The following is Ms. Rand's
recollection of polio in 1950. She wrote this in April 2005.
Next month on May 19th I will be 80 years
old but I still often think back to the year 1950 and the month of
September. I can't help it. It was reality. Two years
before that on May 1, 1948 I was married to Bruce Thompson of Des
Moines, Iowa at the Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa. I was
almost 23 years old and Bruce was 29. Bruce's mother helped me
plan the wedding and I remember that for music she suggested the song,
"For You, For Me, Forever More," a lovely song with meaningful words.
Ours was a special wedding as my parents
were able to be there, the one and only wedding of their five children
they were able to attend. After the wedding Bruce and I
honeymooned in Florida. Bruce was employed by Aetna Insurance
Company as an insurance adjuster and we bought a house in West Des
Moines. Our marriage, although destined to be a short one, was a
happy one. On February 8, 1949, our daughter Nancy Gail Thompson
On Friday, September 8, 1950, Bruce came
home from work and complained of feeling ill. It was a strange and
different sort of illness which continued through the weekend.
Early Monday morning, September 11, he was admitted to the Veterans
Hospital in Des Moines. He was diagnosed with bulbar polio and was
immediately placed in an iron long. One can only imagine how
frightening this must have been for him. Conversation was limited
but at one point he whispered to me, "I have it and I don't want it."
He lived for only a few days and died at age 32 on 15 September, just
four days after admittance to the hospital. It was so sad.
His last words to me were "How's Nancy?"...the little daughter he was to
know and love for only 19 months.
From the beginning Nancy resembled her
father in looks and had inherited his pleasant, easygoing personality.
Also, his love of music and singing ability. Bruce's sudden death
came as a great shock to me. Following his death at the hospital,
I remember coming back to the home of Bruce's parents in Des Moines and
having them put me to bed. It seemed I was not emotional but was
the opposite...I was like a zombie and not speaking to anyone. A
doctor was called and he told the Thompson's, "This is the type you have
to watch, the ones who keep their emotions inside." I suppose I
was given medication but I don't remember.
My mother had died just three weeks before
Bruce's illness. My father was in a North Dakota hospital, and so
it was my siblings who gave me support at Bruce's funeral. My
sister Edith and husband came from Minneapolis. My sister Ruth and
husband drove all the way from New York to be with me, and my brother
William came from North Dakota. I have memories of walking down
the aisle at the funeral with William, he holding tight to my hand
and afterwards saying to me, "Perhaps you should come home with me."
Families are everything at a time like this.
After losing Bruce, I did not have long to
think about any decisions I must make, such as employment and means to
support myself and Nancy. It was only three days after Bruce's
burial in the Masonic Cemetery in Des Moines that I was in the attic of
our home in West Des Moines with my good friend, Blondie Ford. We
were going through possessions with the prospect of my putting the house
on the market. It struck without warning...that great stiffness in
my back and neck. I tried to touch my chest with my chin (a test
of polio) but could not. I knew immediately that I too had polio.
At first Dr. Thompson (Bruce's father)
thought I should go to the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis for
treatment, but on learning that the Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines
also gave the same treatment he admitted me to that hospital. The
date was September 21, 1950. What a trying time this was for my
in-laws, having just lost their son Bruce. They were so good to
me, and helped so much in the care of Nancy.
It was frightening for me to have polio
and to be in the hospital. Of course I was wondering if I would
get bulbar polio and be placed in an iron lung. And if so, I
wondered what would happen to Nancy. But as it turned out I did
not get bulbar polio. Rather I experienced severe stiffness which
seemed to affect all of the muscles in my body, plus I experienced
painful crams in my arms and legs. I remember one incident when
one of my arms cramped. The cramp traveled down to my hand and then it
just seemed to go right out through my fingers. Also, I remember
looking in a mirror on day and seeing that one of my eyelids was droopy,
a condition I still have or notice when tired.
But mostly I remember the therapy for
polio, not at all pleasant. A therapist would enter my hospital
room and using tongs would take steamy hot towels out of boiling water.
She would "slap" them on my legs, cover them with plastic, and then wrap
the legs with more towels to keep the heat in. The packs would
remain on my legs until her return. My back was very stiff, just
wouldn't bend, so a therapist would have me sit up in bed as far as I
could, then she would press on my back forcing it to go forward.
To this day I still cannot sit up perfectly straight with my legs
stretched out flat in front of me. Also there were the dreaded
exercises done to my legs, forcing them to stretch and bend.
Through it all I was determined to get well and I would do both back and
leg exercises alone in the middle of the night. I do not mean to
complain. I was so very fortunate not to get bulbar polio...and I
lived through it all. I truly believe there is a plan for
As a result of my having polio I was left
with weakness in my back and legs. I also have a jumpy nervous
emotional feeling which was with me for a very long time and which I can
still experience on occasion.
Wonder of wonders...even though little
Nancy had close contact with both her dad and me prior to our admittance
to hospitals, she escaped the dreaded polio epidemic and was never ill.
Who knows the answer to that?
After leaving the hospital, Bruce's mother
kindly and diligently continued to apply the hot packs to my legs, along
with the help of my good friend, Blondie Ford. I was a young
widow, age 25, with a small child to support and I knew that I would
have to make a new start in life. However, I needed time to
recuperate as I was still experiencing great weakness and had difficulty
walking. I continued to walk with a limp for a very long time,
especially when tired. Eventually Nancy and I went to stay with my
mother's sister, Ada Scott, in Nashua, Iowa for a few weeks. Then
I went to stay with my sister Edith Lenarz and her husband Don in
Minneapolis and at Christmas time I went to New York to be with my other
sister Ruth. I truly needed the help of my family at that time.
I still have a memory of trying to board
the plane in Minneapolis to go to New York. Nancy's little legs
were too short to get up the outside steps to the plane (no ramps in
those days) and so I had to carry her. I was still recuperating
and it was difficult.
In the spring of 1951 I sold the house in
West Des Moines and Nancy and I moved to Minneapolis where I got a job
and enrolled Nancy in nursery school. I rented an apartment and
with the help of Bruce's insurance, expenses were met. I continued
to exercise my legs in order to strengthen them. Nancy would lie
on the floor and do them with me. She called them "upsizes" and
was a good little trooper at age two. Life went on, and I was
stronger in spirit.
Added note: My elder brother,
Russell, also had polio. He was very young at the time and had
just started to walk when he became ill. This was the year 1909
and polio was then known as infantile paralysis. Russell's one
foot was affected and the only treatment then was to place the foot on a
heated stone, which my mother did. Unfortunately Russell was left
with a badly twisted foot from the polio and was unable to walk for a
number of years. When he finally did, my mother, who thought her
son would never walk again, cried tears of joy. At the time
Russell was living with his parents on a farm near Millville, Iowa, near
Mae Brown Rand, Minnesota - formerly of Polk County