one called SSPE, which I don’t have, and possible hearing loss; nor for German measles (Rubella), which we also had in Germany. I am prone to earaches, maybe that came from the measles. But has anyone studied it? Has anyone inquired if chronic pain, aching joints, fatigue, can stem from severe measles in childhood?
Whether or not a childhood episode of measles can lead to long-term, later-life complications, it’s a seriously nasty bug, and people should think hard about not vaccinating their children. It was a horrible experience for me, despite the fact that I survived, and it affected me for decades afterwards.