Thank you to those who took the time to share their stories for Polio Awareness Month 2017. The theme is “Ageing With Dignity”. We asked “What does ageing with dignity mean to you and what would help you age with dignity?”
Ann is a polio survivor living in Adelaide, South Australia.
There was no epidemic in South Australia when I contracted Polio early in 1944 but it was one of those infectious diseases that was always around. I remember they put a block of camphor in a little bag that was hung around the neck in the hope that it would ward off polio. Not much use in my case!
I was six years old and had just started year 2 at the Prospect Infants School. My mother had been in hospital being treated for tuberculosis and was at home on remission. My father was caught up in World War 2 and was serving in the Pacific. Apparently I began to stumble and fall over and had difficulty playing at school so my mother took me to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital on three occasions before finally a Dr. Jolly diagnosed polio which we called infantile paralysis in those days. I was immediately admitted into their special ward for infectious kids and spent some weeks there while the illness took its time to render me paralysed in both legs. It was a scary time. There was very limited visiting time in hospitals in those days and of course, my mother as a TB sufferer was not allowed in. I felt abandoned.
The next stage of my life with polio happened at the Somerton Crippled Children’s Home where I was transported as soon as the critical stage of the illness passed and rehabilitation could commence. The home was a big old two story house on the seafront at Somerton. It no longer exists – sometime in the last few decades it has been torn down for re-development.
It is hard to remember how many children there were living at Somerton during the two years that I was there – perhaps about 50. For what seemed a long time I couldn’t walk and was in a ward with others who were bedridden. Later on, I remember being in a room with older children, many of whom were in wheelchairs and callipers. I was in callipers too but could get around. It is all a bit of a blur as the mind has a way of blocking out some of the memories that are too painful or unpleasant. It wasn’t that it was an awful place – it wasn’t, and I have the impression that the staff were good and kind people, but we were all orphans in a strange land with a strange illness that no-one fully understood and we didn’t understand what was happening to us.
Having said that I believe I had excellent treatment of the kind I have read that Sister Kenny developed. The physiotherapist was a Miss Edwards and she was unfailingly patient in exercising my useless legs when I couldn’t. I remember we spent a lot of time in the sea even in the cold weather and playing in the sand. The other therapy which proved useful in strengthening my arms and legs was the “jungle jim” where we swung on bars – the movement along the bars had the effect of making the legs move too.
I missed a year of schooling when I was having intensive treatment and couldn’t walk. The following year, 1945, I was able to get about sufficiently to attend school which was held at the home and was able to complete year two.
There were two really awful things that happened to me at Somerton that I do remember – one was contracting chicken pox and being put in isolation ward for the duration. I learnt to enjoy my own company and escape into books during those weeks which were very lonely but the staff were frightened of having an epidemic on their hands. The other awful thing was getting head lice and having my hair shaved off. What a humiliation that was. However, this experience stood me in good stead in later years when I was teased for not being able to run or play sport. That sort of teasing which I suppose we would call bullying nowadays, was nothing compared to having a shaven head in a school room full of kids who delighted in “taking the mickey” out of one another!
So there were valuable life lessons learnt at Somerton. I learnt to stick up for myself and despise bullies. The bullies at Somerton were not the staff but a couple of older children who remained paralysed and careered around in their wheelchairs beating us smaller ones with their sticks! Can you believe it – well it happened to me.
My father came home from the war early in 1946 and I went home. My mother was still ill but living at home with us. My poor Dad coming home to two wounded women after all he had been through! I was walking and getting stronger all the time. I started back at the local school in year three and two or three times a week took the tram into the Adelaide Children’s Hospital for physiotherapy.
That wasn’t the end of my polio story. I had made a recovery and could walk again but my right leg was still weak. Despite this I begged my father to buy me a bike so I could join in the rides with the other kids. One afternoon after school about three years later we kids were having a race down the back lane when I fell off my bike, dislocating my hip. This led to another year of treatment – several weeks in traction, followed by two operations and several months of crutches. This was early surgery and no-one knew whether it would be successful. But again I was lucky. I learnt to walk again, albeit that I had a twisted right leg that was even weaker than before and a pronounced limp. There was an upside to this latest disaster which I didn’t realise until much later in life. Because of this injury I was never able to play sport or engage in any strenuous exercise and I believe this saved my weakened polio legs from further stress. So in old age I have more strength in my legs than might have been the case had I been able to be more active.
Years ago those of us who were fortunate to walk again following paralysis, thought we were cured. Now we know that we were in remission and decades later are finding that our good muscles have been overused and are weakening again. Sadly, some of us are in wheelchairs and have had to use callipers and sticks again. I was fortunate to have excellent treatment at Somerton from dedicated staff and still have the use of my legs albeit that they are not as strong as I would like. Among the staff I remember Sister Fisher, who at the time often seemed rather cross. Looking back she had her hands full with trying to keep discipline. Even though we kids were disabled we were often naughty and disobedient. I particularly remember Matron Langdon who seemed to understand us so well. She had a sister who used to visit us from time to time who was also a polio victim. Between them they arranged a number of treats for us kids that have left happy memories of kindness and friendship.
As the years passed I never thought that much about polio until about 20 years ago when I started to notice some extra weakness in my legs. I had been cured (I thought) and although I suffered a residual weakness had been able to live a more or less normal life. One day I heard a programme on Radio National about the late effects of polio and realised that this was happening to me!
I made an attempt to access my patient records from the time in the ACH and Somerton to get a clearer picture of what did happen to me all those years ago. I was told that all records had long been destroyed. At a time when I was coming to grips with the return of that scary illness, I thought this was disgraceful when I was still alive and needed to know. I felt that those records could have put some shape into the past and helped me cope with my future which was looking scary and uncertain. However, about that time I was fortunate to discover Polio SA. Through the advice in the Polio Newsletter and the friends that I have made in the organisation, I have learnt to manage my condition and not to fear the future. I hope to keep on my feet as long as my heart keeps beating.
Thank you to all who have contributed to my wellbeing, including Dr. Nigel Qadros, our phsyios Lee and Margo, and especially the gang at the pool on Tuesday mornings. What a good time we have together!
Ageing with dignity for me means being able to live independently in my own home, as long as possible, and accessing the help which I will doubtless need as I get older, to achieve my independence.
Barbara is a polio survivor living in Ocean Grove, Victoria.
I contracted Polio in 1955 when I was 12 years old living in Mannum, South Australia. Now, at 74 years of age, I still remember everything like it was yesterday.
I explicitly remember the lumbar puncture and another 58 injections over a 10-day period, as they tried to find a diagnosis, in a room where the windows were covered with sheets and the doctors were masked. I was transported to Northfield Infectious Hospital and stayed for three weeks, during this time I was in and out of consciousness. I had a second lumbar puncture as the first one was inconclusive. This is the time I was diagnosed with polio.
I was then taken to the Crippled Children’s Home in Somerton, South Australia. The polio mainly affected my right arm and left leg, causing severe weakness. For the following three months, I was bound into a frame and underwent painful physio every day. After this, I was taught to walk again, wore a leather sling on my right arm and a half calliper on my left leg.
A year and a half later, I was send home but only attended school for half days. As I was the only one in my town to contract polio, I was severely ostracised; people avoided me and I left school as a result of bullying. Luckily at 15 years of age, I no longer required the sling or calliper. However, I walked with a limp and always got tired more easily than others.
I consider myself a ‘lucky’ polio survivor and have been able to experience life fully. I married and had four sons. I raced and cruised on yachts, worked in hospitals and was a bridal dressmaker for several years till the pain prevented me continuing. I rode my bike, walked long distances through national parks and rode on my husband’s motorbike.
At about 35 years of age, I found that gardening or any strenuous work was very exhausting and I began experiencing pain in my legs, arms and shoulders. I have experienced muscular-skeletal collapses, and despite trips to hospital, I have never had an explanation. I have also been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hips.
The last 5 years have been increasingly difficult. I struggle to walk distances; constantly looking for somewhere to sit. I have been fitted for a lower leg support for a slight foot drop. I am struggling to keep up with the housework due to fatigue. I am learning to pace myself, using my mobility scooter to go for walks with my husband, and walker for shopping.
In order to help me age with dignity, doctors, physiotherapists and other health professionals need to be educated regarding our requirements and be a lot more understanding. Most of us in our senior years now, so it would be nice if the government were to look after us with the dignity we deserve. The hardest thing for me, personally, is that I don’t have a ‘visible disability’, so people don’t accept that I’m struggling with the Late Effects of Polio.
Christine is a polio survivor living in Hervey Bay, Queensland.
I contracted polio when I was around 9 years of age. I was treated in the Sylvia Moffet Ward at Brisbane Children’s Hospital around 1947. Polio affected my right thigh and lower left leg; I could not run or participate in sport at school. By the time I was 15, the only remnant of polio was a slight limp.
The middle years of my life never caused me any major problems. In my early 20’s, I began a career in nursing and got married. I travelled the world twice a year visiting Trade Shows. In 1996, whilst overseas, I got out of bed and fell over; I was unable to walk. Upon returning to Australia, I saw an orthopaedic surgeon who performed a left knee replacement and since then have had two total knee replacements to both my left and right knees. I realised, after visiting a neurologist in 2004 and being diagnosed with Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), that these knee replacements were likely not necessary. The new muscle weakness I was experiencing was a symptom of PPS.
Nowadays in 2017, I am staggering around in pain in a wheelchair; but apart from that I consider myself in good health. I believe ageing with dignity is very challenging as I struggle with mobility in my wheelchair. I feel invisible in the community. Many doctors still don’t acknowledge the existence of the Late Effects of Polio (LEoP) or PPS, which makes it difficult to access appropriate health care.
Jane is a polio survivor living in Coburg, Victoria.
Sometime between 1954/55, Jane contracted polio at just 11 months old whilst living in Melbourne, Victoria. As a result of the virus, Jane experienced paralysis entirely to her right arm and leg, and partially to her left arm and leg. This paralysis has remained throughout her lifetime.
Jane speaks favourably of her younger years; with strong support from her family and acceptance from her peers. Her adolescence, however, was traumatic as she faced societal rejection based on her disability. Jane struggled as she tried to enter the workforce, experiencing difficulty finding a job which was accepting of her and could accommodate her ability. As a result, Jane found part-time work was achievable, although she experienced financial hardship as a result.
At 64 years of age, Jane is now living with the Late Effects of Polio (LEoP). Everyday tasks and activities are becoming increasingly difficult, even with her full leg brace and use of a scooter. Jane is now looking towards her future and increasing needs. As a ‘younger’ polio survivor, Jane is eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) (the cut-off is 65 years) and is commencing her application in the hope of obtaining a motorised wheelchair. For Jane, being able to acquire the appropriate aids and equipment is vital to ageing with dignity and she knows this would not be financially possible without the NDIS.
Jane is fighting an uphill battle to remain independent and being able to stay in her home. She fears the future possibility of moving into a nursing home. She strongly believes her ability to age with dignity is reliant on access to and the quality of appropriate support services. Despite her best efforts, Jane’s capacity to participate in recreational activities, upkeep family and community interactions, and to remain in the workforce is an ongoing challenge. Jane is desperate for the support to maintain these activities.
John is a polio survivor living in Burwood, Victoria.
My polio story started when I was 18 months old and living in The Netherlands. In the summer of July 1943, I was unwell with a heavy flu; this turned out to be polio. The virus onset occurred when The Netherlands and Europe were living through World War II.
After being bed ridden for some days, my general health improved and the doctor advised mum that I could get out of bed. After the doctor left, mum made me ready to get up and about, but found I could not stand up. On calling the doctor, the response was “Oh, he has been bedridden, and needs to find his walking legs again.” Ultimately, I finished up in hospital.
Polio has left me with a paralysed right leg, from the hip down and I have worn a calliper ever since. I attended mainstream schooling during my school years. Other than not be able to keep up walking wise, from the age of 4, I compensated by riding a bicycle with a free wheel and other pedal fixed.
I came to Australia at age 14 and at 16 commenced an apprenticeship in Silk Screen Art & Design (printing) which I continued until 43 years of age. During the last 10 years, I have studied part time for a Bachelor of Business and changed to the profession of accounting, which I still preform today.
From the age of 18, I commenced on a sports journey of water polo and played, refereed, coached and managed clubs, state and national Australian teams, until the Late Effects of Polio (LEoP) set in. I never classed myself as disabled, I just had a disability that would not let me do everything an able body could do. I have no regrets.
The LEoP came along about age 56, which reduced my left leg performance, as well as my standing/walking ability. This was not recognised at the time and deteriorated very fast as I continued overworking my left leg. I was ultimately diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome and began understanding my walking limitations. It took 2 years for my mind to accept that a wheelchair would be much better for my quality of life. I am now a disabled person outside of the home and seek alternatives to maintaining a good quality of life. I need to find the happy medium between “use it or loose it” and “if I use it, I abuse it”!
Since being in the wheelchair, my friend Ken and I have attended the 1st car rally for disabled in the world in England (coming 3rd in 1996), represented Australia in the first Wheelchair Handball World championship in Brazil (coming 4th in 2013), wheelchair danced on TV in DanceTV on Channel 31 in 2016, and travelled on boat cruise to China in 2015.
What I am looking for in the ageing stages of my life (mentally I am not there yet), is to continue to be able to do activities that others can do at this stage of life (age/disability). However, I do need assistance with anything that requires the use of my legs for long periods, and no stairs.
Joy is a polio survivor living in Cooranbong, New South Wales.
I am probably one of the more fortunate polio survivors. As a small child, I was diagnosed with a mild form of poliomyelitis, which was non-paralytic. I have limited knowledge of that time, although I recall my mother refusing to allow callipers due to possible psychological affects, so exercise was prescribed.
I have led an active life and ensured that I regularly undertook gentle exercise. Today, the only visible effect of polio is a slightly turned out right foot, which often scrapes the ground, and a tendency to fall.
At 69 years of age, I am now experiencing the Late Effects of Polio (LEoP). I have been suffering from fatigue after a two-year period of restricted capacity due to surgery, falls injuries, and ongoing breathing problems and speech difficulties. I am also allergic to anaesthetics, which could prove fatal.
I now spend considerable time advising treating specialists such as dentists, physiotherapists, specialists and general practitioners, about the difficulties I might experience with muscle relaxants, anaesthetics and other medication. I believe funding is needed for more post-polio research and education for health professionals, which would assist all polio survivors. My doctor advised me that she previously knew nothing about the LEoP or how it could affect me.
I am a university graduate, and although not in the medical field, I am able to read publications, research, and interpret. I have had to become my own advisor, advocate and campaigner. There is little acceptance of the LEoP within the health profession, which can translate to a lack of acceptance from the general public.
I often feel lost and rejected by the medical profession and society in general. Although, I still consider myself fortunate compared with some, it should not have to be this hard.
Neena is a polio survivor living in Sydney, New South Wales.
It was a meek October morning in 1967, only a month away from my third birthday, I had worn my frilled frock and white laced shoes to go and receive the triple polio vaccine. As I sang and danced along the way, making it difficult for my maternal grandfather to keep pace, little did I know that it was the last time I would be walking by myself.
Later that night, I remember my grandmother cuddling my tiny body burning with high fever as I complained of acute pain in my legs. She had carried me to the bathroom, where my legs collapsed.
In the days that followed, many more children like me began pouring into the Sawai Man Singh (SMS) hospital in Jaipur (Rajasthan). It was two weeks before the outbreak was diagnosed as `Poliomyelitis’. The word didn’t mean much to me then and I certainly didn’t realise the implications it would have for a life just beginning.
The 1960s was a period when the mass epidemics of polio that had gripped mostly the industrialised countries for over 30 years were finally being brought under control with the introduction of effective vaccines. In India, Dr Albert Sabin’s Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV – a live attenuated polio virus) was imported from the erstwhile Soviet Union.
It seems there was a snag: the cold chain, critical for maintaining the potency of OPV in transport, was very poor. Some claimed the vaccine administered to us had already expired. Others said it had been left exposed to the sun at the airport; but this argument was dismissed on the grounds that the vaccine loses its potency when exposed to heat – neither harming nor doing any good.
In India, awareness about polio in the late 1960s was so low that no action was taken and this life-shattering illness was allowed to fade into oblivion. The Indian health authorities classified it as a polio epidemic, which had infected the children involved before the vaccine was administered.
While children of my age played, I spent my days at the hospital doing physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. My doctors became my playmates and the kittens born in the ward’s huge ventilators were a pleasant distraction from the painful exercises.
After a year of confinement, I started school and that’s when the harsh reality dawned: I couldn’t run or go on the swing like other children, who constantly called me names and teased. Throughout my growing up years, wearing the long, rigid steel calipers and heavy boots – one bigger than the other to compensate the shortening in one leg – I was unable to use the Indian toilets. Western style toilets were few. I tried to control the bladder for hours at school, in trains and at public places.
The straight leg in the caliper made going to a film, sitting on a scooter, traveling on a bus, a nightmare. It made things really difficult for my family, especially my maternal grandmother with whom I spent most of my childhood. She tried every possible cure from daily physiotherapy to faith healers and rubbing the stinking fresh sheep’s milk.
As the 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There is no education like adversity”, I adapted to the situation, learning to skip for long distances on the good leg, playing basketball, marching with the school band playing the flute and spent the time indoors reading, writing and learning the various arts and music.
Unlike the thousands of other polio-affected children in India, I was fortunate to have a family that supported my desire to be independent. I went to a boarding school and coped well with friends and nuns always ready to help with stairs and long queues for washing and bathing.
During college I realised, how important it was to be financially independent even for an able middle class girl to defer an arranged marriage. Straight after graduation, I joined The Times of India as a trainee journalist and soon discovered how physically demanding the profession was.
It was not until 1998 when we moved to the UK that I became aware of the many polio support groups like the British Polio Fellowship in London. It was a whole new world, which provided a platform to discuss the many anxieties and medical interventions that become necessary as one grows old with polio.
My greatest joy was to be able to walk and do what I wanted without stares and glares from the people around. It was a relief to find disabled-friendly buses and the Underground, which offered concession tickets. Even the famous black London cabs had special disabled fares. It made public places, libraries and superstores accessible.
On days when I would slip on the black ice, there was always help available. And I was no longer restricted to a bench in the park as there was an electrically-operated buggy to take the old and disabled around in Hyde Park.
Two years later, when I presented a paper at the Eighth International Post-Polio & Independent Living conference at St Louis, Missouri, I spoke on the role played by family and community in shaping the lives of polio patients to an audience that, in sharp contrast, had led a very individualistic and independent high-tech lifestyle.
Assessing my muscles and activity chart, Dr Jacquelin Perry, one of the first women orthopaedic surgeons in the US had said, “Slow down or you will be on a wheelchair in 10 years’ time”. I found her words rather harsh then, but four years later, I can see the truth in what she said as my muscles weaken and pain increases.
Chance brought us to Australia, a country where sport is a religion and it is not a place for the disabled. People’s reactions to my disability here have both shocked and surprised me. Questions like “If I could pass my infection to the others” have been frequently asked despite nearly 400,000 post polio survivors living in this country.
Societies in the west are grappling with ageing polio patients and young doctors who have not dealt with a single fresh polio case. Most doctors are not trained to recognise the Late Effects of Polio and are reluctant to treat it as a new condition and Australia is no exception.
While polio survivors initially recovered and made the most of life with disability, today many of us are battling with profound fatigue, increasing muscle weakness, joint and muscle pain, increased sensitivity to cold temperatures and sleeping, breathing or swallowing difficulties linked to PPS.
The main advocates for increased medical and government attention to PPS have been the grassroots groups of polio survivors and we have a few in Australia too. However, it is very difficult to find a doctor, a physiotherapist and an orthotist at the same place who would understand your case and I have yet to find a comfortable caliper, which I wear for 12 to 14 hours daily.
As we advance into the 21st century, cure for polio is still a cherished dream. However, there is prevention, lighter and more effective calipers or braces, provision of electric scooters and power operated chairs, alternative medicine systems, legal benefits, new legislations, disabled friendly public places and a stronger than ever worldwide campaign to globally eradicate polio by 2005.
Governments across the world need to invest in medical and health care for ageing polio patients and to you my friend on the street — a limp makes me no different.
Sally is a polio survivor living in Kyenton, Victoria.
Sally doesn’t have much memory of her early life; not specifically remembering contracting polio. Sally grew up in Wagga Wagga during the polio epidemic in the Riverina 1940s. Sally’s sister contracted polio and has a vivid memory of her hospitalisation and used a calliper. This was not the case for Sally; she remembers some vague flu-like symptoms and taking some time off school, simply quarantined at home.
It was not until 2017 that Sally realised she had polio as a child, as she began suffering the Late Effects of Polio (LEoP). It was only when a friend of Sally’s questioned this possibility – and Sally visited Dr Steve de Graaff, who confirmed it was highly likely that Sally was suffering the LEoP.
Sally always struggled throughout her life; she claims she was always a hopeless runner and dancer. She struggled through working as a nurse for most of her life, determined to avoid being labelled “lazy” despite ongoing pain and injuries. For most of her life, Sally had scoliosis, woke up to 10 times each night, suffered from muscle spasms and ultimately underwent several back and joint surgeries; all without knowing her condition. Sally never considered herself disabled; but was constantly frustrated at the pain she continued to experience.
Upon learning that she was experiencing the LEoP, Sally has learnt how to manage her condition better. She is learning to pace herself; and speaks on behalf of polio survivors describing how important it is to pace and not overwork her muscles.
Sally has attempted to access necessary services to assist her in ageing with dignity. Firstly, “MyAgedCare” provided her with a low-level plan, which allowed her to receive a cleaner once a fortnight, however was refused other services such as gardening. Secondly, Sally contacted her local community health centre, with her sights set on a scooter. She waited four months for a consult from an OT, who approved her application and is now on a waiting list for her scooter. With no approximate time given to Sally, and being allocated a scooter which is too large for her needs – Sally is frustrated at the process and believes she deserves to be listened to – as she knows her needs better than anyone else. Sally wants to continue with her everyday activities, and continue volunteering; however, the poor timeliness of this service is making this impossible.
Sue is a polio survivor living in Geelong, Victoria.
Sue was born in 1960 in the Mallee Region of country Victoria. At the age of 18 months old, her mother remembers her having a severe fever; however, it was not identified as polio at the time. In the next year, an abnormality was noticed in her left foot. Following this, Sue visited a hospital in Melbourne, where her condition was diagnosed as the result of an earlier bout of polio.
The poliovirus affected Sue’s left foot, and left lower calf, resulting in her left leg being 2cm shorter than the right. As a result, Sue wore a calliper on her left leg, together with specially made shoes. She spent time in Lady Dugan Children’s Home in Melbourne undergoing rehabilitation. During this time, Sue was heavily braced, bandaged, and put in casts in an attempt to rectify the muscular-skeletal damage done by the disease.
At 13 years of age, Sue was advised by her doctor that she was no longer required to wear the calliper. The only residual sign of Sue’s polio infection was a slight limp and differing foot sizes. Sue lived a productive and independent life. She was always very active, working in hospitality and nanny jobs as a young adult. In her late twenties, she began an ongoing career as an office worker, later marrying, and raising two children.
At 54 years old, Sue began experiencing the Late Effects of Polio (LEoP). Her symptoms included severe lower back pain, with spinal spasms that put her out of action for 3 or 4 days at a time. When Sue put her back out completely, she realised she needed to seek professional advice. She had severely low bone density, and was diagnosed with osteopenia. When describing her history of polio to doctors, they replied “No, that wouldn’t relate to this.” Since then, Sue has experienced sharp pain in her left foot, severe aches and pains in the muscles all over her body and pins and needles. Sue described the feeling as “bruised bones and sensitive nerve endings.” These symptoms have also disrupted her sleep.
Earlier in her life, Sue would comfortably walk 4 to 8 km’s up to 4 times a week. She gained her strength in yoga and riding a bicycle. Now, Sue struggles to walk 1 km and is no longer able to participate in yoga.
At 56 years old, Sue is a ‘young’ polio survivor in Australia; however, she is keen to establish how she will achieve ageing with dignity into the future. Sue echoes the concerns of many younger polio survivors, stating, “The LEoP are new to me, and I need knowledgeable health professionals to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. I don’t want to make this journey on my own.”
Terry is a polio survivor living in Adelaide, South Australia.
It was 1946 and the war was finally over. The family had moved from London to Essex and I attended the local primary school.
One day we were supplied with a form to take home for our parents to sign, it was to advise them that with the onset of polio, the whole school was to be vaccinated, and they were required to sign the application giving their permission. With the knowledge that in the past I always had a bad reaction to any form of injection, my mother was naturally concerned.
The following day a meeting was arranged with the headmaster. My mothers’ concerns were discussed with him, whereupon the headmaster suggested he contact the Health Department for further information to allay any fears my mother had. Fears were allayed when it was explained that all problems would be dealt with by the attending nursing staff.
The day arrived for the vaccinations and being rather wary, I hung back and ended up being the last student to be vaccinated. By sheer coincidence, it was at this time a fresh pack of vaccine was opened, but after the procedure nothing seemed to be amiss.
It was shortly after I arrived home that I started to have a bad headache, this combined with feeling ill, so straight away my mother suggested I prepare for bed. This was while she heated some milk and honey for me to drink after taking some aspirin for the headache. I was put to bed with these words from my mother, “sleep tight, everything will be fine in the morning,” how prophetic these words were.
Upon waking in the morning, the first thing I realised was that I could not move my left arm or left leg. In fact the whole left side of my body appeared to me, as a child, that it was asleep and numb. I screamed and my mother ran into the bedroom totally alarmed at what was happening.
The next couple of days were sheer panic. It involved many visits from our doctor, the school headmaster, followed by representatives from the health department. After numerous tests, my parents were advised that my body had reacted violently to the vaccine. I now had a form of infantile paralysis, as it was called at that time, or more formally known as polio. As the war had only recently ended, there was not the equipment available that I needed.
I ended up being home schooled for nearly a year, thanks to my mother who organised it all. I also had home therapy from a physiotherapist from Monday to Friday. Having always been a very active child in sports and dancing, I was more than willing to cover all the exercises given to me by my physiotherapist.
My mother refused hospital treatments, always using natural methods of healing where possible. And so it was that massage became the normal treatment for me, which was administered by my mother and the physiotherapist she employed.
This was not unusual in my family, with five living children, as more than once treatment by my mother had superseded anything the doctor had prescribed. For example, mum would treat serious chest coughs with snake venom on a cube of sugar, this never failed.
When two of my brothers’ went down with the measles, it was the brother treated at home who recovered exceptionally well, while the brother who was taken to hospital, arrived home with damaged eye sight, despite my mothers’ objections to where and how he was being treated. The doctor and health authorities, were equally amazed at my recovery in how, over a period of twelve months, I managed to get back on my feet.
Unfortunately with polio there is never a 100% success in recovery. The residual for me was a weakness on my left side, creating a walk that could be easily recognised by colleagues. While at work when walking along a corridor, it was the hard and soft fall of my feet which announced my arrival.
With my own determination and strength of mind, I have managed to lead a very active school and work life. Marriage in 1957 produced three children, this was a pure miracle in itself, considering that after my accident as a child, while having a pillow fight with my sister, I jumped off the bed, but not far enough, as I came down on top of the decorative brass balls, which in turn smashed through to my womb.
I was once again paralysed from the waist down. This meant a session for several months in a borrowed pram, while I was recuperating. There were no wheelchairs available at that time, with the war having just recently come to an end.
The prognosis from the family doctor being, “this young lady will never be able to carry a child, her injuries are too severe.” That was later proved wrong by the birth of my three children.
Although each birth was traumatic, the first in fact totally draining me and causing several problems, I managed to overcome each set back.
When pregnant with my second child, I was advised that the foetus had died in the womb, therefore I was not accepted for treatment in the antenatal clinic and treated as an outpatient in the hospital. I was then given the choice of having the foetus aborted at 5 or 7 months, this timing being the best for the delivery.
My mother, who came with me to see Miss Calvely, my gynaecologist, was totally shocked at this suggestion. I must say so was I. I then insisted that I go through full time with the pregnancy feeling that while the child was I my womb, it was safe. I was then advised that my baby would be born black having deteriorated after death within the womb.
At the end of my pregnancy term, my daughter was delivered safely, only weighing 3 lb 4 oz., but alive and well. My third child, a son, was born with the cord around his neck, which caused a lot of concern. I also haemorrhaged badly and became extremely ill.
Consequently I now have three heart problems, a hole in the heart, a heart murmur, together with a rapid heart beat, not as my heart specialist quoted, having a four piece quartet, but a full orchestra playing.
As a consequence, having polio as a child, has remained and still is a problem in my life. Only my own discipline with exercise and healthy eating has been the one positive.
It is by trial and error that certain medications can be of assistance, having many allergies I have to ensure that anything new is thoroughly checked before I am able to use it. One medication being extremely useful is magnesium for leg cramps.
I do consider myself lucky in having a forward thinking mother, for without her everything would have been a lot harder to accept.
Thank you to my mum, for all of your love and hard work.
I would say that to age with dignity after being affected by Polio, would be to have 100% support from family, friends and the Medical fraternity in receiving their support in everything you feel capable of covering. The body may be fragile, but the mind is as strong as ever, mind over matter and you will succeed, but you do need this support.
One major item for the general public, also a majority of personnel in the Medical field, is “Advertising”. For years, to mention Polio, I have received a negative re-action, quote being, “this is no longer a problem, it does not exist.” This both from members of the public and Medical field. This was proven quite recently while my own doctor was on leave, I had reason to attend his replacement for blood results, while in the consultation, I asked a question regarding PPS. The response was curt and very sharp stating that Polio was no longer a problem and non existent, therefore I did not have a problem. With ignorance like this something needs to be done and soon.