I was born Jan.19, 1935 and when I was 13 and in eighth grade polio had started
to move through our small town of Goldfield. There had been 5 cases in First and
Second grades. It was the first part of Oct. 1948 when I got sick and spent
almost 8 months at Blank Hospital in Des Moines. What a wonderful place to be.
I took sick on a
Friday night, but still went to our youth scavenger hunt at church. I had a
friend stay over night with me and did not want to miss anything. I was very sick
the next morning so Barbara went home. Dr. Bassinger was called, but he thought
I had the flu to start with. My folks had put new wallpaper in the front room
and on Thursday I wanted to see it. When my Mother helped me stand up I went
down for I could not walk or stand alone.
Thursday was Dr. Bassinger's
day off and he was out of town. On Friday morning he came down and that is when
he told my folks what he thought was wrong. My folks did not have a car so Dr.
and my Dad carried me out and put me in the back seat of his new car. It was a
Nash and I think it was gray.
We were on are way to Des Moines and they
were working on the road and Dr. did not see a truck pull out and he bumped his
new car. We were going very slow, but it knocked me off the seat and on to the
floor. I remember my Mother telling them to pick me up, but Dr. had to see if
his new car was damaged and it was not. They did pick me up and we went on down
to Blank Hospital which is about 100 miles from Goldfield.
I was given a spinal tap, where they bend you about in half. I just know
they had to bend me and then lay me back flat. I was put into isolation on the
bottom floor of Blank and the parents could not come into the rooms. They could
look through the windows. The next morning Dr. Charlotte Fisk came in and I was
then put into an iron lung. The iron lung breaths for you and you lay on a bench
type bed with only your head in the open. There is like a gasket that fits
around your neck and keeps all the air in the lungs. It works like a suction type
motion. The nurses had to do everything for you. I was in a room by myself the
first day and then was put into a room with three other iron lungs. I had to
learn to talk because when the lung breathed in for you no words would come out. I
do remember the first time my Mother came in to see me and I tried talking
but nothing came out. I sort of laughed and my Mother cried. When in the lung
just your parents were allowed to come in with gowns on. It did not take long
to learn how to react.
While in the lung I was unable to turn over by
myself, so nurse would turn and put pillows on both sides of me all day and
night and of course they would have to feed me also. I was in the lung for over
2 weeks and once during that time my lung stopped and they came in with what
looked like a tire pump and took turns pumping it until another lung could be
brought over from Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines. The nurses were always
trying things and they found out if they took a coat hanger and bent the hook
part. They could tape it above our eyes on the lung and we could read a comic
book. When we'd finish reading that page, we would tell the nurse and she would
go around and turn all of our pages. The first day out of the lung I was asked
what I wanted to eat and I told them a hamburger, which they made for me. They
propped both arms up so I could hold it myself. It tasted so good and they called me,
“Hamburger Katie”, for that is what I would ask for when any one would ask what
I wanted to eat.
I had the polio that affected most all of my
muscles and learned to talk and, urinate, while in the lung. We received a
penicillin shot each morning for a while. Do not remember how long. When I got
out of the lung I was put in a hospital bed that had a board under the mattress
to keep me as straight as possible along with a foot board to keep the feet up
right. Also you were never able to have a pillow for they wanted you to be very
straight. (I slept without a pillow until I had our first son. The nurses thought
I would be more comfortable with one.) I was then moved up to the third floor in
Blank. The nurses still helped to feed me for a while.
The routine for
the day was to have hot packs put on the muscles affected, so I had them
all over. These were pieces of wool with a plastic cover sewed on the outside
and they were in a steamer in each room. The nurses or aids would put these on
you and after a while, or as us kids would say “when we were well done," you
would be taken down to therapy to be stretched. In the afternoons you would go
back to therapy for exercise only. The stretching is what hurt the most. A lot
of your muscles would get stiff and not want to move. I think the most painful
was when they would put my feet up level and next would be trying to bend over
while they held me up straight. I was old enough to understand this had to be
done and felt sorry for all the little ones that didn’t. My arms were so stiff
they were down by my side and were worked with until they would lay over my head
on the bed. Sometimes in the afternoon you were also put in a whirl pool tub.
I never will forget the first time I saw myself in a mirror. I only
weighed 53 lbs and looked like skin and bones. I cried and they assured me I
would look much better very soon. I really stayed very thin until I was in my
late 30’s. I would sit in front of the mirror and learn how to try and use
some of the right muscles.
The kitchen help was just great. When one of
us would have a birthday they would bake a birthday cake. All of us would get a
piece. I turned 14 on Jan. 19th and they made me a chocolate one. I still
remember Norma wanting to know why I got a chocolate one and she got a white
one. She was a number of years younger. I was the oldest girl there. We had one
boy Larry Toillion from Eagle Grove that turned 16 while there. We both came
home the same day, which was the end of May. I had only gone about 6 weeks to
school so I had to start in eight grade again. I could not walk much, so
either the school bus or someone would come and take me to school and bring me
home. That lasted about 2 years and then I was able to walk.
We had a
play room director, whose name was Sandy, and she would find things for us to do
and once a week they would show a movie and we were all taken down to the play
room. At first I was taken in my bed and they would crank me up and with the
board under the mattress I would just go up on a slant. And then when I
learned to sit up I got put into a wheel chair. When I could walk I
got to sit in a regular chair. I do not remember how many were there, but the
room was always full. My folks did not have a car so Mother would come one
Sunday on the bus and Dad would come the next Sunday. We were very lucky, for at
the time the bus stopped in Goldfield and many other small towns and then to Des
Moines. Some times if other people were going to Des Moines they would give my
parents a ride. I did get to go home for 2 days at Christmas and 3 days at
Easter, but each time it would set me back a ways and made me a little
stiffer, but it was nice to get home and see my 3 sisters and one brother.
was in a room with 3 others girls. Nancy was pretty much in bed, for she had a
hard time doing anything and her muscles did not come back. It seems like
either your muscles would shrink, or like Nancy’s legs, seem to stay quite large
as did Norma’s one arm. Marylen’s little arms and legs stayed very small. I do
have one arm shorter then the other, but am very thankful for my recovery. I
have never been able to run or jump or ride a bike. I did always try.
did have the Sister Kenny therapy by a lady by the name of Mrs. Lyons. She was
so very nice and I think her husband was in the State House. Dr. Fisk thought
the Sister Kenny therapy was better than what I was getting at Blank. Mrs. Lyons
would come every day and treat a few of us. We had a middle-aged lady who was
the night nurse and her name was Merry Christmas Miller. I guess I remember that because some of the boys would make fun of her name. She was a very sweet
lady and would do anything for you. She told us she was born on Christmas Day.
At that time she was not married. Our therapists were a Miss Salmon, a Miss
Ballard and 2 more I cannot remember. I saw Dr. Fisk every day I was in the
lung and not so often when I got better. Dr. Thronton Sr. was my specialist.
I have been left with a weak right lung, right arm, no stomach muscles (so cannot just sit up, I must roll over), most of the muscles in my toes do
not work and both legs are weak. My left arm will go over my head, but is weak
holding things. Now my left arm does not want to go up very much and sometimes
my bad, or right arm, is stronger. This is from using my strong muscles twice as
much to help make up for the ones that do not work as well. It has been over 2
years now that I have walked with a mid-arm crutch -- or as we called them while in Blank, Sister Kenny sticks. I can walk where it is flat without the stick,
but cannot go up steps or ramps without it. I was not too happy at first using
this, but later found I had so much more balance and I have not fallen since I
started. I would fall very easily and would usually get hurt
I have worked outside the home many years at various jobs,
from antique dealer, to retail store, to office work for the last 14 years
We well soon be married 50 years come February 2008 and have
3 children, 9 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren and 3 step
great-grandchildren. I have a thoughtful and helpful husband, whom I could not
get along without. All of our children and grand children are so very helpful.