As a child I remember having my polio drops on sugar. Later when I was in my early twenties I went off travelling and was recommended to have a variety of vaccinations to prevent contracting diseases which afflict some parts of the world.
I also recall as a child being “force” to play with Cousins and friends who had contracted a variety of childhood illnesses, I thought it was unfair and was often uncooperative and through my childhood vision could not quite understand what the fuss was about. It was only as I entered my teenage years that I realised that it was my Mum’s worse fear that I not contract these childhood illnesses.
The irony of it all is that I never contracted a single childhood illness and was in my early twenties and recently qualified that I picked up Chickenpox. Over the years I have often wondered why I hadn’t and do have a working theory, but that is a story for another day.
My Mum contracted Polio in 1953 aged around 4. She told me years later that she had complained of feeling unwell and my Grandparents put it down to a cold. When the doctor was called, in those days they did house visits! he said Mum had the flu and that my Grandparents should take her away, as they had planned to Essex to visit her Aunt and Uncle. On the morning of the holiday, Mum was got out of bed and suddenly could not hold her own weight and fell to the floor. The doctor was called again and it was diagnosed that Mum had Polio. She spent the next 10 months in hospital, being looked at by my Grandparents as they were not allowed to touch her. How frightening that must have been for a child, suddenly wretched from the family life that you knew.
This book was published in 2013 and sits as part of a Polio collection of books in my office. I wanted to understand the social aspects of the disease and give my family research some context. Just as not all conditions are visible, not all effects are visible. In 1997, some 44 years after having Polio Mum was diagnosed with Post Polio Syndrome (PPS). It is a silent condition, it is exhausting and is a debilitating illness. The medical fraternity are in some ways in denial that this condition exists and very patient will experience different effects of PPS. In many ways, this book is a harsh view of Polio and yet we need to understand that it is possible to succumb to PPS years later and what it means to those patients.
Mum she had Polio, but what saved her from worse effects was the failure to diagnose her earlier on. Mum never experienced an iron lung, never had a caliper. She was shaped by the fear of ending up in a wheelchair. She remained fiercely independent and stubborn up to the day she died and her life was so much harder because we have a generation of medical practitioners who fail to fully comprehend Post Polio Syndrome.