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The Start

My ancestors from both sides were rural people, the salt of the earth. Family was most important and that trait is still a major factor in my life. When I was born my father was not yet twenty-two and my mother had just passed sixteen. (Grandmother told me she was mature for her age.) I mention my parents age because their youth was important in later years.

Since I was so young when I had Polio I do not remember details but I have peiced together events from family accounts. Some things I do remember and in this section they are noted in the color blue.


On my first birthday I was given a fried chicken leg. Having only a few teeth there was little I could do with it but my parents were curious to see my reaction. I sat in my high chair clothed only in a diaper. That drumstick was the best thing I had ever put into my mouth. I could not tear it apart but I had a ball gumming it, waving it around, smearing it all over my face and body, and scratching my head with it. Every place I put it became a slick spot to play with on my skin. Now this doesn't have anything to do with Polio but I thought it was neat to remember something that early in my life.


The day I was stricken with Polio was just past my third birthday in late summer. A week or so prior my parents and I had been in Savannah, Georgia. While visiting the docks my three year old curiosity had me running amoung a group of immigrants disembarking from a ship. My mother attributed that encounter as the source of the virus that hit me.

On the day when I became real sick my mother was gone and my grandmother was keeping me. As the day progressed I became more ill. By the afternoon I was sitting on the potty screaming my lungs out. My stomach hurt and my head felt like it was being crushed. I was naked and must have had a high fever for I was freezing and sweating at the same time. My mother came in, jerked me into her arms and out the door we went.

So my two earlist memories were of extreme joy and unbearable pain. Don't you know a child psychologist would eat that up.

First stop was our family GP. I think he diagnosed Polio right away and within hours I was in an ambulance on my way to a hospital in Atlanta, then a second hospital, then a third hospital, and I think I ended up in a fourth. In any case it was pass the hot potato.

Each stop was isolation. My fever hit something around 106 degrees. At times I was packed in ice (they say to save my life). Paralysis hit me initially from head to toe. I could not move anything but my head. Through it all my mother stayed beside me without protective clothing of any kind. She was only nineteen.

In 1954 there was a long waiting list for kids to get into Warm Springs for treatment, the best Polio center in the South. I never found out the full story but apparently our family GP had some prominance and a state legislator from my home town together pulled some strings and I got to the top of the Warm Springs list. In addition the National March of Dimes started paying my medical bills. In fact, they helped with all medical treatment expense and even with my tuition and book expenses all the way through undergraduate school.

With Warm Springs approval, doctors came up to examine me. Dr. Edward Haag lead the team and he was my Polio doctor for the next twenty years. Dr. Haag was a large man standing over six feet weighing two-fifty plus. His presence dominated those around him.

He has a story about that first examination of me that he told numerous times over the years. After the examine he came out and talked with my parents. Dr. Haag told my parents that the paralisis was bad. I would never walk again and probably never be able to sit up unassisted. In Dr. Haag's own word, Then this little woman stood up below my chin and told me I was wrong. Her son would walk again and I better believe it. I never met a woman with so much spunk. HaHaHaHa.

(In the end she was right. He was wrong.)

My first stay at Warm Springs was nine months (and it wasn't for pregnacy). I did exercises every day. I was fitted with a cloth corset, full leg braces with a crossbar holding them together, and full length crutches.

In the mid-50's Warm Springs was busting at the seams with patients. 1953 had seen the largest recorded outbreak of Polio in the U.S. The wards were huge. It seemed there were kids everywhere and all of us were in iron cribs. At night the door to the ward seemed far away. I believe all of us remember the nights in what seemed a warehouse.

There was some imprompt-to fun. One night the guy next to me and I had to go real bad. There was not a way to call the nurse and they had not come by in a while. Both of us knew we could not peepee in our beds so we rolled against the bars facing each other across the narrow gap between our cribs. Then we cut loose using the flow of urine to have a sword fight, with great physical relief, laughing our heads off.

The laughter brought a nurse. The yellow lake on the floor brought Ms. Heart. Never had she seemed so tall standing over us. Yet, there still seemed to be a twinkle in her eye. We may have been punished but I really think Ms. Heart understood and since she did not have to clean it up, found it kind of funny.

Ms. Heart was the head nurse. I think she was there from the time the Warm Springs Foundation was started. In any case it seemed she ran the place. If she did not serve in the Armed Forces during WWII then I would be surprized. Ms. Heart was a robust lady who took to slack, yet when a young one cried for their mommie, she was there to hold them and chase away the fear. She lived alone in a cottage on the grounds. When she retired she was allowed to stay in her cottage. It would have been sacrareligious to ask her to leave. It was there where she died, to always be part of Warm Springs.

During the acute stage I had been totally paralized; arms, legs, hands, and trunk. Over some period of time muscle function began to return. I am sure all the muscles in my body were affected but several did not come back at all. My trunk was hit hard which resulted in scoleosis and later spinal fusion. Muscles in my feet and left leg were affected leading to corrective surgery during my teens.

Back home the town got involved. Money was collected and the town bought us a bath tub so that I could have hot baths to ease the muscle pain. They also bought me my first swing set which I dearly loved for years. I was adopted by our small town; Buchanan, Georgia. To this day the older residents remember the time when I was stricken with polio.

I know a lot more happened during that first year but it is not clear to me. I remember that when I came home crutches and braces had always been part of me. I have NO memory of functions prior to them.

The long treatments, surgerys, and people who I met are addressed in other sections.
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