Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

New efforts to help Minnesota farmers in crisis November 19, 2019

Tilling at sunset, Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

I WITNESSED THE DESPAIR first-hand. The overwhelming concern that can settle in when bad weather affects crops, prices drop and the bills pile high.

 

A well-kept, stately barn west of New Ulm, Minnesota.

 

Too many years I observed the struggles my dad faced as a farmer. Even as a kid I understood. But now, as an adult reflecting on my past, I understand even more. I observed the stress Dad faced in 1976 when a drought left him without enough feed for the livestock and necessitated purchasing a boxcar full of hay from Montana. I recall, too, the time he dumped milk down the drain, part of a National Farmers Organization protest over low milk prices. And then, when a tornado hit our farm, he had to make agonizing decisions about whether to rebuild.

 

A farm site in my native Redwood County, Minnesota, where the land and sky stretch into forever.

 

Certainly, my years on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm in the 1960s and 1970s differ from today in many ways. Farms are bigger now, family farms fewer. Technology weaves into every aspect of farming. And many farmers (and their spouses) now hold off-the-farm jobs to make ends meet, to continue farming. Yet, the basics of unpredictable weather and prices and resulting stress remain unchanged.

 

About 10 days ago, farmers in southwestern Minnesota rushed to harvest crops.

 

This has been an especially difficult year for farmers in Minnesota. Too much rain. Dairy prices that have plummeted. I don’t know all the intricacies of what’s happening. But I understand enough to recognize that many farmers are in crisis. Financially. And mentally.

 

Harvesting with snow already on the ground near New Ulm, Minnesota, on a recent Saturday.

 

Unlike the era in which my dad farmed, people are doing something about these issues. The Minnesota Departments of Agriculture and Health are holding safeTALK training at locations around the state—including in my community of Faribault on Wednesday, November 20—to help people help farmers in crisis. The training is aimed specifically at suicide prevention and intervention.

 

The grain elevator in Morgan in southwestern Minnesota.

 

This latest focus on the mental health of the ag community is long overdue. Farmers have always been there for one another in times of need, when another farmer, for example, battled a disease like cancer. But when it came to mental health, not so much.

 

Still bringing in the corn in early November in southwestern Minnesota.

 

These latest efforts reflect a societal shift in mental health awareness. More and more of us are talking about it. And that is a good thing. Now we need more mental healthcare professionals in rural areas. Talk is only as valuable as the resources and action to back it up.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Believe me, you do not want to contract whooping cough December 5, 2012

ABOUT A YEAR AGO my second daughter, who works as a Spanish medical interpreter in northeastern Wisconsin, reported warning signs about whooping cough posted at local clinics.

I figured it wouldn’t be long before the disease, also known as pertussis, spread to Minnesota.

According to the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin and Minnesota currently are experiencing the highest year-to-date incidents of pertussis in the nation with 93.4 incidents per 100,000 people in Wisconsin and 78.1 per 100,000 in Minnesota. The national average is 11.6.

That translates into 4,174 confirmed, probable and suspect cases in Minnesota (as of November 29), according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

In Wisconsin, 5,163 cases were reported through October 31 by the Department of Health Services.

As of November 16, the CDC has received reports of 35,000 cases across the country, including 16 deaths.

Statistics are one thing, something most of us approach with the attitude of “that doesn’t affect me.”

Reality, getting the disease, is quite another.

I speak from experience.

In the summer of 2005, when I was 48, I came down with what I initially thought was a bad cold. Turns out the horrific sore throat, followed by the equally horrific cough, was actually whooping cough. After three doctor’s visits and a misdiagnosis of bronchitis, I was correctly diagnosed with pertussis, the first case my physician had ever seen in his longtime career.

When he informed me that pertussis is also known as the 100-day cough, he was not joking. I was racked by uncontrollable fits of coughing from around July Fourth until well after Labor Day.

For me, the summer of 2005 was spent languishing on the couch, feeling like absolute crap, exhausted from lack of sleep (ever try sleeping when you are constantly coughing), utterly worn down, unable to barely function.

The worst, and I mean absolute worst, moment came when I awoke one night gasping for air, my windpipe narrowed. In retrospect, that asthmatic type attack warranted a 911 call and I now consider myself fortunate to have survived. Yes, it was that bad and necessitated another visit to the doctor for a regiment of the inflammation reducing steroid prednisone and an inhaler.

I don’t know why I experienced a particularly bad case of whooping cough. Typically the young and elderly are most harshly affected. Unvaccinated infants can even die.

The gravestone of Deloris Edna Emilie Bode in Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland.

The gravestone of Deloris Edna Emilie Bode in the Immanuel Lutheran Church cemetery, rural Courtland.

Nor do I know how I got a disease I thought had vanished decades ago and which claimed the life of my Aunt Deloris in 1935 at nine months old. My doctor speculated that I could have been exposed waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store. I’ll never know.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, here’s how pertussis is spread:

The bacteria is found in fluids from the mouth and nose of someone with pertussis. The bacteria is spread when fluid containing the bacteria gets in your nose or mouth. This can happen when a person with pertussis coughs or sneezes on you, or by touching the fluid and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. In general, a person is at greater risk of getting pertussis if they are within three feet of someone with pertussis for at least 10 hours a week, this is considered close contact.

My physician immediately put me and my entire family on antibiotics, which can reduce the severity of whooping cough. My husband and one daughter also eventually contracted minor cases of pertussis.

I learned a lot during my summer as a whooping crane. (One has to find humor in an experience like this.) I learned that the vaccine most of us get as babies wears off about the time we reach middle school age. Ironically, in the same year I was ill, new pertussis vaccines were approved for adolescents and adults.

If you’re not up-to-date on your pertussis vaccine, I’d suggest you get vaccinated.

There. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

FYI: The Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Monday released this report on whooping cough.

Click here to learn all about pertussis from the CDC.

If you live in Minnesota, click here to a link showing a map of year-to-date pertussis cases in Minnesota, including 10 right here in my county of Rice.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An update on whooping cough in Minnesota November 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:29 AM
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WHENEVER I HEAR the words “whooping cough,” I listen. Last night a Twin Cities television station reported on the increased number of pertussis cases in Minnesota. Most recent statistics on the Minnesota Department of Health website show 1,000 reported cases as of October 21.

When I last checked those state stats in mid-August, and wrote about whooping cough on this blog, that number stood at 395, as of July 16.

The surge in this highly-contagious disease during the past several months is likely related to the start of school. A statement by the MDH seems to support that: “Minnesota is experiencing a peak period of pertussis that started back in the fall of 2008. Pertussis disease normally peaks every three to five years. Clusters continue to occur in the elementary school setting.”

I take a personal interest in whooping cough because I contracted the disease in the summer of 2005. If you don’t take pertussis seriously, you ought to. It’s called the 100-day cough, and it’s not misnamed, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Yes, you can die from the disease. Infants and senior citizens are particularly vulnerable.

Yes, vaccines exist to prevent whooping cough. But don’t mistakenly think you are protected because you were vaccinated as a child. Pre-teens need boosters. Adults can get a vaccine targeted especially for them.

If you want to know how many whooping cough cases have been reported to the MDH this year or in previous years in any Minnesota county, click here. As you would expect, the more densely-populated counties have reported more cases.

In Rice County, where I live, nine cases have been reported so far this year, holding steady with the previous two years of seven and nine cases.

But neighboring Steele County has seen a significant increase with cases rising from one and two the past two years to 37 thus far in 2010.

Similarly Mille Lacs County has shown a notable increase in numbers, from none in 2008, to six in 2009 and 29 this year.

I don’t know the reason for the rising numbers in those counties. But I do know that the disease spreads quickly and easily. My husband and one of my daughters caught whooping cough from me although their cases were not nearly as severe. Antibiotics administered in the early stage of the illness can reduce the severity.

I’ll leave you with this final note. When I asked my doctor five years ago where I could possibly have contracted pertussis, he told me, “You could have gotten it standing in the check-out line at the grocery store.”

That, my friends, is food for thought.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling