By Esther Smart
I was born in 1950 in Berne, Switzerland. At age 5, I contracted Polio, along with many other children in our neighbourhood. I have unpleasant memories of my stay in the children’s hospital. A spinal tap, difficult therapies and home sickness made it all so traumatic for the little person I was. I was paralysed to the waist and I remember my legs being wrapped in hot cloths whilst being suspended in a type of sling to try and walk again. My parents eventually took me home but I had to be taken for therapy every day for a long time. I am not sure how the progression took place but I eventually regained use of my legs. I had to wear “sensible”, ankle height boots for years and I hated them. I had to do strengthening exercises for years too and it was recommended that my parents take me to hot sand every summer to make me walk with resistance. My legs were weak and long hikes on school excursions were a problem for me. I couldn’t hike, I couldn’t ski and I couldn’t partake in any athletic type sports much to my teenage angst in those days.
Thankfully at age 16 the doctor declared that nothing further could be done and I put the very unpleasant experience to the furtherest place in my mind. I studied visual arts and became a forensic photographer until I migrated to Australia in 1973. I have lived an exciting and varied adult life and took full advantage of the opportunities Australia offered me. I eventually became a prison chaplain and worked for years in several prisons in NSW.
I had a passion for my work but suddenly I started to notice vague symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath. Investigations for Lupus, M.S. and Chronic Fatigue proved negative and I was sent to a Psychologist for stress relief. Thankfully somewhere, someone mentioned that there is such a thing as late effects of Polio and I immediately spent time researching and writing to Switzerland for further information. This led me to Polio Australia and finally recognition of what was happening to me. My body could no longer compensate for the damage incurred from the virus all those years ago. In the last 10 years I have had a steady decline in strength overall but in particular in the legs and the core muscles of the abdomen.
I have been fortunate enough to spend two stays at Mt Wilga rehabilitation hospital where I have learned ways to manage the reality of my condition.I now have to live a paced, considerably slower way of life that includes a back brace, walking aids, shower chair and measured exercise just to get through my days. Whilst in my opinion it is far too early for all of this I also appreciate that I am lucky to be retired and able to make choices that suit my current situation. So, I spend quiet days at my studio painting or dabbling in all sorts of artistic pleasures including volunteering at the local school trying to enthuse the children that art is a worthwhile pursuit.
In moments of joyful immersion in colour and texture I think “ Polio, schmolio, who cares”.