Describe what you remember about the fear
surrounding polio epidemics:
In 1955 I lived on a
farm in WI, daughter of a divorced mother who remarried on 8/1/1955. I
was six at the time. We lived in an upstairs apartment in the farm home
of my grandparents (though we moved 'to town' within 2-3 months of my
mom's remarriage) and my mother worked at Oscar Mayer in Madison.
I recall going to my elementary school and lining up to receive the
polio vaccine but do not recall hearing of my family's concern for
keeping me inside or away from public venues (pool, fair, etc.) as
living on a farm is a pretty isolated existence anyway.
Many of the children who went to my elementary school in Prairie du Sac,
WI got polio and my closest roommate in the hospital was an older girl,
Virginia, from my school. An older girl who lived on the farm across the
road from ours, Marie, also came down with polio. I believe we got a bad
batch of the vaccine although my mother thinks the cause was later
attributed to a delay in administration of the second & subsequent doses
of the vaccine. The first mass administration occurred but the second
never arrived in the prescribed time.
Tell us what you remember of the impact
My recollection of the onset of the
disease is as follows:
I hadn't been feeling well for a day or so and the usual situation when
I was ill as a child was that I would spend time downstairs on my
grandparents' sofa where my grandma could keep an eye on me. That's
where I was--with the velvety brown sofa covered by a sheet to both
protect the sofa and to keep me cooler--when I needed to go to the
bathroom but was too weak to walk on my own. My mother picked me up to
carry me to the bathroom and when she lowered me so I could sit on the
toilet seat, my body collapsed for lack of muscle tone, and I 'fell in'
getting myself wet. I'll never forget the shriek-moan sound that
emanated from my mother's mouth. I believe this confirmed her worst
fear--that I possibly/probably had polio.
My new step-dad came home from work immediately and I recall the drive
to Madison General Hospital with my mother cradling me on her lap. Once
at the hospital I recall struggling, crying, 'trying to get off the
table' as many attempts were made--with one finally successful--to do a
spinal tap. No topical anesthetic of any kind was used, and to this day
I have a dread fear of having any kind of spinal puncture and/or
The day was August 19, 1955 and the only reason I know specifically of
this date is that my grandmother, who died in March 2007 but who would
have been 100 in July 2007, kept a daily diary from 1938 on and I now
have them in my possession.
I was hospitalized for less than a month and I recall feeling sick and
definitely being weak but I was never paralyzed. Only my legs were
affected to any degree (to my recollection) and the right one more than
the left. Being an only child, I enjoyed the company of other patients.
We were mischievous at times, tossing things to each other from bed to
bed although we'd been told not to.
This was a significant hardship for my family. There was daily driving
of the 30+ miles to/from Madison. One can only imagine the strain placed
on my mom & step-dad's new marriage, plus my Mom and step-dad had just
bought a "supper club" and were renovating it and trying to get this
business up and running.
Of course I had physical therapy while hospitalized and this continued
after I was released. My mother drove me to Madison daily, then four,
three and two times per week and finally a PT would make home visits
every week or two. I believe I returned to school, to second grade (no
problem keeping up at grade level) in October, although Gram's diaries
had no record of this.
Because I had what I believe would be
considered a mild case, I don't feel polio had a big impact on my life.
It hasn't kept me from physically doing anything I wanted to do--playing
sports, leading an active life--although as I age and have noticed
declining strength and capabilities I sometimes wonder about post-polio
syndrome that I have read about. So far, I just attribute my 'realities'
to the normal aging process. Marie also had a course of the disease much
like mine and had no sequel that I ever knew of. Virginia was
hospitalized much longer and walked with leg and arm braces for as long
as I knew of her. These are the only specific names I recall from my
elementary school although there were many others who contracted polio.