January 21

M*A*S*H, Polio and COVID-19

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

While exercising the other night, I happened to catch an episode of M*A*S*H that caused me to reflect on the impact that COVID-19 has had.

For those who might not be familiar, M*A*S*H was a television series that ran from 1972 to 1983 about a United States Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War.

Having been born in the early 1950s, I was a young boy the year the Korean War ended and Dr. Jonas Salk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a polio vaccine.

I heard all the stories from the family about what it was like to live through the Great Depression and World War II.

I heard my parents, aunts and uncles talk about their fear of polio. In the United States in the early 1950s, polio had become one of the most serious communicable diseases among children. The disease caused paralysis among thousands of children. Parents were frightened to let children go outside and tried “social distancing.” Swimming pools and movie theatres were closed during “polio season.” Hospitals set up special units with iron lung machines to help children breathe.

My life experiences seem to pale in comparison, at least until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. They have included the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., President Kennedy and his brother, Bobby; the Vietnam War; the oil crisis that resulted in the rationing of gasoline; and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon to name a few.

The M*A*S*H episode provided a stark reminder of the impact that being separated from loved ones for extended periods of time can have. In the episode, Captain B.J. Hunnicutt lashes out and then breaks down after reading a letter from his wife. He is distraught over his daughter mistakenly thinking that someone else was her Daddy and not being able to experience all of the joys associated with the important moments and memorable occasions of his daughter in her first years of life. He was not able to be there for his daughter’s first two birthday parties.

Sadly a couple of days ago, we marked a milestone of more than 400,000 deaths due to COVID-19 since the first case was discovered in the United States one year ago yesterday. We have felt the impact of social distancing, stay-at-home, and quarantine directives.

At the same time, I believe we should feel blessed about a couple of things.

The first is the advances that have occurred in technology. We can connect with family members and friends through applications such as FaceTime and Zoom. Family members and friends in different locations throughout our country and the world can come together virtually and see and talk with each other. While these applications cannot replace the opportunity to visit with each other face-to-face, we can share stories, experiences, and special moments.

At the senior living, assisted living and memory care communities we operate, staff members are able to assist residents in using the technology to connect with family and friends.

The second is the development of vaccines for COVID. With polio, Dr. Salk’s announcement of the discovery of the vaccine occurred nearly 60 years after the first recorded polio outbreak in the United States, which occurred in Rutland County, Vermont in 1894. While the initial rollout of the vaccine for the coronavirus certainly has been bumpy, the process of inoculating individuals started less than 12 months after the first case in the U.S. was reported.

Residents and staff at many of the communities we operate already have received the first dose.

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