I remember when I was eleven year old. I use to play baseball with my friend in the small court beside our house. It was toward the end of the summer in 1957 when this scary thing happened. At that time, there was still considerable concern about polio.
My problems started with a small cold or at least that’s what I thought it was. My mom use to call it a “traveling cold.” For the first few days it was nothing more than a runny nose. It didn’t bother me enough to stop me from going out and playing. It was the last week of the summer vacation. After a few days, my nose nearly cleared up and I had a headache. Of course, my nose didn’t really clear up but the headache got my attention. The next morning my nose was stuffed and I had slight cough. I don’t remember what my mom gave me for it.
However, in another few days I had a sore throat. This “traveling cold” had been going on for a week and I was quite tired of it. I remember going to bed asking “What’s next?” I woke up the next morning and I thought the “traveling cold” had finally gone away. What a relief! That is, until I tried to move my legs.
I don’t recall how I managed to get out of bed that morning. All I remember is that I was not able to walk very well. My footsteps were very small … like an inch per footstep. The strange part about it all is that I wasn’t scared then. I didn’t know what had happened. I thought it might have been because I left the window open and slept with a cool breeze going across my legs.
I also had no concept of how worried my mom was. I think I watched TV most of that day. What I do remember is my mom phoned the school I attended and told them about my condition. After I went to bed, I heard my mom and dad talking. My mom said that if things didn’t improve, she wanted to take me to the hospital the next day. I guess they thought I was asleep. They mentioned polio.
The next morning, I had not improved at all. My mom and dad brought me to the hospital. By this time, all our relatives knew about me. My mom and dad brought me to the hospital. The doctor had me lay on my stomach. He made no mention of what he was about to do. He just stuck a needle in my spine.
I remember yelling, “Get that thing out of me!” And then I swore at the doctor.
That was the only time my mom and dad did not punish me for swearing. They never spoke about it. As a matter of fact, after it was over, they were smiling when they entered the room. They took me home. That day there was no improvement and I have no idea what the doctor told them.
Today I know that there was another condition that mimicked polio: Spinal Meningitis. I don’t know if that is what I had and I don’t remember if the doctor prescribed any medication. All I know is that the next day, I was very excited because I was able to move my legs a little more than the day before.
It took two solid weeks for me to recover and go back to school. The only thing I was left with was a slight limp which I still do today. The limp is not anything physical. It’s that I walk with one foot straight and the other pointed outward.
I do remember that for a long time I slept with my legs covered because I feared that a draft across my legs would cause me to become crippled again.