In 1880, when my great grandmother was born, life expectancy was 40. A Chicago ordinance banned people who were, “diseased, maimed, mutilated, deformed, unsightly or disgusting.” If you were deemed too ugly to be in public, you had to pay a fine of $1 to $50 or go to the poorhouse. Women didn’t have the right to vote. There were no child labor laws and 2 million kids, aged 10 to 15 were working full time jobs. People with mental issues were either shocked into submission or lobotomized. 65,000 mentally ill Americans were sterilized.
When my grandmother was born in 1900, one in three children died before adulthood. No one survived a burst appendix. People died from milk because pasteurization didn’t exist. Breathing radon was considered a cure for tuberculosis. Doctors said cigarettes helped asthma. Parents were encouraged to give their kids heroin-laced cough syrup made by Bayer. Cocaine was marketed in the Sears Roebuck catalog as a treatment for toothaches and depression. Syphilis was treated with mercury.
When my mother was born, life expectancy was 53. There were no antibiotics and penicillin hadn’t been invented. There were no governmental agencies like the FDA to certify a product’s safety. There were no vaccines like polio nor refrigeration to keep it viable. Water wasn’t chlorinated but came straight out of rusty, lead pipes. Few had indoor plumbing. Dead animals and feces were everywhere on the streets. The KKK was such an open, accepted part of American society that they publicly sponsored festivals and beautiful baby contests. Executions were public and in 1936, the last one in this country was attended by 20,000 people.
By the time I was born, there had been two world wars and Vietnam had just started. Life expectancy was 66. When my children were born, life expectancy was 76. However, there is a widening gap between our Life Span & our Health Span. Many are shuffling into old age decrepitly. Geneticists envision a future where we’ll be able to self-scan our bodies for impending disease and Immunotherapy and Artificial Intelligence will further help close that gap.
A brave, new world is coming! Or so I thought. I was feeling pretty lucky to be in this present one until Putin single-handedly drew us back into the Dark Ages: bombed cities, burned landscapes, babies among the dead bodies and unprovoked destruction in every direction. Now, I must sadly ponder the life expectancy of Ukrainians and long for the return of their golden sunflowers.