Describe what you remember
about the fear surrounding polio epidemics:
The summer of 1952 is a summer we will never forget. My husband
John had just finished his first year at Calvin Theological
Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was assigned to work as a
summer intern in the Christian Reformed Church in Ireton, Iowa,
Sioux County. We had been married for just six months and we were
excited to take on this new venture. We packed books and clothes
in our 1947 Ford coupe and headed west.
Growing up in Michigan we were aware of "infantile
paralysis" and were both carefully monitored by our
mothers during the summer months. But neither of us were prepared
for the polio epidemic that struck Iowa in 1952. Each morning the
Sioux City Journal reported the number of new cases admitted to
area hospitals and the number of deaths.
Still, when I began to suffer flu-like symptoms in the ninth week
of our ten-week assignment, neither of us suspected polio. Our
doctor did, however, and performed a spinal tap which confirmed
the fact that I had polio. I was taken immediately to St.
Joseph's Hospital in Sioux City. The clothes I wore to the
hospital were burned, I was confined to bed, and quarantined
until the nausea and vomiting had passed. The hospital was
crowded with beds and iron lungs in hallways and every room. Navy
corpsmen were called to assist nurses in caring for patients and
helping to administer the requisite hot packs. I was kept in the
hospital for two weeks.
Meanwhile, two days after I was hospitalized, John came down with
similar symptoms. For some reason, the same doctor who treated me
didn't recognize the fact that John also had polio. So, John
stayed in the parsonage in Ireton and our parents came from
Michigan to care for him. The doctor said John should continue to
walk, and he tried to do that until he was unable to support his
weight. My father contacted the Polio Foundation and on their
recommendation chartered a plane to fly us back to Michigan. When
we got back to Michigan, John was hospitalized in Blodgett
Hospital for two weeks. By that time, his left leg was paralyzed.
I registered him for the fall semester in the Seminary, but he
was unable to attend classes until mid-term. In the meantime, I
helped him with reading and research. He had physical therapy for
a year and a half, walking first with crutches and then with a
cane. He was able to graduate with his class in 1954 and, even
though we swore we would never go west of the Mississippi River
again, he accepted a call to Sioux County, where we now have
lived for 50 years--10 serving churches, 28 at Dordt College
where I worked in the Library and John served in a variety of
positions and finally as President, and 12 in retirement in Sioux
Center and at Lake Okoboji.
When John was in physical therapy, he was told that in five years
there would be a vaccine that would eradicate polio. That turned
out to be true, and we were grateful that our children could have
the sugar cubes that would prevent the disease.
Today, I have no symptoms, but John has only 10% muscle in his
left leg. In spite of that weakness he has been able to lead a
full and productive life. He suffers some from post-polio
syndrome--particularly occasional difficulty in swallowing and
fatigue. But we both feel blessed to have survived this crippling