This I Believe

Judith - Madison, Wisconsin
Entered on March 28, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: science

I believe in bleach. Bleach and hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol. Antibacterial soap and polio vaccine and sterile operating rooms. I believe in all the wonderful discoveries and inventions that have nearly doubled the average lifespan since the dawn of the last century, a time when dying in childbirth was not ununsual and contagious diseases took babies and toddlers at will. I believe in the scientists and doctors and researchers who brought them to us.

But let’s start with bleach, aka sodium hypochlorite. When the floor drain in the basement backs up, as it does at least once a year, I don’t cry and I don’t pray. I rush to the store for gallons of bleach which I know will make my basement clean again, at least for a while. When mold forms on the bathroom windowsill, I reach for the bleach. And when I sat with my husband in the ICU following his lifesaving bypass surgery, I was thankful to smell the slight bleachy odor of an antiseptic hospital.

Speaking of which, I probably would not have a husband alive today if not for the incredible medical genius and daring of those before us who made heart bypass surgery so safe and successful. I might not have a daughter, either, since she bled so profusely giving birth to her first baby that, if she had not been in a well-equipped, modern hospital with a well-trained doctor in attendance, we might well have lost her. And all the medical professionals were well-scrubbed and antiseptic. When I read history and am reminded that, not so long ago, doctors went from childbirth to childbirth without washing their hands, thereby spreading infection from mother to mother/baby to baby, I am ever more grateful to live in the age of soap and bleach.

And vaccines! I was born in the pre-polio vaccine days and lost a young cousin to the disease in the late 1940’s. I remember the fear of public gatherings during those summers. And I remember the relief after the Salk vaccine was introduced. My grandchildren will know nothing of polio, nor will they know about diptheria or even measles, the disease that took young Helen Keller’s eyes and ears. Sure, we are not disease-free in this world, even in the most highly-developed nations. Cancer, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimers, AIDS, arthritis, MS are all with us. But we have the basic knowledge and tools to study and conquer them and we are developing more. Who knows? Maybe in another 50 years, someone will be writing an essay about the wonders of stem cells or the success of gene therapy in eradicating our worst enemies. But in the meantime, let’s be thankful for what we have now: vaccines, soap, antibiotics and bleach.