Often we know the word for a bad thing without knowing much about the bad thing. Such is my knowledge of polio, the crippling disease of the central nervous system. When I was a kid, I knew it by its other name, Infantile Paralysis
Today immunization is routine and polio is absent from our national consciousness; that is, until you meet a polio victor and hear her story.
Eileen is the first person I ever met who had polio as a child.
Although diagnosed at the age of four, she had no overt paralysis and had a normal childhood. But spinal curvature progressed and, at age eleven, it became clear corrective surgery would be required. For the next three and a half years she was in and out of operating rooms, hospitals and body casts. Determined to have a normal teenage life, she attended school activities, sports events, dances, and proms. After graduation, rather than college, she opted for the socialization of the working world and got a job as a secretary.
But the physical and emotional effects of the polio continued to motivate and influence her decisions throughout her life and affect her marriage, her children, and earning a masters degree. At the top of her career Eileen was a supervisor in a county child protection agency.
Today, a retired 60-year-old, living in an upscale retirement community, she ‘rods around in her souped-up golf cart with her two companions, Brodie and Dixie, a couple of middle-aged labs. Eileen is a staff writer for her community magazine, writes mystery novels, plays bridge, and poker, and has performed in community variety shows.
Other polio victors you may have heard of: Alan Alda, Donald Sutherland, Mia Farrow. Francis Ford Coppola, Itzhak Perlman, Dinah Shore, Robert McNamara, Wilma Rudolph, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Nicklaus, Bud Grant, and Heisman Trophy Winner, Pete Dawkins.