Some folks find comfort in the Bible. Others meditate their way to enlightened thought. I have heard that some even rely on the scientific method to light the darkness.
A slow learner on those fronts, I have long relied on the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens and the patron saint of Nevada writers, for a greater understanding of the human condition. Twain is good whiskey: not a cure-all, but a fine pain reliever.
I’ve been thinking about Twain lately since the close of the 2019 Nevada Legislature, which managed to take up and then dropped a bill I naively believed was the surest of sure things. Back in February when it still appeared anything was possible in Carson City, Assemblywoman Connie Munk introduced AB123, which would have required schools to annually submit to the Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) an identity-masked list of students who aren’t vaccinated for religious or medical reasons.
The crazy idea was that, in the event of an outbreak schools would report to the local, state and federal health agencies if an emergency response was deemed necessary. Students seeking a religious or medical exemption to vaccination would have been required to submit a request form annually to the DPBH, which would relieve each school from the burden of trying to manage the process.
The attempt at improving communication in times of emergency was a recurring theme during an Assembly hearing on the bill with many health agency officials wholeheartedly endorsing it. Parents opposed to vaccination and others raising student privacy issues also weighed in.
A compromise crafted by Munk and Education Committee Chairman Tyrone Thompson led to a unanimous vote in the Assembly. But that simplified version of the bill lost steam in the Senate after Immunize Nevada withdrew its support. And a pretty good idea died.
“Tyrone and I thought it was great. We had come to a compromise with everyone, or so we thought,” Munk said Thursday. “It’s very disappointing. At least with the amendment we would have had something.”
At a time Nevada’s schools need to be able to communicate more quickly with health officials to protect students, especially those whose parents don’t have their children vaccinated, the old system will remain in place a while longer. Munk says she plans to reintroduce the bill next session.
Why is AB123’s failure so noteworthy?
So far in 2019, more than 1,000 cases of the disease have been diagnosed in 26 states including Nevada -- the most in a quarter century. Measles was declared officially eliminated from this country in 2000.
Measles cases have increased here because of the importation of the disease by unvaccinated travelers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a time the World Health Organization reports that cases worldwide are up 300 percent from this time last year.
A lack of communication and the spread of misinformation about the disease and the safety of vaccinations also complicate the issue. In April after an outbreak in Brooklyn, the CDC stated, “A significant factor contributing to the outbreaks in New York is misinformation in the communities about the safety of the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine. Some organizations are deliberately targeting these communities with inaccurate and misleading information about vaccines.”
Twain knew a lot about misinformation. He practiced it as a craft.
And a young Samuel Clemens also knew plenty about the measles. He was so terrified of the disease that he intentionally exposed himself to it.
As he recalled in his autobiography, measles was knocking off citizens by the score with funerals nearly every day. His mother lived in constant fear that the fate would befall her children and ordered them to stay far away from anyone showing symptoms of infection.
Clemens was tired of the suspense of being continually under the threat of death. “I remember that I got so weary of it and so anxious to have the matter settled one way or the other, and promptly, that this anxiety spoiled my days and my nights,” he wrote, “I had no pleasure in them. I made up my mind to end this suspense and be done with it.”
With his childhood pal Will Bowen in the throes of the disease, he decided to join him in misery. After a fashion, he sneaked into his very sick friend’s bedroom and climbed under the covers.
“It was a good case of measles that resulted,” he wrote. “It brought me to within a shade of death’s door. It brought me to where I no longer took interest in anything, but on the contrary felt a total absence of interest, which was most placid and tranquil and sweet and delightful and enchanting. I have never enjoyed anything in my life any more than I enjoyed dying that time. I was, in effect, dying. ... The word had been passed and the family notified to assemble around the bed and see me off. I knew them all....They were all crying, but that did not affect me. I took but the vaguest interest in it and that merely because I was the center of all this emotional attention and was gratified by it and vain of it.”
The year was 1845. And he was a foolish boy. Children do foolish things.
It’s why we rely on adults to do the right thing.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith