In May 1953, when I was six months old, my mother I boarded the Queen Mary to go to Glasgow, Scotland to spend several months with her family. Shortly before we were to return home, I contracted polio. At 9 months of age I was placed in a hospital until just after my first birthday. I’m not sure what type of polio I had, but I was never in an iron lung. Due to my illness, we flew home rather than return by ship.
Throughout my childhood, I had several surgeries to correct the muscle contraction that was occurring with my left foot. Tendons were stretched, a toe bone was removed and inserted in the arch of my foot to try to keep it from curling. I always walked with a slight limp and could not stand flat on my left foot.
A few years ago, I had another operation to stretch all the tendons and remove another toe bone to straighten the left foot, again. The gains made are already reversing.
While never an athlete, I was always active. I could swim, ride a bike, walk and dance. I could never run no matter how hard I tried. My body simply could not accommodate running; my muscles could never figure it out. In spite of this extremely mild handicap, I always participated in gym, hiking and swimming with friends. I always had friends who encouraged me to participate with them no matter how pathetic my performance might be. I credit them with keeping me active with their “Just Do It Anyway” coaching. Since the age of 20 I have been doing yoga off and on. I now find it to be the one physical activity that works well for me.
By not having the abilities to be great physically, I turned to reading and mental pursuits, which have served me well. Excelling at school became my focus.
I am married, work full time in an executive position, gave birth to one son and adopted another son. I have 5 grandchildren, good friends and a good life.
Over the last 5 or 6 years, it began to be hard to go up and downstairs and harder to complete my 1.5 mile walks. I thought maybe if I worked out harder or lost some weight I could improve. I would occasionally fall down for no apparent reason and would blame it being klutzy. From time to time, I would take a step and my leg would just not be there. I never hurt myself badly, just embarrassed myself. At the end of a busy weekend, playing with my grandchildren, shopping and doing laundry, my feet, legs and neck would ache to the point that I would cry. I thought I was just out of shape and should work out more.
In April of 2009, I was visiting one of the offices I manage in Connecticut. I was walking in the lobby , took a step and fell down. “Stupid shoes”, I thought. A few hours later, I was walking to a restaurant for lunch with my staff , took a step and fell on the sidewalk. My knees were cut up and my pantyhose destroyed. My co-workers were upset. Later that day, leaving for home, one of my co-workers determined that she would walk me to my car, holding my arm. Two steps into the lobby and down I went again. We were both getting concerned.
I could not reach my primary care physician, so I called a physical therapist I had been seeing for plantar facsitis. My husband took me in to see her. She was very alarmed and referred me to a local neurologist. She also gave me a walker to use for safety until I could get to the doctor. On the way out of her office, I fell using the walker and injured myself badly. I broke two toes and bruised my hip.
I saw the neurologist the next week. Ten minutes in his office and he admitted me to the hospital for tests to determine why I was falling. He suspected post polio syndrome, but wanted to be sure it wasn’t a disk or something worse. After 7 days of testing, the diagnosis was post polio syndrome.
I now have a brace, a hideously ugly, unmanageable thing I wear to get out to my car. It tears pantyhose to bits in seconds and won’t stay up. I have a wheelchair (the story of obtaining this item is too long and frustrating to go into here) and glide chairs to go up and down the stairs of my home. Eventually, I will get a handicapped accessible vehicle. In the mean time I make do with my beloved Honda CRV.
I tire more easily these days and have lost a small amount of independence. Shopping online has replaced shopping at the mall. I usually need someone to go to the store with me if I venture to one, but I can do it alone. I have my groceries delivered, which once experienced, anyone would do simply for the convenience. My employer is extremely accommodating and my job as a regional executive managing 6 offices does not require my physical presence at all times. I am able to work from home which is a huge assist. The effort involved in getting showered dressed and to the office is exhausting.
While I miss going for a walk and not being able to dance at a party or wedding makes me sad, my life is still filled with both wonderful and mundane activities. My biggest concern is weight gain and losing any more function.
As with any condition or event there are benefits. I have learned that people are extremely kind and helpful to the disabled. They are also patient and forgiving when one is frustrated and cranky. There is no waiting in line at the movies, you move to the head of the line when boarding a plane which allows first choice in seats. I finally agreed to hiring someone to clean my house and do laundry which I once thought of as a luxury or cop out for lazy people. Silly me, I should have done it years ago. I also know for sure that I am married to a wonderful man who spends a great deal of time assisting me and coming up with new and better ways for me to navigate in my home and the world.
I have had to adjust and adapt, but it could always be worse. One simply has to play with the hand one is dealt and keep the whining to a minimum.