Monday, March 8, 2010

Life as a Polio

I am switching gears a minute here to talk about another disability.

Years ago, one of my husband's cousins married a young lady who had contracted polio as a child.  With great interest then, I found at the library a couple of years ago a book called "Warm Springs:  Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven" by Susan Shreve.  This book was so fascinating that it lead me to take the HBO movie "Warm Springs" out of the library this past weekend - and I plan to visit the Warm Springs historical district later this year.

Why is all this so fascinating?

Well, for the FDR movie especially, the movie showed so clearly how society felt about, and treated, people with disabilities.  FDR contracted polio (actually, there are doubts now about whether it actually was polio, but the experts of the time thought it was) in 1921.  FDR refused to have himself photographed in his wheelchair.  I don't know if the scene in the movie showing a young man with polio, trying to get to Warm Springs, dumped into a baggage car without food or water and arriving at Warm Springs half dead, was true, but it was certainly believable.

Elsewhere in the movie  Roosevelt makes an offhand mention of the children he hopes to treat at the Warm Springs, GA facility that by now he has purchased, to the effect that these children have been expelled from school by their districts due to their polio.  We take IDEA for granted so much now, thanks to people like Franklin Roosevelt.

The car the actor playing Roosevelt drove in the movie was the actual car (with hand controls) driven by Roosevelt.  I wonder if it was the first of its kind.  Imagine, a person with disabilities being able to drive - to be able to shed their "helplessness" for a full life.

Meanwhile, people with polio are called "polios"-the disability defines them totally.

Moving forward to the Shreve book, we find ourselves in the 1950's, with Shreve's generation the last generation to have to fear polio each summer.  She has the Roosevelt-founded March of Dimes to thank for her family being able to send her here at little or no cost for treatment.  Yet, what she ends up going through during her three years here in the name of treatment almost sounds like something out of the middle ages - as loving and caring the staff at Warm Springs are.  And she is still....a polio.  But by now, these children wear the name as a badge of honor.

Incidentally, polio is not done yet with those who got it as children. There is something called "post polio syndrome" and I can only hope my cousin's wife is spared it.  Like chicken pox, it never leaves the body.

How ironic that vaccination, which some (and I'm not going to get into this pro or con) blame for the massive increase in autism, almost completely wiped out the scourge of polio.

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