Bandung to Bali XI – Cholera and Quinine – 1 March 1973

I soon find out that going to Indonesia is not easy and it sure isn’t painless.

Dad says that there are lots of diseases in Indonesia that will make us really sick. So we have to have vaccinations and start taking tablets to stop us getting malaria.

Quinine tablets are big, white and so bitter you have to swallow them in one go. Johnny gets his crushed up in honey.

Only Dad and Bart don’t need any jabs – because Dad has had them already and Bart is still being fed by Mum so he will be OK.

So Mum takes us bigger kids to Dr Doran in Glen Waverley and we line up for our first jab.

Matt starts to whine even before it’s his turn.

Dr Doran takes my arm in a meaty fisted hold and drops a small blob of liquid which he scratches in lightly with the needle.

‘It’s only a scratch Matt – it doesn’t even hurt a bit,’ I tell him. That’s smallpox done.

Next visit is for tuberculosis and cholera-typhoid. One needle in each arm. Our smallpox jabs are scabby and nasty which Matt quite likes.

For a fearless kid Matt really hates the thought of needles. He starts to ‘put on a performance’ as soon as we get in – he squirms and wriggles so Mum and Dr Doran have to pin him down.

Cholera Vaccine faint

Cholera Vaccine knocks me out

‘Last visit!’ Mum tries to sound bright and relaxed on our third trip. Matt is already in full overload.

‘Matthew!’ She has her special mum voice on, ‘You get out of this car now or I’ll get Dr Doran to come out here and get you.’

Matt cries and clings to Mum willing her to take him home.

‘Come on Matt – it’s not so bad,’ I tell him,  ‘Just one more and we’ll get two jellybeans this time.’

But the promise of lollies is not going to do it. By the time we all get into Dr Doran’s surgery, Matt is apoplectic.

“Well, I’ll do you two brave kids eh and you can get your jellybeans first?’ Dr Doran ignores Matt as he writhes like a slippery eel in the chair next to Mum.

Tony goes first and then me.

The needle bites into the skin of my arm and the dose of vaccine swells under the skin.

‘See Matt,’ I say, ‘It didn’t hurt..too much… well maybe … just …a …bit..’

My mouth goes dry and the room starts to tip up so that Mum and Matt are now moving up the wall in the corner.

‘Sit down over there. On the chair,’ Dr Doran instructs me firmly as the room goes grey.

I get to the chair and my body drops onto one side as the room rises up, its funny eye charts and pictures of the muscles of the body swimming overhead.

Then everything is black.

Slowly, like coming out from underwater, I start to make Matt out, standing as a blurry red capped shadow straight in front of me. He has a handful of jelly beans and chews them with relish one after another with wide fixed eyes.

‘That was really grouse* Chas!’ he yelps at me, ‘you fainted and you still had your eyes open the whole time like a zombie.’

‘Just lie there for a bit,’ Dr Doran cocks his head to one side as he lifts my wrist to feel my pulse. ‘It can be a bit of a shock to the system all these needles. No harm done,’ he tells Mum over his shoulder as he tucks a couple of jelly beans in my hand.


* grouse was once a commonly used term meaning ‘really great’.

Amazing to think that within a short space of time, naturally transmitted smallpox was declared eradicated worldwide on 8 May 1980. The value of this virus as a biological weapon (or ‘research tool’, depending how you look at it) means that governments cannot bring themselves to fully destroy the laboratory stock – two lab workers in the UK died after becoming infected in 1978.  Many suspect cases during the 70s turned out to be other forms of pox diseases which can also affect man. Source here by Viera Scheibner also gives a lively debate on vaccination

Malaria remains the single largest cause of death worldwide with an estimated 3.3 billion people viewed as at risk of malaria by the World Health Organisation. The disease is caused by various species of the  Plasmodium parasite which are injected into the blood by the Anopheles mosquito, making this mossie the deadliest insect accomplice in the world.

WHO’s report in 2012 stated

“Behind the statistics and graphs lies a great and needless tragedy: malaria still takes the life of an African child every minute.”  The world spend on malaria will be its highest ever in 2013 at around $US2,000million. In Indonesia around 25% of the population remain at high risk of being infected by malaria.

Cholera continues to be a disruptive and highly lethal disease around the world. Caused by a bacterium – Vibrio cholerae – this little number will kill you by getting your fluids to evacuate your body in a particularly nasty way.

Spread through contaminated water, we can attribute this bug to founding the science of epidemiology and giving birth to the first couple of ‘epidemiologists’ or health detectives – in particular John Snow of London.

Snow famously ordered the removal of the pump handle in Broad St on 8 September 1854 as he suspected  cholera was spreading not by miasma – which was the accepted wisdom of the day – but through the contaminated water supply.

By the time he managed to get this done the epidemic had run its course.

Although Snow is attributed with much, it was in fact a sceptical clergyman who doggedly recorded deaths and mapped them (originally to prove Snow wrong) who demonstrated greatest proof of Snow’s emerging theory & kicked off health mapping.

This year the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will recognise 200 years since John Snow’s birth on 15 March 2013 with a series of events highlighting his legacy.


Typhoid is another charming gut infection caused by the Salmonella bacteria S typhiSimilar to cholera it is mainly spread by contaminated water but can also be spread via food contacted by carrier individuals – ie people who look perfectly well but carry the bug and don’t wash their hands.

Lastly TB. – a disease which was once looking to be on the verge of being controlled – TB continues to plague human populations globally. An insidious disease, caused by various strains of Mycobacterium – the bug is becoming ever resistant to treatments and problematic to control.

There are currently (an estimated) 2.2 billion people infected, with most affected by the latent form – ie it’s present but there are no symptoms. New research by US scientist about this persistent disease finds that the mycobacterium can lurk in human bone marrow and re-emerge as active disease.

This finding might help future treatment of the disease.

(News source is from the ABC – note that this article calls the disease agent a bacteria and then a virus in the same sentence – journos get this wrong all the time which of course is enough to make any microbiologist whine)


When I made the little sketch of me fainting I had the image in my head of Henry Wallis’ painting of the Death of Chatterton – especially the hanging arm and the hand on the chest. I’d seen the painting in the Tate and found it quite remarkable.

I didn’t refer to the painting when I made the drawing but found it later and was a bit surprised how close the pose was.

I’m not sure whether this savage bout of vaccinations had an effect on me in later life – but I did go on to do a postgrad in vet epidemiology and subsequently set up mapping projects for some major disease programmes.

6 thoughts on “Bandung to Bali XI – Cholera and Quinine – 1 March 1973

    • Thanks Dawn – I do like diseases … (not getting them obviously) but studying them &, at least in my last job, being able to do something (albeit fairly insignificant) about some of them.


  1. Thanks Mary for your kind comment & glad you liked the sketch. It was quite ironic that I was being the brave big sister and then promptly fainted. Touch wood – haven’t ever fainted since (not a nice feeling.)


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