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 sent 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 are 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.