I'm a diehard Iowan at the present time, but in 1953, at age 14,
I was growing up on a farm, one mile south of Danube,
Minnesota. Yes, Minnesota, one of the prominent polio
states, and both my younger sister, age 11, and I were struck
My sister had the bulbar type polio in her throat area. It kept her from playing her trumpet at the time, but she did not
have to be hospitalized.
One morning as we were awakening, my sister thought I was
pretending, when I showed her that I couldn't hold my arm up
toward the ceiling, without it falling! Polio affected
my right upper arm area, and to the present time, I have
difficulty in reaching something on a high shelf, hanging drapes,
or doing anything at a higher level.
Being sent to the Elizabeth Kenny Institute in the big city of
Minneapolis, for 58 days, was a traumatic experience for a shy
country girl, who had never been away from the farm, that
instance, or that long!
It was a traumatic experience for my family members as well.
Letters saved from my parents reveal their concern for their
young daughter, 100 miles from home. Mother wrote and
told me to cover up, eat my meals, and try to be
cheerful. Dad wrote and said that when he went into
town, everyone asked about me. It was indeed traumatic
news in our small town of 500.
I grew up in a loving Christian home, and I found the care at
Kenny Institute to be kind and loving, also. I was
given kind therapy by a most knowledgeable black therapist, Miss
My right upper arm shoulder area was wrapped in steaming hot
packs frequently throughout the day. The hot packs were
thick underwear-type large squares of cloth. The kind
black girls would bring them to our bedside in a wheeled washtub,
with a rubber lining and cover, to keep them steaming
hot! Sometimes I'd complain that it was too
hot. She'd shake it a bit and say "Oh, honey,
if it isn't hot, it won't do any good!"
In Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of
Polio, Jeffrey Kluger describes the spinal tap. I
could relate well; the most excruciating pain in my life!
My story has a happy ending! My parents willingly
allowed me to invite Ms. Peas to our little country town for the
weekend, and attend church with us. That was quite an
undertaking in 1953, however, if proved to be a most memorable
After reading Jeffrey Kluger's aforementioned book, I pondered if
my parents realized the seriousness of polio. However,
their daughter was most fortunate, with no crippling
effects. I missed a great deal of school, but my typing
teacher was pleased that I learned the typing skills, and caught
up with my class!