Polio Diaries – Episode 5

And so it was that on Monday December 28, 1953 my parents returned me to hospital.  Christmas was over and I don’t remember any more of it than my dad throwing up.  Friday January 1, 1954 I entered what was to be my first complete year as a rediscovered individual and that year would include a revolutionary new treatment regime.  The Sister Kenny polio treatment process was just beginning to take off in North America but that is a whole other story.  I will save it for a separate episode.  Needless to say there was serious resistant to this treatment initially due to professional protectionism rather than the benefit to the patient.

As I have said my pre-polio memories are limited.  I could probably dig some up if I were to look at a more intensive hypnotherapy approach in conjunction with some heavy duty regressive therapy but to what purpose.  I don’t really believe that my childhood was that traumatic, just different.  The only other pre-polio memory I have in regards to walking, besides the walk/collapse down the hallway to tell my mother I didn’t feel well, was going to the outhouse with snow piled higher than I was tall.  This was Winnipeg and it was winter

Although we had moved to the city by then my parents first home in Winnipeg had no plumbing.  We had an outhouse.  This is an important detail because one of the ways the polio virus is transmitted in through fecal matter.  Nobody used Lysol to clean their outhouses.  In fact I’m not even sure the floor was ever swept, it was a dirt floor.  The polio virus can live for up to two weeks in a persons body after it activates.  The activation concept is important because a person can carry a latent virus for a long time but it isn’t until it activates that it becomes contagious.  That little detail is even more important today.  With the federal government having cut the Interim Federal Health Program we now run the risk of every new refugee coming from a country where polio still exists to re-introduced it to Canada.

The virus lives in a persons intestines and can also live in a persons throat.  The throat process makes it an airborne contagion and is carried by water vapour when a persons sneezes.  It can also be spread through the fecal matter that we all produce so it is always best to thoroughly wash your hands after changing your babies diaper.  Once the virus is activated a person becomes contagious immediately and can continue to be contagious for up to two weeks after developing flu like symptoms.  Once the virus has run its course the damage is done and the chance of affecting others is over.  One of the problems today is that most doctors don’t know what to look for because there is a belief out there that polio has been eradicated.

With the virus having run its course you are now polio free however you are now dealing with the paralysis created by the virus.  The way the virus does that is by attacking the nervous system in the spine that controls muscle movement.  This is an important distinction because it doesn’t affect the column of nerves that affect sensory (or feeling) factors.  Unlike a spinal cord injury, a polio survivor has sensory ability (feeling).

This is an important distinction.  Paralysis doesn’t just affect the muscles that provide ambulatory functioning.  It affects the muscles that control breathing, bowel/bladder functions, and all of the other muscles that hold various anatomical processes in place.  I had one close friend, now passed, who could actually feel her ribs sagging.  For myself if it wasn’t for the sensory factor I would have bigger issues with bowel/bladder routines.  My muscles in those areas are a little weaker so I rely on the sensory to know when I have to head for the bathroom.  It’s not just about walking, it’s all the other little things that so many people just take for granted.

That ability to feel also cuts back on issues like pressure sores, the ability to walk effectively and so much more.  What people don’t seem to realize is that if you don’t know where your feet land when you are using crutches your balance is really impaired.  I have friends with spinal cord injuries and their issues are so different from mine.  If you don’t know where your feet land you have no idea if there is a pebble there or not.  And a pebble can throw you off balance just as easily as a rock.  It’s these little things.

Anyway until next time.  I’m going to go and enjoy the sun.  In the meantime here’s a little video from the CBC archives (no sound) that shows why we shouldn’t be letting this devastating disease get a toe hold in Canada again.  Enjoy!

Just one man’s experience.


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