Interviewee: Norma Jean Cornelius
Interviewer: Thomas Sullivan
Date of Interview: 11/02/07
Run Time: Approximately 80M
Biographical Data Form
Oral History Release
Norma, the youngest of twelve children, was diagnosed with polio in Greene County (Greenbrier Township) in the summer of 1948. She was just about to turn eleven years old and the circus was coming to town. She began experiencing a terrible headache the day after a large family reunion. Each day, her headache got progressively worse. Her sister warned her she better get well by the end of the week so she could go to the circus. Everyone in town went to see it – including the country doctor. Norma and her mother waited patiently for their house call. When he finally arrived, he told her she needed to go to Blank Hospital in Des Moines. Norma remembered thinking that if she fell asleep she would die so she fought hard to stay awake. Instead of seeing the big lights of the circus, she saw the street lights of the city. “I did not know what street lights were – I had never been to a big city,” said Norma. After the spinal tap, she went into isolation for two weeks. Norma spent the next nine months in treatment and rehabilitation at Blank.
She was mainstreamed back into the town school in the small community of Bagley, Iowa. When it comes to attitude, it has always been Norma’s philosophy that she only had two choices: you could be miserable and make everybody else miserable around you or you could survive and thrive. Polio made her stronger. Norma reflected, “I always thought I could do what everyone else could do. I’ve led a normal life. Polio did not affect me mentally or spiritually.” Norma was active in leadership of the Iowa Polio Survivors support group from 1990 to 1995. She and her husband currently reside in Ames.