Quarantine

New Plymouth School Nurse June Boomhouer

077 1947 New Plymouth School Nurse
June Boomhouer

I don’t know when New Plymouth first began quarantining, but believe it was around 1910. There were lists of diseases given to doctors. If any doctor had a patient with that disease (both forms of measles, pink eye, etc.,) then he would tack a bright yellow 5 x 8 card, pre-printed with large letters, stating that Quarantine was in effect on that house, and signed by the doctor. Only the people already in that house could enter it. They could do their chores but could go nowhere else.

A number of times coming home on our bus, we saw the dreaded sign on our door. One time it was measles, another time it might be pink eye. This meant that we could not go home. We merely got back on the bus and went elsewhere, or walked to a neighbor if the bus were going the wrong way.

It was never a problem — we simply showed up at a friend’s house, said we were quarantined, and they simply opened their door and invited us in, no questions asked! We could not talk to our parents nor go get a change of clothes. We simply proceeded to a friend’s house who put us up until the sign came down. I remember once when it was ten days. Before the phone lines came, this meant that you couldn’t talk about it with your folks because, of course, they were quarantined along with their house! And, we had no phones then. However, everyone knew the drill, so there really was no need for communication, and friends were happy to help.

Once ~1940 I remember my younger sister and I had pink eye pretty bad (both eyes), and were stuck in our house, quarantined until it was over. Back then doctors made house calls. But, pink eye was not a qualified house call disease. No one can mistake it for anything else, and it will simply run its course. Same with mumps, and mumps can be bad in adults, so simple diseases like these required no doctor.

We had no antibiotics until after WWII. And communicable disease took a heavy toll. One of my cousin’s family had three children die of measles at the same time. If you look at grave stones in a cemetery, you will see most families lost a baby, one to five in the years before WWII. Very common back then.

I had every childhood disease including Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria. Don Sheldon, who wrote the book “The Road Between,” ( a story of having a farm in New Plymouth and another over by Nyssa, and all the traveling that entailed), told me around 1900-1910 there was a small shack down by the depot, called the “Quarantine Shack.”  When someone got something bad like Smallpox, or Diphtheria, that their family took them to that shack to be quarantined to prevent their whole farm from being quarantined. Probably as important with diseases like this, this arrangement gave better doctor availability and efficiency.  Perhaps the doctor instigated it?

In 1938, when I was five, the school notified all parents to have their kids inoculated with DPT, which was pretty new then.  But, apparently, mine was a “bad batch” according to Doctor Davis.  I came down with Diphtheria and our whole house got quarantined — my sisters had to go stay at neighbors.

Many kids had “croup” which is a chronic throat virus, that can last months, and characterized by a barking cough, that just hung on and hung on. Nothing you can do for it except “tincture of time.”

All my siblings had all the childhood diseases, so being quarantined was not new to us, nor unexpected. It was not unexpected to have mumps several times as each of six salivary glands can get it independently of the others. My older sister, Charlene, had somehow escaped most of the childhood diseases, so she was usually the sibling that got stuck with going to a friend’s house. Living in a one room house, communicable disease spread like wildfire amongst us younger siblings, so it was usually us that stayed cooped up. In the 30s a large percentage of NP farmers were like us, one room house with, maybe, a lean to addition.

In the years, late 30s-mid 40s we had a school nurse, June Boomhouer, who had an office in the old red brick grade school building on 2nd floor, front (between 5th and 6th grade rooms). It was she who gave us all the vaccinations, line us up and we would march by her getting injections—sometimes it was three injections at a time. Two in one arm, and one in the other. Oh, how I remember both arms hurting the whole day!  Maybe parents were notified prior, maybe not. We simply got off the bus one day, and found out we all got shots. No muss, no fuss, just grin and bear it.  No one was up in arms in those days about vaccinations.

June kept a wary eye out for new arrivals to make certain that their inoculations were up to date. She would treat us for ringworm, pin worms, lice, etc., the whole shtick! She would send a note home with us to our folks on things like pin worms — which at that time required these little white powder in a paper wrapper to take every several days for a couple of weeks.

Lice and ringworm always came via new arrivals, or first day of school each year, so catching them was first priority. She also contended with massive outbreaks of impetigo (I remember this hitting us in 8th grade!) And fever blisters (Herpes simplex) that would just rage thru the whole school. And, she was there to put bandages on boo-boos gotten on the school ground. She also did eye and hearing tests, and many other things that might escape detection by parents. When a kid got reading glasses, it was usually June that sent them to eye doctor.

Most quarantines came via June. Teachers would see symptoms and send us to June. Or she would see, or hear from siblings, the symptoms, call Doctor Davis to alert him to sign the quarantine, and then have someone go post it on the victim’s door. And, she would immediately send us home. I don’t know at what age she drew the line, but I was sent to walk home one time. I don’t know who actually tacked the notice. Our first notice as kids would be the dreaded yellow card on our front door — plainly visible to Ralph Siple our bus driver, and everyone on the bus.

I don’t know when the resident nurse position was begun in New Plymouth. However, it was terminated around the end of WWII. By that time the road system was improving as were the cars and means of getting around. It had been a vastly needed and utilized service and spared our little community a vast amount of misery, and who knows how many epidemics.

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