Roach: Shot in the dark

'Wow. Almost didn’t get this column written because I was sick this past month.'
person prepping a needle

Wow. Almost didn’t get this column written because I was sick this past month.

I mean seriously sick. I feared for my mortal life.

First there was vomiting and fever. Then bumps started showing up on my skin. They turned to blisters that left scars all over my body. Turns out I had something called smallpox. I lived, which makes me lucky because the mortality rate for smallpox is like 30%. Someone told me there is a vaccine for smallpox that has pretty much eradicated the disease from the world. Probably should have checked that out.

While the pox was running its course, I stepped on a nail. A few days later my muscles started cramping and my jaw got seriously tight. Then I had seizures. The guys at the tavern said I had lockjaw, due to the clostridium bacteria which lives in soil, dust and manure. The guys said if there was ever someone who deserved lockjaw it’s me, ’cause I got a mouth like a torn pocket.

Lockjaw is also called tetanus. Someone told me there’s a vaccine for that too, but I never got around to it. Silly me.

And then while my jaw was tight, my salivary glands swelled up. Had a fever too. Yup. It was the mumps. On top of the lockjaw. Talk about bad luck. Looked it up and it said mumps can also make men less fertile. How the mumps get from a guy’s salivary glands to his testicles is a mystery to me. And yeah, there’s a vaccine for mumps. But I read on a website it’s just a way for doctors and hospitals to make money.

Just as my blisters were healing, my jaw started loosening up, and those salivary glands and gonads were returning to normal, I got another rash. And a crazy bad fever. It’s like Pink Floyd said in that song, “When I was a child, I had a fever. My hands felt just like two balloons.” Sure enough, it was the damn measles, which can make your brain swell. My buddies said it wouldn’t be all bad if my brain got bigger.

Lester at the end of the bar told me there’s also a vaccine for measles. Who knew?

So I was starting to feel more myself when I noticed some thick, gray areas forming in the back of my throat. Then another fever. I mean, how much fever can a guy take? And this time it was my lymph glands that got big and sore. There’s no question my glands have had a bad month, swelling wise. And you know what I had? I got the gosh darn diphtheria. And while I had that I also had uncontrolled coughing. I mean a wracking cough with my face turning as red as a Badgers home jersey. Yeah. I had whooping cough
on top of the diphtheria.

Which gets me to the biggest thing. You may not be able to tell, but I actually didn’t type this column the way I usually do. I dictated to one of the guys. Why, you ask? Well after all the fevers and swelling and rashes, I started to lose my ability to walk and breathe. You guessed it.


I’m dictating this column from what they call an “iron lung.” When I was young, polio was running wild, paralyzing and killing kids. Parents were scared to death. I knew a kid who couldn’t walk very well and had to wear a special shoe because he got it. Some guys named Salk and Sabin invented a cure. They had all the kids in Madison come down to the Field House to get the vaccine from water in a little dixie cup. I was going to go, but even then I didn’t trust the government, even though it was scientists, not the government, that invented the polio vaccine, and all the others.

And now I hear some medical folks have invented another vaccine to treat COVID-19, a disease that could kill millions before it’s done. Probably close to a half million here in America.

After going through smallpox, tetanus, mumps, measles, diphtheria and polio, I think I’m gonna finally smarten up and get that COVID-19 vaccine.

Just as soon as I get out of this iron lung.

John Roach, a Madison-based television producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at