On the Issue of Survival

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change” – Leon C. Megginson

Many years ago I read a number of books written by Leon Megginson, an academic considered by many as a business guru.  The first one was written in 1972 entitled “Personnel – A Behavioural Approach to Administration” and the second “Successful Small Business Management” (1991).  Both looked at business through a social anthropology lens and spoke to survival in the labour market.

As a disabled person in 1972 entry to the labour force had no guaranteed hence the interest in Megginson’s writings.  As a survivalist any information I could glean was thoroughly researched.  This was a period when you could be refused an interview simply for being disabled with no consequence (or expectations) to the employer.

Major change happens incrementally and we can never take it for granted.  It took almost ten years to get to the point of “disability rights” where we couldn’t be discriminated against simply because of a disability.  However we cannot become complacent and stop fighting for what is right, not if we want to survive the current erosion of hard fought for rights…

ACH 1960
The Red Cross Children’s Hospital circa 1960, almost the edge of the city limits in those days

Growing up in the Children’s Hospital I learnt from a very young age to fight for survival.  That was drilled into you from the moment we awoke until we went to bed.  All the patient rooms were on the east side while the service departments were on the west side.

The solarium, our play room, occupied the entire top east wing was the solarium a small “fenced” outdoor area where you could go for fresh air.  The surgical and dentistry suites were on the second floor while physio and classrooms were on the first floor.  The main floor contained the entrance to the hospital, out patient clinics and the kitchens.

The early seeds of my desire to survive were planted in the hospital.  I had already survived the polio virus so I could survive a hospital.  You learn to fight without even realizing it.  You fight for your rights.  Survival in a facility means you take a stance for your independence.  That is also known as self-determination.  You learn to appreciate concepts like survival, compassion, and self-determination.  I understood that if I want to thrive then I also had to survive and the hospital taught me that.


You had to hold on to that fight.  A very vivid childhood memory was when I was 12 years old.  My roommate, an 11 year old named Peter, had just had his latest surgery two days prior.  He woke me in the middle of the night and whispered “I can’t he fight anymore”.  It was like he had woken me to say goodbye, something many didn’t have the chance to do.  About an hour and a half later the nurses were in there gently wrapping his body.  Through no fault of his own he had given up the fight.  I will never stop fighting.

There is a certain rhythm with hospital routine but there is also flexibility.  Besides school one of the most consistent routines was physio.  We would attended three times a day Monday to Friday.

Picture of polio kids in a hydro-tub getting stretched out by physio's
Stretching and flexibility being worked on in the hydro pool. This was done for polio kids to keep tendons from tightening up

Morning physio usually involved hydro therapy for the newest polio survivors or those having had the latest surgery.  This helped increase stretching and flexibility.

Others were in the gym doing strengthening and endurance work.  One of the regular activities was to line us up in front of a mirrored wall with tumbling mats on the ground.  The physio would walk behind you and one at a time (you never knew when it was coming) one of us would receive a gentle push resulting in a fall onto the mat.  We were expected to get ourselves back up and stand there waiting for the next one.  I’ve lost count of how many times that happened but it build a form of muscle memory.  Correcting a fall is basically subconscious now.

One of my favourite physio’s, Mrs. de Grandmaison, was married to the grandson of Nicholas de Grandmaison, an artist but also a prisoner of war survivor.  She would share stories about art or interesting tales of how he survived as a POW.  Stories were used regularly in all aspects of the hospital, it normalized a situation while distracting us from the potential anxiety of a medical procedure or, in this case, falling.  She used that distraction while teaching us the importance of how to “right” a fall.  An important survival technique when you walk on crutches.

It may sound cruel but there was purpose behind it.  The mirrored wall was there so we could see how we fell and what we had to do to correct.  Kicking the crutch was used to show us that falls could happen in many different ways so always be prepared.  Survival was based on our ability to fight against the odds, a lesson I still adhere to today.  The getting yourselves up was designed to, again, survive and not depend on others.  Nothing is better for learning than repetition and eight years of physio is strong groundwork for survival.  After that we would be off to afternoon classes.

We would make our last physio of the day when school let out.  That consisted mainly of walking the distance of the hallway for 30 minutes before going back to our units.  This was to build endurance and establish your walking gait.  Physio was more than physical therapy, it was also a tool to teach us about life.  My sense of survival and my drive to be independent are all part of growing up in the hospital.  Both require some fight…






2 thoughts on “On the Issue of Survival

  1. Ah yes…Sharon’s exercises which were part of our family evening! Had polio in1953 now coping with post-polio issues. Have a cute picture with a student nurse used by the newspaper in October 53 to show how kids like me were being helped.

    1. Same year I had it. I was 3 years old and now dealing with post-polio as well. The health care system of the day never expected us to live this long but surprise here we are and so far all of the seniors programs I have looked into are based on metrics that may be applicable to a senior but not the same as someone who has grown up with a disability. Having worked all of my life I hadn’t anticipated the loss of my employee extended medical benefits program. All of a sudden that makes a huge difference. I have recently contacted the federal government asking about the commitment made by Paul Martin Senior (then Health Minister) that no polio survivors who contracted the virus due to the slowness of the government rolling out the vaccine (it was available in the States two years before Canada) would ever have to worry about medically related costs. That seemed to have disappeared in the 80’s. Thanks for the read

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