I am now 87 years old and living in an
independent living facility in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I had polio when
I was 20.
One evening in May of 1940, my boyfriend
(later my husband) and I went to a roller skating rink in the country
northwest of this metro area. We were not skaters ourselves but
just watched the action for a while and left. I was working as a
household helper in a home in Waterloo and my boyfriend worked on his
parents' farm west of Cedar Falls. I think I began feeling ill
very soon -- perhaps the next day. Not sure, but perhaps flu-like
symptoms that persisted until I became very weak. A local doctor
came to see me but did not make a diagnosis. I heard later that I
was the first case of polio in Waterloo that year, which ended up having
a great many. I finally went home to my parents' farm in Butler
County, southwest of Clarksville.
My condition worsened and my parents
called our old family doctor from Clarksville. He came several
times and finally made a reluctant diagnosis of poliomyelitis. He
did not recommend hospitalization, saying that there was very little to
be done and no medication that would help. That was some time
before even the Kinney treatment became available.
So my mother took care of me, through a
hot and busy summer when she had to make meals for my father and two
brothers and do all the usual work in a kitchen without running water.
The cooked on a wood-burning cook stove. They did have electricity
but no cooling device of any kind, and no refrigerator, of course.
The acute stage of polio lasted for me about a month, during which I was
in excruciating pain along both sciatic nerves and could not stand to
lie in a single position more than about 15 minutes. I was too
weak to change positions on my own so during the day my mother stayed
within hearing distance and at night she and my father took turns
sitting up to turn me when necessary.
Most people avoided visiting, being afraid
of polio, but one rough old neighbor farmer came every day to see how I
was doing. I will never forget that. And my boyfriend came
at least once or twice a week. I had been able to eat almost
nothing during that early period. Then one day an aunt came
bringing me a jar of homemade raspberries. That tasted good and
from then on I gained a little appetite. At last, by about
September, I gradually became strong enough to be able to take a few
steps. During that summer there were reports of other cases of
polio in the area but none among friends or acquaintances of ours.
After I was able to be moved more easily,
my father started taking me often for chiropractic treatments to a
doctor in Waverly. His office was on a second floor and my father
and the doctor carried me up the stairs on an old folding canvas cot.
I don't remember how often we went but probably at least twice a week.
I have no idea now how much good they did me. I just know that I
was able to be in a wheelchair borrowed from friends and started to do a
lot of handwork.
My residual weaknesses are a drop foot on
the left and inability to lift my right leg from the knee. Also,
an atrophied muscle in my back makes it impossible for me to exert any
"push" motion with my right arm. Ever after, I walked with a
pronounced limp but was eventually able to do almost anything anyone
else did. I gradually grew stronger and in May of 1941 Talmage
Southard and I were married. We lived on this parents' farm but he
was soon drafted into the army and in September of that year was off to
basic training. I spent a lot of time in California, where he was
stationed for a long time. Our son was born there in 1943.
After the war (4 1/2 years later) my
husband came home and we lived on the farm for 38 years. I did
everything any other farm wife did, including carrying all the water in
and out of the house in the early years before we built a new, more
modern home. I drove a car until just a few years ago. After
some years, (about 1967?) I began using a cane and a few years later I
was fitted for a brace on the drop-foot leg. Then I progressed to
In 1984 we moved to a ranch house in Cedar
Falls -- no steps and all appliances on the main floor. I have
always fallen easily and toward the last years on the farm began
breaking bones. I had three broken legs in the span of a couple of
years and finally quit thinking of myself as a walker. I have used
a scooter now for about 22 years and I do not try to walk at all, but I
am in reasonably good health otherwise.
About Post Polio Syndrome -- As I
understand it, it is a return of the original symptoms and pains.
If that is what PPS is, I do not think I have experienced it at all.
I have the usual problems associated with growing old and nothing worse.
Just the natural deterioration most old people experience.