The article in the Des Moines Register on polio, the end of January 2007,
touched the heart of many us polio survivors. We were thankful the epidemic year
of 1952 didn’t affect our two little girls who were two & one. Every parent
had a nagging fear as there seemed no way to know who could be afflicted or what
to do to prevent the disease other than stay away from swimming pools. As
farmers we didn’t have access to one anyhow.
The following summer in
July, I had been busier than usual – moving to a different farm, doing yard
work, gardening and canning green beans. I got a backache that was bad enough I
went to three different doctors with the nagging fear – “Could I have polio?”
Each of them didn’t think so.
At the time, I was seven weeks pregnant
and sometimes backaches go along with pregnancies. One night I could feel my
legs getting weaker and when one of the girls cried out, I went to their bedroom
and fell, unable to get up. My husband, Don, got me back to bed but by morning I
couldn’t walk. My mom kept the two kids and I went to Grinnell hospital where a
spinal tap was performed and the doctors determined it was polio. This was on
July 21, 1953. Our lives were totally changed. I was immediately sent on to Iowa
Lutheran Hospital, the Sister Kenny treatment center for mid-Iowa in Des Moines.
That would be my home for the next 8 months. We were so thankful that Shari was
born naturally on September 20 and I wouldn’t have to recover from surgery. They
began to teach me to walk again. I missed the iron lung but had a hard time
swallowing. When I was in isolation for the first week, the hot wool packs were
the main treatment and I could always feel the sticks of the pin indicating my
sensory nerves weren’t gone but the motor nerves were and both legs were
A little lady, Miss Helen Johnson, was my main instructor. Do
any of you remember her? She sat on a box with wheels in front of my legs. Bob, a
big orderly, was holding me up along with my two Kenny sticks and what little I
could do with an arm in each one, Helen had to hold both knees back, then would
strike under the knee cap across with hand and say “Think,” release the knee,
take hold of my ankle and say “step,” push the knee back and do the other leg
the same way. This went on for many weeks twice daily to establish a pattern
back to my brain, it was very stressful! Eventually I walked with hyper-extended
knees, but who cared? At last I was walking, difficult though it was. Doctors
didn’t think I’d ever walk again, but God answered many prayers in so many
areas, I could only humbly thank him! I had to wear toe braces under the tongue
of my shoes to keep the drop toe from making me fall. So at twenty-three years
of age, I went from a very active farm girl who milked cows, made hay, went
roller skating, horse back riding, etc. to a limited-mobility mom of three
little girls. The impact was tremendous! I got to come home on the weekends
after Shari was born (lived 70 miles from Des Moines). I would be very tired
when I got back on Sunday night but that was what kept me working to get back as
much strength as possible so I could come home to stay. My left hand and right
shoulder were both affected also. I didn’t have enough strength to lift Shari to
burp her when I first started coming home and to this day I can’t open my hand
despite all the squeezing of a ball I did at the hospital. It was never stiff,
so I’ve done a lot of work with it.
Don, Cyndy and Becky got a shot of
gamma globulin the day I went to the hospital to maybe prevent them from getting
polio. Don really ached for several days and it was hard getting down and up off
the milk stool. We waited a while to be sure the vaccine was working before we
had our girls take it. Earlier the live virus one had proved to be risky for
some out west. We could all rest easier knowing this disease would not continue
to be the crippler thanks to Jonas Salk’s scientific work.
In January of
1955 we read in the Capper’s Weekly that many polio patients were getting help
at the Spears Chiropractic Hospital in Denver, Colorado. I went for four months.
My balance improved considerably. To this day I take two chiropractic
adjustments a month to keep a curvature in between by shoulders from getting
worse. For these fifty-four years I have always had to lift my body with my arms
pushing me up high enough so that my right knee would throw back and lock, then
the lift after which I could walk with Kenny sticks (cut off crutches). Elizabeth
Kenny was an Australian nurse who treated victims of polio epidemic there and
later came to America in 1940 lecturing and demonstrating her methods.
She did not want weight to be in patient’s shoulders as crutches did so a
leather loop around the cut off crutch steadied the forearm and kept the weight
in the legs to strengthen them slowly day by day. In the forty’s the Elizabeth
Kenny Institute was funded in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
After 30 years my
right knee had hyper extended so long it wouldn’t support my Weight (120 lbs)
any more. I thought I’d have some kind of a simple wrap to support so was not
prepared emotionally for the full-leg brace the technician came toting in. He
explained why it had to be this big to hold the knee in the right position to
walk without my knee tripping out forward and causing me to fall. Eight years
later the left knee was fitted for the same. I was getting more vulnerable by
the year! As to whether this was a result of Post Polio Syndrome, I don’t know.
Of late, I have pain in my shoulders and right wrist and some fatigue of a
different kind. Maybe Post-Polio Syndrome or maybe it’s just being
seventy-eight years old. I take no medication s but am a believer in food
supplements for extra vitamins and minerals our bodies require as we age.
Our lives continued on in a positive way. My husband has been so
supportive in helping me get around with wheelchairs, sticks, building ramps
etc, and being a wonderful dad to our seven children. I’d only asked God for
strength to raise our family and he kept giving us more children. And the
strength I’ve had to raise a big family truly has been from God’s beautiful
provision. Because of my disability I feel our fine girls and boys grew up being
more compassionate and caring toward others. We have nineteen grandchildren and
soon another “great grand” making five. Our family is close and all love to come
home to see us and each other. Such fun (and noisy) times when we all get
together for birthdays and Christmas! Truly we have been blessed despite the
intervention of poliomyelitis.