History Repeating

“Liberty has been won. The battle for Equality is still pending” – Charles Sumner, June 1, 1865

Simple facial portrait slightly hidden behind the leafs of a tree - Captioned "Lost in Thought"
Lost in thought

Somethings should never wake up while other have to erupt in order to handle change. I would never have thought I would be writing about this but then I never realized just how many “buried” (suppressed) memories I have. For the past year I have sat quietly by while a raging pandemic fed my own version of PTSD by using subconscious as a kickball. I have all of these childhood memories filed away under “trauma” which the pandemic really brought to the surface. Memories I had blanked out as a way to avoid the reality of a polio kid growing up in an institution.

For over forty years I have listened to people close to me say “suck it up princess” or, the best one, those “emotions are bunk so quit playing with the psycho-babble talk”. It has always fallen to me to swallow those feeling by denying the memories. I never realized just how many memories I have ignored because they made other people “uncomfortable”. Lacking a “sounding board”, I live alone, I use social media as my outlet which has always been part of my activism.

With that said, there’s a fine line between being an activist and being a bitter, jaded individual. I don’t want to be that “bitter old man” down the hall however that is my retirement challenge. The current social isolation has made me face some long forgotten (well apparently not forgotten, just buried) memories I don’t really want to rehash. That’s the difficulty with compartmentalization, you have no control.

Plain picture containing wording "Pretending you're okay is easier than having to explain to everyone why you're not" with a small caption reading "Denial by choice"
Denial by choice

And it all came exploding back on me this week. The local health authority send their traveling team to give me my final booster shot. I have now had all three plus the flu shot. I was chatting with the nurse while he filled out all of the paper work required for a two second shot when I was overwhelmed with the memory of an incident from my childhood. I was nine and in the 50’s most polio kids were housed in hospitals, in my case it was the, then, Junior Red Cross Hospital for Crippled Children. All of a sudden I was back in my hospital bed watching as the life drained out of my eight year old roommate, Peter. He had numerous internal issues but the worse was his hemophilia. He’d been having a couple of rough days and, it was a Tuesday, I can remember that now, it was like he knew. He looked at me, said “Terry I have to go now” and the life just drained out of his body. Remembering roommates being bundled up to take to the morgue is not exactly the type of memory you really want to hold on to. I blocked that however, the simple task of receiving my vaccine booster, the flood gates of my memories started pouring out.

Picture on ten year old putting on both leg braces and lacing up the leather cuffs.
This was a daily event, a good 15 minutes to put all of those braces on, tighten, adjust, retighten and the beat goes on

All said, I five friends that never saw their twelve birthday and two more who never saw their sixteenth. One, Inga, collapsed at her 16th birthday party and was dead by heart attack before she hit the floor. These are the type of things that most therapist would tell you (and for the record I was a therapist for 12 years at the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary) childhood trauma can often be compartmentalized as a way to protect our own sanity. This was how things were done in the 50’s and well into the 60’s. Disabled kids were “warehoused” in medical (and sometimes worse types of institutions) centres. The community of that day just were not capable or open to disabled in their midst.

I don’t want to go back to that level of isolation, been there, done that and don’t want to see it happening again. This “wait and see” attitude being put forth by Kenney and the UCP is not “proactive planning”, it’s “reactive processing”. It doesn’t take a university degree (although it would be nice to see some higher standards of education for our politicians) to understand how this new variant is a major threat to our kids while this pandemic is costing us the lives of our children. Have we learnt nothing from our own history (history to some, life experiences for others)?

Picture of five young polio survivors in a hydrotherapy pool with two nurses doing the stretching exercises
Physio (hydrotherapy) three times a day made living in the community impossible before a national social healthcare program

Something, as a polio survivor, I have some experience with. Right now we are arguing about school, a very difficult issue. Alberta polio kids were never allowed to attend school until 1959. Amendments made to the, then, Alberta School Act requiring schools to “make room” for disabled students. Very little preparation was done with the schools on attitude. I was ten years old the first time I was able to attend a community school, Thorncliff Elementary, where I was met by a wall of parents throwing stones at me so their children wouldn’t be “threatened” with polio. Two things to note, the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, so there had been a good deal of time to acclimate to the concept of the vaccine. Good to see the “sense of entitlement” was as strong then as we see now. Second, the building code didn’t address the issue of “physical” access so, although my ability to access education (conceptual) was impaired (physical) until 1976. Following the welcome I received at Thorncliff, the hospital school became my “safe place”. Right now, the issue of reopening schools is like using your kids to play “Frogger” on the Deerfoot highway. I cannot and will not go quietly into the night while a truly ineffective government uses our kids as pawns in this crazy game of “Hide the Healthcare System”.

So I will continue to speak out as my memories resurface. Now that I have a better understanding of the “triggers” I will not be silenced under the guise of being “emotionally draining”. A friend of mine told me the other night (and he has known me for forty years) that I have done such a good job of making people see past my wheelchair to me that that has now exploded in my face. Fifty years of activism and I still can’t find affordable “accessible” housing now that I’m retired. Is this what a “wasted life” looks like?

My safe place, my family and my home as a kid



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