By Jen Pretty (Rev.)
I have no memory of this place, although I lived here for 6 weeks many years ago, when I was only twenty months old. I have invited my mum to come with me to visit Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. It is 1993 and mum is not particularly keen to come, but the only memories I have of being here are her memories.
This hospital ward was beautifully and cleverly designed by the matron of that time so that each light-filled room has access to its own small courtyard. It looks a pleasant space, a healing place, quite big enough for both a bed and a cot. Mum guessed which was our room, it was hard to know for sure. She had been confined to bed.
It was 1952, March the 7th during an outbreak of polio when we were both admitted. Dad wrote these notes about his experience on that day.
The doctor “rang from our home for an ambulance to take Jenny, Mum, and the unborn Peter to Fairfield Hospital. I remember that it was a Friday afternoon. I followed and sat around in the waiting room for any news. Another fellow of about my age was also waiting and we got talking. His wife had also been brought in with polio at about the same time. We were the only two waiting. After a short while a doctor came out and told the other man that his wife had died! I stayed until assured that Mum and Jenny were comfortable and that there was nothing that I could do – then returned to our empty house for the rest of the night.”
Mum described the room as she remembered it, where her bed was, and my cot close by. I was supposed to be lying down and staying still. But I would stand up, holding on to the cot for support and call her to come close. But she couldn’t move. She felt completely paralysed. She was four months pregnant.
Mum felt that her recovery after two weeks in hospital was miraculous. After spending two weeks together in that light-filled room, mum followed doctor’s orders by taking a short restful holiday with dad. She left me at Fairfield where I was moved to ward 10, the children’s ward. Now I was in a Double Thomas splint, surrounded by children I didn’t know, for another month. It was too dangerous for relatives to visit. They may have infected their own young families.
The Double Thomas splint came home with me. I was trained and restrained in it for at least a year.
COVID-19 has changed our lives in so many ways, and brought more fear into the community. Polio epidemics came and went throughout the 20th century, but then, it was usually the young who were badly affected. Now, as I turn 70 I’m in the age group for vulnerable people again. Then, as now, people died, schools and some businesses were closed, and the future was uncertain.
Looking back I appreciate the opportunities and privileges that came to me because I was ‘different’. I don’t know how I would have made the journey without the belief that we are ALL, regardless of our abilities or lack of them, we are all acceptable and loved by God.