At the age of two I had polio. It was a virus that was running throughout the US. I had the best parents in the world. They were devastated to say the least but although they were having to deal with this my Mom took the time to write up what she and Daddy were going through. The following is my Mom’s story of Polio.
OUR STORY OF POLIO 1950 BY MARY CARDWELL
This is our story of Polio….just how fast it can happen to you and how helpless you feel at a time when the doctor tells you that your baby has what you have been dreading – Polio
It all started when Glo, our baby who was then barely two, started vomiting. We took her to a pediatrician in my home town, he examined her asked me many questions and calmly told me that he thought she might be taking Polio. I was scared at first but we had had sickness in our home before and I felt that I could take whatever was coming up!
Our other child had been in bed almost a year with rheumatic fever and we had brought her through without even a heart mummer so I thought we could be as fortunate again. Little did I know all that was in store for us. Something that was bigger than anything that we had ever experienced.
The doctor gave me a prescription and told me to take her home but to let him know how she was the following day. In a few days he had checked her vomiting and although weak she was soon running around playing.
We sighed with relief and settled back to normal living.
It was short lived because exactly ten days later she waked up vomiting again. I called the doctor and he told me that I probably had put her back on her milk too soon and to take her off of it for twenty-four hours.
I did as the doctor had ordered and then her temperature started coming up! I tried to get in touch with the doctor again, but he could not be located.
Not knowing what to do I called another pediatrician in Little Rock and asked if he could take her if I brought her up. This doctor was the one who had treated our other child when she had rheumatic fever and we knew he was good and we could depend on him.
The receptionist was very nice and told me that he would take her in as soon as we could drive the forty miles.
I didn’t realize just how many stop signs we ran but in a short time we were there. The doctor took us right away, while I briefed him on the past few weeks he examined her. I reminded him that we lived in Pine Bluff where there had been many cases of polio in the previous months.
After a thorough examination he told me found nothing that could be causing the fever except a little sore throat but that he wanted to run a blood test on her.
He gave her some medicine and told me to bring her back the next Monday. I left feeling somewhat relieved and tried to calm my nerves on the way home.
Upon arriving home I found my brother, his wife and their little girl, I begged them to return to their homes as we did not know the real cause of Glo’s fever. They insisted that they were not afraid so why should I worry. (They had never had any serious illness in their few years of married life and a little fever did not bother them).
I shall never forget the next Monday; my husband did not go to work so he made the trip to the doctor with us. As the doctor examined her he asked me how I thought she was, I will never know just what made me say it but I TOLD HIM THAT I didn’t think she was any better except that she was free of fever….it must have been a mother’s intuition;
He smiled and told me that he was going to disagree with me, that she was better. I was relieved but I was still scared inside. The doctor told us that the blood tests showed she had too many white corpuses’ but too many for polio.
He wrote another prescription to have refilled and told us to call him if her fever came up again, but that he thought she was much better. We left feeling much better ourselves because we knew the doctor we trusted more than anybody could find nothing but a small white spot on one of her tonsils!
Glo was feeling fine until noon the following day. I noticed her temperature had started to rise again. I called the doctor long distance and told him that I wanted him to put her in the hospital where he could watch her as I was certain that something was wrong with her that had not been found. (This had been going off and on for about three weeks and I felt that I had to know regardless).
I packed a few things, left a note for my husband and prepared to leave. One of my faithful friends insisted that I was not going alone so she held the little feverish bundle to the hospital.
When we arrived at the hospital there was no vacant room on the children’s floor so she was placed on another floor. The next morning several different tests were made….what kinds I do not know. The time was too short lived until we did know what was wrong.
That afternoon a nurse came into the room and told me to get Glo ready as they had a vacant room in the children’s ward. The little tyke was feeling much better by that time and we played a little game as I prepared to make the change.
When I had everything ready I stood her up in the corner of her bed and suddenly I realized that she could not stand on her right leg. I didn’t think that she had any reason to be that weak so I decided to watch her every move until the doctor made his nightly rounds. I didn’t want to say anything to the nurse until I was sure.
After we were moved into our new room I started testing her legs. The left one was all right, but in a short time I was positive that something was wrong with the right one.
I called the nurse and told her that I wanted to see the doctor as soon as he came on the floor and told her why.
It happened that our doctor’s assistant was on duty that night and upon his arrival the nurse told him that I wanted to show him something about Glo.
He checked her thoroughly and tested her legs time and time again. He told me that there was nothing to do but give her a spinal tap. I knew the minutes would be so long just waiting for them to make the test so I started downstairs to have a cup of coffee.
All the way down the hall going down the elevator floor by floor I could hear my child SCREAMING! Several times I wanted to go back, but I forced myself down to the coffee room.
I gulped the burning coffee and hurried back upstairs! I had just stepped off the elevator when I bumped into my husband, I was never so glad to see anyone in my life!
I quickly told him what the doctor was doing and we went back into the room. The nurse was sitting beside the baby on the bed and she told us that she would have to lie very still as she would have a severe headache if she stirred. We told her that we would watch her and she quickly left the room.
Glo had a bandage on her back where the spinal was given and we could still see the prints of the nurse’s hands on her back and legs where she had held her for the spinal to be given.
I waited as long as I could stand it and went back into the hall to see the doctor’s assistant. He was talking to someone on the phone and as soon as he hung up I asked him what he had found out. Just then my husband came out and the assistant said (I shall never forget the words) “I can tell by your eyes, Mrs. Cardwell, that you know what I am going to say:
My heart stood still, my husband turned pale and sat down. The doctor looked at me and I NODDED THAT I was all right.
The assistant said that he was just talking to our doctor and when he told him that the tests proved that Glo had polio he almost dropped the receiver and declared that there must have been some mistake!
Our doctor told him to tell us that he was coming on out to the hospital to talk to us since he had known us so long, etc., but he told the assistant to go on and tell us that the test did show that Glo had polio. (I know now that he knew just how badly we needed him!).
There was no isolation ward in the hospital and she had to be moved to another one across town. The assistant made the necessary arrangements for the change…by that time my husband and I both were crazy with fear.
One of us ( I don’t remember which one) went down to the office, paid our bill, and checked out. l We were going to wait in our room until the doctor could get there. The nurses were soon fumigating the place and would not let us out of the room.
We sat there in that room looking with disbelief at our child….something this awful just could not happen to us! In about an hour the doctor rushed into the room and kinda sighed. He almost fell into the chair and started talking.
As soon as he got to the hospital, he went to the office and they told him that we had checked out. He went back into the street to see if he could catch us. After sitting on the curb for sometime in freezing weather he decided that he had missed us and had come on up to the children’s ward.
I think that he was as glad that he had not missed us after all, but I know how hard it must have been for him to talk to us that night. Sadness was in his eyes as he tried to explain that they had checked her in every way except the spinal tap and they were unable to find any stiffness in the neck or any sign that usually comes before there is paralysis.
It seemed to me that night that he was afraid that we would think that he had let us down. I wanted to tell him so much that we knew he had everything possible and that we certainly did not blame him but my heart was so full that I could not speak.
I felt then and will always feel that he is one of the finest pediatricians that I have ever known. I realize now that there must be many times that a doctor feels as helpless as this doctor looked that night!
We carried the baby to the car and started to the other hospital. It was not very many blocks away, but yet so very far.
It was 11:00 pm. On December 21, 1950, the Christmas lights were lighted everywhere. It was a beautiful night to be spoiled by hearts as heavy as ours. We passed by a large billboard that had a large picture of Santa filling a little child’s stocking. Glo looked up from my lap and said, “Santa bring me sompin?”.
Never have any words ever torn parents’ hearts as these words tore ours. All I could say was that he would certainly bring her something. Thinking of her Christmas tree…the one her little hands had help to trim…the first Christmas that she could really remember….the presents that were already hidden away. Thinking of a little stroller for her doll, a little mop, a little broom…things that she couldn’t even stand up to use.
The hospital had been notified that we were on our way so they were ready for us when we arrived. A sweet faced nurse took Glo from my arms and carried her into another room. Soon she came back with the clothes she was wearing and said that we were to leave only what she needed as nothing could be taken when she left the hospital.
The nurse was very nice, she told us that anytime we wanted to ask about her day or night to just call and they would tell us all that they could.
We did one of the hardest things that parents can possibly do, hand our seriously ill baby over to strangers and walk away! That is just exactly what we had to do. I had always been with my children when they were sick and had always felt that nobody could care for them as I could. We didn’t know what the future might be…how much she might need us…how she would be cared for…all we knew was that we had to walk off and leave our baby with strangers when she needed us most.
I think we lived a thousand deaths that night. How we made forty miles home, I will never know. I had to drive the car home while my husband drove the truck. Several times we would run off the highway because we tears blinded us.
Those next few days we lived without feeling them. We tried to have some sort of Christmas for our other child, Wanda, but our hearts certainly weren’t there…they were with a little girl in a hospital who was too sick to even care that Santa hadn’t come.
On Christmas afternoon we went up to bring something little that Glo could handle in bed. When we reached the door to the isolation ward, we were amazed when the nurse asked us if we would like to go in and see her.
The first time we had had a chance to see our baby in five days..And the nurse asked us if we would like to see her. I guess we must have almost knocked her down as we put on the white coats she held for us!
We walked into the room she showed us and Glo looked up and said in a voice so weak that we could hardly make it out. “Hi Mama, Hi, Daddy”. Her eyes were big dark circles and her little face so very pale as she lay there in her little white gown. Both little legs were placed out in front of her and there was no movement in them.
As we gave her the little things that Santa had left for her, we noticed that she had to crawl her little fingers over to reach them. We called the nurse to find out when her arm had started to weaken.
The paralysis must have just started in her right side because that night one of the doctors noticed that she had difficulty breathing! By morning this had disappeared and she was just paralyzed in both legs, back, right shoulder, right arm and right hand. We came this close to probably having to put her in an iron lung.
Next morning the nurses told us that she had spent a very restless night, probably due to our visit. She had not cried when we left for she had slipped off to sleep as we were talking to her and we felt that it would be better if she didn’t realize that we were leaving her again.
We called the hospital each morning before breakfast, went to the hospital about noon and then called again before going to bed. The nurses were always so nice to tell us everything possible and we certainly did appreciate it because I think we would have gone stark crazy had we not been able to talk to the doctors and nurses whenever we wanted.
New Years Day we went to the hospital, the nurses told us that Glo’s isolation period was up and she could roll her out in the hall if we wanted to see her again….it was so very hard but we declined because we did not want to upset her again.
The orthopedist we had in charge explained that she could not be transferred to the other hospital because she was too sore to be moved.
Two days later we moved her by ambulance to the Baptist HOSPITAL. She started to cry this time when she saw us…I suppose she thought of the last time we had left her.
The poor little thing was so sore that she could hardly stand for the attendants to slide her from the stretcher into the hospital bed. She stayed in that room for almost three months.
There were few days in those months that we failed to go to see about her. On one occasion I asked one of the Mothers who lived there in town and came to see her child every night if Glo talked about us the night before. She said that Glo kept saying that her Mother and Daddy were coming too. When the Mother had to leave Glo was still looking. We did not fail to come to see her any more; we didn’t realize that she knew a day was passing.
Many nights after we had walked out of the hospital into the street we would hear a little voice cry out and my husband always KNEW that each time it was ours that had cried. We seldom left with tears in our eyes and each time it seemed a little harder for us to leave.
I have often thought of the parents who have had to leave their love ones much longer than we …some have had to leave them there for the rest of their lives. I know they must have felt as we did at times…as though we could take no more but the Lord seems to give us just a little more strength.
All this time we were being taught the exercises that had to be given when she returned home. Soon she was fitted for her first braces, we were so excited over them, knowing that it meant we would soon be taking her back home.
I came to the hospital each morning to learn how to bathe her and how to handle her because it was like learning something altogether new, something I had never even seen before.
My husband and I both were at the hospital the afternoon that her braces came. Glo was terrified as the man lifted her and placed her in them. They were what they call the all over braces, they were from her shoulders down to her feet.
As I looked at them my old pet peeve ran across my mind…I had always hated to lace high top shoes and here I had not only the high top shoes to lace but a big wide girdle and numerous buckles to be buckled each time she was dressed. Oh, how I would swap back to the high topped shoes!
I learned how to walk her in her braces and about five days later the doctor told me that I could take her home when he found out that I had been coming up every day.
I had been prepared for this wonderful day for quite a while because I had her clothes in the car just in case he should say that I could take her home very unexpectedly, which he did.
I don’t think I have ever been so happy and so scared at the same time. While I was spinning around in circles getting ready to go home, Glo was lying up in the bed just as unconcerned. I suppose that she had forgotten what home was like.
It had not been home since she had been sick; it had been just a place to come home to at night. There had been little laughter since she had been away, now we could begin to live again.
The next three months were hard on everyone.
The first few days she was home she did not realize that anything much was wrong with her, but it seemed to hit all at once.
One day while sitting at the window with her braces off, she picked up one of her legs and just threw it down, and cried, “It won’t work”.
I gathered her in my arms and tried to console her with the fact that some day she would be able to walk, run, and play with the other kids again. Soon she was playing again and the tears were dried away but my heart was heavy…would my promise to her really come true?
Each day I tried to get her started walking on her crutches but she would not even hold them. I finally started off breaking off a switch. I could not let her know that most all of it was bluff. I just knew that I had to get her started walking on her crutches!
The neighbors and my husband had all begun to think I was terrible to force her to walk but I felt that I HAD to do so. One day she was in a good mood and she did make a few steps by herself on her crutches so then I knew that she could. I really started on her then and finally after a long had struggle she wanted to walk.
Some days it seemed as though she woke up falling and then other days things went smoothly enough without too many of those screams of terror as she went tumbling down. At first it seemed as though she always fell on her weak arm but as time went on she seemed to learn how to fall.
As soon as possible I started putting her out in the yard to play with the other children, I almost dreaded putting her out for fear that she would fall on something and get hurt, but I wanted her to start back to leading a normal life as soon as possible.
She enjoyed being out in the yard, just standing around watching the others play and then she would cry out because they had gone somewhere else and it was to rough for her to walk. Many were the heartaches that were in store for her, this I realized more as time goes by.
The orthopedist seemed to always avoid telling us Glo’s future until one day I pinned him down and told him that I wanted the truth bout what he thought of her case.
He hesitated and then told me that the future wasn’t very bright and that he did not expect her to ever be out of braces. In time he thought she would lose her back brace, but expected her to always have to wear the pelvic band and the leg braces. He also told me that he expected her to recover most of her arm muscles.
I wanted the truth, but the reality of it sent me for a loop. I guess that I thought that the doctor would have the same hope for her that we had always had.
I ASKED HIM TO GET US AN APPOINTMENT FOR Glo at Warm Springs, Georgia. We felt that they could help her there if anyone could and we would not be satisfied until we had made the trip to see.
In November we received a letter from the doctor that we had an appointment for Glo the day after Thanksgiving. We were scared and excited. We wanted them to say that they could help her, but we hated for her to have to stay away from us again.
Finally, the day of the appointment arrived, a therapist gave her a muscle test and her back was x-rayed. The next day we came back to talk to the doctor. He told us exactly what we had been dreading for him to say.
“I am sorry but we cannot help your child, she will have a certain amount of improvement anyway and by keeping her here she will have no more. Her case is at this time almost one year old and she has nothing in her legs and you need never to expect any.”
He finished up the interview with a very kind thought. One that I have appreciated many times since. He said, ‘I would rather have one good arm than two good legs anytime’. He wished us the best of luck and told us to come back any time we liked.
We went away with a prayer that some day we would be able to come back and show him how very wrong he was about her legs!
This was just to doctors opinions…..we still have lots of hope for a wonderful future for our child.
When we arrived home we vowed to do everything possible to make our child live as normal a life as any child with her handicap.
******************Three years later***********************
Her case is now almost 3 years old and she is getting a new corset. She will wear this with her two leg braces instead of the all over brace; of this we are so thankful.
Some day with the will of Go she WILL WALK AGAIN.
*************Glo is finishing up this story that her MOM wrote 58 years ago*******
I thank God for giving me two of the most loving and devoted parents a child could ask for. They made me independent, strong, self reliant, but the one thing that was out of their control was the ability to walk again.
However, there are always good things that come out of bad things that happen to us. Having had polio made me a better person than I would have ever been had this not happened to me. I have strength from within and compassion. Oh, I admit I sometimes regret the fact that I cannot walk but I have not let it stop me from living a full and rewarding life. Most of the time, I don’t even think about not being able to walk, because it is just part of my life. This is the hand I was dealt and I deal with it without regrets because my life if full and happy. If Polio had to strike someone in my family I am glad it happened to me. Of those in my family I have the strongest will to survive and make the best of things. I have wonderful friends who are a great support system for me. Little do they realize how much they mean to me.
I have only one regret, and that is that I can’t dance. Isn’t that a stupid thing to regret out of all the things in the world, but I know someday that desire will be granted to me.