Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Paralysis of Polio: I read a review in the Boston Globe by Gail Caldwell of what appears to be an interesting book about a memoir of a polio survivor entitled "Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven" by Susan Shreve. I am a polio survivor.

I caught the virus in 1954 at age five. What seemed like the flu at the time turned out to be a life long affliction. I was one of -- as they at Children's Hospital in Boston called me at the time -- "lucky" ones because I had polio in only one leg. It did, however, completely paralyze my right leg and I wear a long leg brace even to this day.

You are right when you say polio was not a simple virus because it struck for life. It was and remains today, for those who are unlucky enough to be born in third world nations which still have not entirely eradicated the disease, a fantastically expensive and orthopedically catastrophic disease especially if one did not or does not get the proper care and even if one does. Luckily, I received the best care that was available at the time to treat the after-effects of polio. After I contracted it I spent one year in bed confinement, wore casts, crutches, braces, corsets, orthopedic shoes, had continuous x-rays, skin temperature tests, spent, it seemed, half of my life at clinic visits and had two childhood surgeries all in an attempt to ward off the orthopedic deformative effects of the disease. I was not free of Children's Hospital visits until age 16.

As a child I had few complaints. As a teenager and then as an adult I had plenty. The psychological ramifications of polio never deserted me. I obviously did not die from it but I did not begin life at the same starting gate as my able-bodied friends. Yes, I know, life is not fair but I still resented my plight. Polio, in my experience, mattered in life's game and it still matters to me today.

No one told me that when I reached middle age, my leg bones would be thinner than normal or that my fatigue level would be increased or that I would be much more prone to falling or that I would fracture my femur bone of my polio leg THREE times and have my occupational life turned upside down. No one told me as a child that the nature of attraction between the sexes is physical first. A person may love you for your brain but as a youth it is one's body first that attracts. I believe that is our DNA dictate and a woman's legs are a big part of her sexual package. Our Madison Avenue culture does not help the situation either. I had a hard time as a teenager because, although I was fairly bright and perhaps better than average looking, my leg was not the least bit sexy. Blind dates would turn around and walk away when they saw me walking toward them. I was not what they expected! In addition, I was as physically active as I could be and loved sports but I was limited because a seemingly innocent microscopic virus took the goodies of life as a young adult away from me. That vacuum was never filled for me no matter how intelligent I was or am, no matter how much I love to write or how talented I may be at it. I still, when I go into a shopping center, avoid looking at long-length mirrors or my reflection in a window.

I wanted to write to you because I get tired of hearing all the rosy Oprah-like stories about so many people who think that their disease is the "best thing" that ever happened to them. I do not. I never overcame its damaging psychological effects. Polio impacted my life and left its paralysis in more ways than one. I am still angry about it and have resented its onslaught. I have accepted the fact that, as long as I live, I will never accept what it did to my life. I wanted to present to you another side of the story. I suspect there are more who feel as I do but it is simply not the politically correct way of being in our sugar coated, reality denying, sometimes stupidly optimistic culture. It is, though, the way I feel and I am not ashamed to admit it.