On the morning of September 8th, 1945 I woke up with a headache. At that time I worked at Eaton's in Toronto, in Customer Accounts. On Saturdays, we only worked half-days, so I thought I would try to make it. It seemed that with every step I took I got a stabbing pain in my head and between my shoulder blades. I suffered through the morning, going home to bed at noon.
A friend of mine was having a surprise birthday party for another one of our friends that night, 17 miles out of Toronto. I was feeling very ill but she would not accept my refusal. I went with her. At the party, they kept putting drinks in my hand and I kept pouring them out into the plant pots because I felt that I shouldn't be drinking. My headache became so severe that they put me to bed. At the end of the evening they drove me to my sister's place. She was the only relative I had in Toronto. I went to bed and in the morning my sister and her husband called their family doctor. He wasn't able to make a house call until after supper. They phoned another doctor who came immediately. I had fever and severe pain. He came again as I couldn't even walk across the room, my legs wouldn't support me. He called the ambulance right away. He told me that I had poliomyelitis which was unheard of at the time for adults. It was a children's disease called infantile paralysis.
The ambulance took me to the Isolation Hospital next door to the Don Jail. The doctors stuck long needles in my spine tapping for the fluid, this is the last thing I remember before slipping into a coma. I came out of my delirium state on Sunday to find that I couldn't move my legs at all. My left arm was extremely painful, but I could move it a little. They had an iron lung ready for me should I need it.
There were four of us in a large sunroom which was bright and warm. We received hot pack treatments every two hours from 8 am to 8 pm. One woman from Oshawa was paralyzed from the waist down and went home in two months. A woman from Welland whose left side was paralyzed went to another hospital after four months for physiotherapy. The fourth woman, from Scarborough, left in six weeks; her throat had been affected but improved. The hot-pack treatments lasted for six weeks. Then we received passive movement therapy. It was a long ordeal. We had to be turned every four hours. I had to eat with my right hand and being left- handed, I sometimes stayed hungry.
It was difficult when they made me sit up in bed for the first time. Over the course of a few weeks they gradually got me on my feet. I went from sitting on the edge of the bed, to sitting in a wheelchair and eventually they held me up in a standing position for a few minutes. Some time later, with help, I took my first step. The staff suggested that I learn to walk with the aid of crutches. I refused. I learned to walk pushing a wheelchair. Sometimes the wheelchair would get away from me and I would fall on my knees. With no strength in my legs I had to wait for help to get up again. When I think back, it was a strange feeling learning how to walk. I never did learn how to run.
Two months after arriving at the hospital I had my first real bath. What a sensational experience. I sang for joy!
I was twenty-one at the time. The doctors told me that I was fortunate to have stopped growing or my left leg, which was more affected would have ended up being shorter. I took physiotherapy at Toronto General Hospital for three years. The doctor in charge, Dr. Gardiner, was a terrific man - he knew his work.
Eaton's had a camp at Shadow Lake for their employees. The first summer I was there from may to September. The second year I spent two months there and the third year, six weeks. I was off work for over a year. Eaton's had a swimming pool and during that year I was taught to swim - what a thrill it was! At the summer camp I continued to swim, learned to play golf, archery and horseback riding. Everything was learned gradually. The first summer I only played three holes of golf at a time. At first I only sat on the horse, then rode a little more each day. By the third summer I was quite a rider. When I started back to work at Eaton's I only worked two hours a day for the first two weeks, then four hours daily the next two weeks. Then I started after 9 am and left before 5 pm, so I could avoid the busy streetcars. Eaton's was truly wonderful to me. I really owe them all that I am.
The doctors told me that I would never walk again and would never be able to get pregnant. I proved them wrong on both accounts; I not only learned to walk but also danced and ice skated for many years. I also got married and had two wonderful daughters. Life had been good to me. I appreciate all that I can do every moment of the day.
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