It was mid-September, 1952, when I became ill with flu-like symptoms. After being sick for several days, my mother took me to the doctor. Early one morning, I could not get out of bed from weakness and pain. My mother brought the necessities for washing and bathing in my room. Because of the weakness, I was unable to wring the water from the wash cloth. On the second visit to the doctor, it was confirmed that I had a virus called polio and was admitted to Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines.
There are three types of polio: 1) bulbar, which affects the breathing muscles, throat and lungs, generally requiring the use of an iron lung; 2) flu type, which is like having flu symptoms; and 3) the spinal, which can affect all or parts of the body. I was diagnosed with the flu and spinal type, which affects the motor muscles. These combined with a high fever destroyed or weakened the muscles in my legs, arms and back. My left arm and right leg suffered the most damage. If it had not been for the fever and flu, the therapy could have started immediately.
The next 11 days were spent in isolation. High fever, pain and weakness made me totally dependent on aids and nurses for all my needs. When my fever subsided, I was moved to a regular room for treatment and therapy. Hot packs made of discarded wool army blankets cut into strip were boiled and the water extracted "sometimes," then applied to my legs, arms and back. This would start at or before 3 a.m. and continue until noon. They were changed three or four times during this time period. Breakfast was never enjoyable with the smelly odor of wet wool packs. Physical therapy consisted of moving the legs, arms and back muscles as well as stretching those muscles little by little. This part of therapy was very painful and sometimes brought tears to my eyes.
We lived five miles east of Milo and, in 1953, it was a long drive to Des Moines; however, my parents came no less than twice a week to see me. Previous to September, Eugene Dooley came to our home selling serious illness policies. My parents purchased one for $15 a year. This insurance paid the entire bill, no questions asked. At the time, the room rate was $12.50 a day and the therapy and hot pack treatments were $4 a day.
Time seemed to go very slow, but mid-October was the turning point in my recovery. I was, with assistance, sitting on the edge of the bed, and a few days later I was standing on the floor with assistance and weighed in at 120 pounds. Hot pack treatments and therapy continued and then I finally graduated to being able to walk with the help of Kenny sticks.
I went home for the first time for Thanksgiving, 1952, returning to the hospital Sunday evening. After that, I was able to go home Friday evenings and return to the hospital Sunday evenings to the thought of those wonderful, smelly hot packs early Monday morning.
I do have some pleasant memories. Once my mother asked me what she could bring me. My reply, "popcorn." On their next visit, I had an electric popcorn popper and the goodies to make it! When the word got out about the popcorn, another patient's father brought a 25 lb. bag of shelled popcorn. The hospital furnished us with the butter, salt, oil and a very large bowl. We became very popular with all the nurses, aids, etc.
Another highlight was when a patient got to go home. We got to have a party. We usually found a vacant room of some kind (once a morgue). We had popcorn, cake and ice cream. When I was to be released in March of 1953, we had the usual get together. However, I ate so much popcorn and ice cream malt (my favorite to this day), I got sick. I was afraid I wouldn't get to go home the next day, but an understanding intern and nurse fixed me up and I went home as planned.
My physical abilities increased over the years by keeping active. I walk with a noticeable limp and my left arm is smaller in size than my other arm. However, as we grow older, polio survivors lose more strength. As in my case, the polio affected the left arm and right leg more and therefore, my left leg and right arm must carry more of the load.
Now polio survivors are faced with the problems known as Post Polio Syndrome. The muscles grow weak very fast and it is like they are having polio all over again. Some have had to start having more help with every day living and some had to resort to wheelchairs.