Archive for the ‘The Scourge of Polio’ Category

Although most of my childhood recollections are pleasant, today I am sharing one which is not—my memory of that frightening shadow which touched down each year in early August as I was growing up, and mysteriously lifted weeks later with the first frost.

Our oldest child was born in 1954.  A year later, Dr. Jonas Salk introduced the vaccine which would prevent devastating illness and save countless lives.  Until the vaccine was released in 1955, polio was considered to be America’s greatest fear, apart from atomic bomb.

As a mother of 6, grandmother of 13, and great-grandmother of (soon to be) 14 children, I am eternally grateful for God’s intervention through medical science—and for the researcher, Jonas Salk, who enabled us to raise our children in a polio-free environment!


Summer until . . . .

Spilling from school, we scattered over sidewalks

like marbles rolling from a tattered pouch

and June days unraveled to “Moonlight, Starlight,

have you seen the ghost tonight?”

July exploded, with night skies draping color trails,

afternoons melting like ice cream in sticky hands,

while we believed that summer was forever—

summer until . . . .

August came quietly.  Time awakened—

stretching, turning corners, whispering

ominous innuendoes of change.

And then September, unleashing terror

as the paralyzing hand moved among us

maiming, murdering, destroying illusions of summer–

summer until . . . .

Margaret Longenecker Been, ©2010


P. S.  Although the paralyzing hand has been mercifully removed, reverberations go on.  As a child growing up in the 1940s, one of my friends recovered from a case of polio—and she was apparently healthy for decades.  But now in later life, this friend is stricken with PPS—post polio sydrome.  

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, “Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that affects polio survivors years after recovery from an initial acute attack of the poliomyelitis virus.  PPS is mainly characterized by new weakening in muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection and in muscles that seemingly were unaffected.  Symptoms include slowly progressive muscle weakness and unaccustomed fatigue (both generalized and muscular)—and, at times, muscle atrophy is common . . . .  According to estimates by the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 440,000 polio survivors in the United States may be at risk for PPS.  Researchers . . . estimate that the condition affects 25 percent to 50 percent of these survivors, or possibly as many as 60 percent . . . .”

With love and prayers, I dedicate this entry to my dear friend with PPS.  May God fill her and surround her with His comfort, and with better days!  MLB

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Here in Wisconsin, illness is an early sign of spring—at least it has always been that for me.  My husband is “down” with a respiratory infection, and I’ve been wandering around like a zombie with a fever of 101 degrees and a sinus infection.

Late winter!  As clear as yesterday in my mind are those ominous signs on houses in the little Wisconsin town where I grew up:  SCARLET FEVER; WHOOPING COUGH; MEASLES; MUMPS; DIPTHERIA.  Most often, the epidemic of signs on houses occurred in the late winter.

A common cold settling into the bronchials was threatening before penicillin was available to whack a bacteria.  Colds could turn into bronchitis, bronchitis sometimes settled into the dreaded pneumonia, and rheumatic fever sometimes resulted.

Pre-antibiotic mothers didn’t mess around when their kids were sick.  They popped them in bed at the first sign of a fever, and kept them quiet until the fever dropped.  I recall how our doctor came to the house every day when I was sick—usually at 6:00 p.m. after his office hours.* 

Memories surface in late winter.  But as I was growing up, the most terrifying illness of all appeared every August and September.  That’s when the enigmatic hand of polio hovered over communities, randomly seizing a child or young adult to paralyze or kill. 

I’m thankful for antibiotics and vaccines!  We’ve come a long way.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

*Julie H., if you are reading this–that doctor was your grandfather.  A fine physician, and a very sweet man!  And he always told me to eat a lot of orange sherbet, which he knew I loved.   🙂

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