Friday, October 19, 2007

Fighting Polio in 1952

Occasionally I have submitted posts here that were not written by me. The last one, on social security has become, hands down, the second most popular of all my posts. My post today is a letter written to me by my mother, answering the question, "What do you remember about fighting polio in 1952?" As you read her answer, which is a mix of medical, emotional, spiritual, and other personal memories, you will find the story line. She refers a number of times to my medical fight for my daughter that was against a different enemy, leukemia. Mother's fight, on behalf of my older sister was against the most dreaded enemy of the early 50's, polio.

Dear Betsy,

I didn't forget about your letter asking about our memories of Debby's polio experience. I'll try to write down what I remember and how we felt.

In those days when more and more people were being attacked by the disease, we parents were frightened-especially in the summer. No one really knew how it was spread, but there was a feat it might be from swimming pools-even children's little pools. We learned the symptoms, one of which was that the back got stiff.

Debby was suffering from a sore throat. Our pediatrician was on vacation or something and we took her to another one. He did not detect anything serious. Debby didn't improve. One night she woke up crying. I went to her crib, noticed that she did not sit straight up, but turned over and got up on her knees. I carried her to the bathroom and put her down on her feet and she cried in pain. I knew there was something seriously wrong.

Next morning we took her to our pediatrician, dear Dr. Keagy. He put her on the table and when he tried to lift her upper body, she was stiffer than normal-a scary sign. I said, "Is it polio?" He said, "That's a possibility."

Jack took her directly to the hospital and I walked up to the lab-about a block away-carrying you. You were about nine months old. This was in September-somehow the 17th is in my mind as the date-September of 1952.

Debby was put in the pediatrics department for a week-in isolation. We weren't allowed in the room. We could look at her from the hall. She was able to walk around her crib. They were not sure yet if it was polio. Something they called radiclia-neurinitis (as I remember it) was suspected. Bob Deuel at the time said, "Be glad it was not that."

In a week Dr. Keagy and the doctor in charge of polio admitted her to the polio ward in the basement of the hospital. There were probably eight or nine patients-at least one on an iron lung and two little tots, Debby and a little boy called "Yummy." They competed for the use of the little tricycle.

Debby never became paralyzed, praise the Lord, but she had weakness in her back and right leg and trouble walking.

The treatment they used was the Sister Kenny treatments with the hot packs. Debby hated that. We never saw her get the treatments. We were only permitted to visit two times a week-I think it was Wednesday night and Sunday. We saw her an extra day on Saturday at the YMCA when they took the patients to exercise in the pool there. The Rotary Club members worked with the patients in the pool. Then they showed them a movie and gave them hot dogs. We were so thankful for the time with Debby.

She was in the hospital from September until just before Thanksgiving. I have a vague recollection of our going to the Thanksgiving service at Calvary although we did not attend Calvary at the time.

We had a list of exercises we had to have her do for some time. She hated them.

When we took her back to Dr. Keagy for a checkup, Jack asked him what we owed him. He said, "To see her walk is all the pay I wanted." We had no health insurance at that time, as far as I remember. The expenses at the hospital were paid entirely by the Polio Foundation.

When Debby was diagnosed, our friends who had children were very concerned because it was considered to be very contagious. Soon they came out wit a treatment called Gamma Globulin. I think they use it for measles. I started working with the Polio Foundation to raise funds, etc. I remember one day our ladies with the Polio group were invited for tea at the governor's house in Harrisburg. Then the wonderful Salk vaccine was discovered. What a blessing. We were very thankful for the treatment at the hospital and for Dr. Hull who gave his time for those patients. They would bring musicians and clowns and other entertainment in on the days we could visit.

They were scary days and we feared that Debby might become a cripple. We prayed earnestly that that would not happen to her. We kept pleading with the Lord. I remember that one day, as Jack and I prayed together, we were able to say to the Lord that if she became crippled, it was all right. We quit striving, and the Lord gave us peace about it. Praise Him, we never had to see her become paralyzed or crippled.

I have memories of giving Debby her exercises in our little living room in the 28th Avenue home, sometimes with grandparents watching and little Betsy watching from her playpen. I hope we didn't neglect you when Debby needed so much attention.

We didn't have to see Deb go through such painful treatment as Diane did. And her recovery did not take so very long. I don't remember her suffering pain after the beginning and I don't know if she was given any medication.

Years later, when Deb was an adult, I first read about Post-Polio-Syndrome. That was frightening to me-thinking it might come back. I know a young woman who suffers quite a bit with PPS. Deb seems to be doing quite well. She says she sometimes minds it when she is very tired-limps a little.

We have been richly blessed in both Debby's and Diane's lives and recovery. Thank you Lord.

NJR aka Mother


Anne G G said...

I've never really heard the story of Aunt Deb's polio before . . . thank you for posting this.

brd said...

Stay tuned, I am going to do another post tomorrow with interesting pictures.