It was in September of 1952 when I got sick with polio. I was twenty-three years old at the time and engaged to be married to Tom who has been my husband since January of 1954. Tom has been my biggest support all through these years.
My first symptoms were extreme exhaustion. I first thought that my exhaustion was due to my heavy work lead of canning, harvesting, and doing the farm chores. One morning I nearly fainted at the breakfast table. I lay down for a short rest, then worked the rest of the day. By evening I was feeling very weak and was hardly able to do up the dishes. I laid down for awhile and then I got scared and phoned Tommy to tell him I was sick. Tommy came right over and he got my brother Joe off of the combine. The men brought me up to St. Paul's Hospital emergency. The doctor examined me and he lifted my legs. They were already beginning to feel tight and it was painful when he moved them. The doctor advised me to remain in the city, so I stayed at my mother's house. After two days there, I was finding I was unable to take a deep breath. I went back to the hospital by ambulance. Within the hour, I was put into the iron lung where I remained for two months. It was a life saver for me since I had become paralysed from the neck down.
Have you ever been fed while lying flat on your back? Well it's quite the experience, let me tell you. Although the nurses tried very hard to hit my mouth, there was an occasional spill of soup or juice down the side of my face. While I was in the iron lung the nurses enjoyed reading me Tommy's love letters and writing my responses to him for me.
Finally the day came when they began to wean me off of the iron lung, one minute at a time. It was pretty scary at first. One time, when I was able to stay out of the lung for about two hours, the power went off. The nurses sure scrambled to foot pump the iron lungs to keep them going. I was fine since I could breath some on my own by this time, but it still was a relief when the power came back on.
When I could stay out of the iron lung for six hours, I was put on a rocking bed. I thought I might have trouble sleeping but I slept through the night and I didn't need to use the iron lung again. Now I was given hot pack treatments and began physiotherapy. My arms were so tight against my body that it took a long time before the physiotherapist could make them go over my head. This was very painful indeed. Mr. Connely, my physiotherapist tried to tease me and said "You don't want to be flat chested all your life do You?" This made me chuckle and he was right.
One day when my one leg seemed strong enough to hold me, Mr. Connely made me stand up facing him as he held me to prevent my falling. What a weird feeling I had in my legs. Then I got the giggles which didn't help much when trying to stand. While I was in the hospital, I also got the red measles. This was really hard on me and set me back a whole month.
The nurse's aides were a great bunch of girls. We had lots of laughs, etc. One day two of the aides came into our room laughing their heads off. When they could finally tell us what is was that was so funny we had a good laugh too. It seems that the girls were putting hot packs on a delirious man and he had an involuntary erection. The girls had considered putting a hot pack on it too. Of course they didn't. The poor man didn't know what was going on.
The ward aides were wonderful with the patient s and helped to lighten our loads. While I was in the hospital for nine months, I lost thirty-five pounds. We all had to go out of the hospital in June. I stayed with my mother here in the city. She took care of me as did my younger sister when she was home from work. It was great to have good home-cooked meals again.
Tom and I were finally married in January. We had two children two years apart, both born the natural way. I was lucky that my labour only lasted about four hours for each delivery. It was difficult raising the children from a wheelchair, but we did the best and did most of the things women do around the home.
I accidentally had my weakest leg broken just above the ankle and below the knee when I was being carried out to the car one day. The bone snapped like a dry twig. Luckily it was a clean break. In 1965 I had to have a complete hysterectomy after I had been sick for a couple of years. I was only thirty-six years old at the time. This was quite the shock to my system and I had to have put on hormones. Later on I had to have a kidney stone operated on as the stone was lodged in the neck of the kidney. This surgery was done the old way with an eight inch cut in my back. This surgery nearly did me in when I got an infection. Finally the crisis was over and I knew I'd live. Another time I fell out of my wheel chair and I broke my nose. It was another clean break. I had my first nose bleed but it finally stopped. Now I am more careful doing things.
About ten years ago, I began to notice how much harder it was for me to do things and how much more I needed to take rest periods. At first I thought it was only because I was getting older, but that wasn't the reason. Now I need a Swedish cage knee brace on my good leg, in order to be able to transfer from my chair to the bed or to use the toilet with the high riser. I've been using this knee brace for the past three years to keep my knee from going backwards. My back is badly bent over when I try to transfer and I find I can no longer pull up my slacks myself. I need Tom to help me or I have to lie on the bed to pull them up myself. I've been very lucky to have Tommy's love and support for all these years and I thank God for that.
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