By Suzanne Brigham
Contracting polio at 13 months of age (66 years ago) had more of an impact for my family in the first 16 years than me. I knew nothing else, but my mother, father and four siblings lived in the post-depression years meaning their life was tested by poverty, limited education and housing options. After six months in an iron lung and a year in a ‘crucifix splint’ I was sent to a hospital school receiving physio every day and operations at the Children’s hospital once each year on my legs. I wore a full calliper up until the last ten years. School work was carried out by external lessons, so I largely taught myself to read and write. I was often ‘used’ by the school to meet dignitaries and as part of advertising campaigns. It was these occasions and excursions that reinforced I was different to others. I largely fought this perception. In the early 70’s I was sent to Business College a rude shock after being cloistered in a ‘special school’. I passed my subjects with honours. I started work as a secretary following this and worked in this capacity, eventually moving to work in Townsville in a similar role for a newspaper. I married in my early 20s and when my husband died suddenly in the car, I and my two sons moved to Central Queensland. I had started studying my first tertiary degree a year previously. I worked for the next 20 years in community development, community work, multicultural work and community housing roles in Local and State Government and community organisations. Before I retired I worked in Canberra as a public servant. During my years, raising my sons and working, I gained a number of tertiary qualifications. These days I am a practicing Buddhist and have been studying Buddhism for five years. I volunteer, with many others, transcribing Buddhist teachings. These days I have limited endurance and stay at home most of the time. I utilise a wheelchair to get around and am supporting my son who has Stage III Melanoma. I have a grandchild born last year. In one job I was in, I ushered a young man to a job interview saying ‘walk this way’. He stopped and looked and started to mimic the polio gait. I have to say that although there have been many challenges there have been the odd laughs here and there. I am constantly reminded that being determined to live a full life brings me the capacity to move the rocks on the road, ignore those behaviours that aren’t mine to own and step around things that can’t be changed.