Polio, Really

“Americans spend more money on Botox, face lifts and tummy tucks than on the age-old scourges of polio, small pox and malaria”. – Victor Davis Hanson

I no longer know where to start these days but as a polio survivor (1953 and I was a 3 year old) there is absolutely no reason for polio to be showing up anywhere, particularly in a so-called “advanced area of the world like North America”. Let’s do a quick “a picture paints a thousand words” exercise. I am so frustrated with this I can’t trust myself to be civil and you know us Canadians, “Sorry” should be on our flag.

I must admit I was blown away when it was brought to my attention that Canada doesn’t bother with something as simple as waste water testing. I’m not saying waste water testing is the end all be all for the battle against polio but it is something worth having in a tool kit. Do you think, lets say a plumber, walks around with a tool kit that only has an adjustable wrench in it?

First, the “long haul” of polio is now known as “Post Polio Syndrome”. It comes on, generally, 35 to 40 years after the initial onset and it is like rediscovering the world of disability. What this means is you spend 30+ years living with the outcomes of a virus that had run it’s course in a matter of days while you live with the results for the rest of your life. Today we express concerns over the “long haul” effects of COVID while many, not all, polio survivors wind up dealing with the long term effects of polio, “Post Polio Syndrome”

A bar chart reflecting polio stats from 1927 to 1962 in Canada

My post polio began making it’s appearance in the mid 80’s and by 1996 I was basically wheelchair dependent. I think that was about the time I really came to understand the world of disability and it really screwed with my head (previously heavy into denial). I had never known anything else so I was “to” adaptive and accomplished tasks doing thing most people wouldn’t have given much thought to, I still do. My polio isn’t my disability, my disability is the uninformed perspective of the “able bodied members” of any community. With the advent of post polio I had to really give the “before and after” philosophy a revisit.

The before and after is a common thing in rehab, the frustration many feel because I “used” to be able to do this but now can’t. Reality, they can, they just have to discover a method that will work for them. This is what makes rehab so hard, we are being directed be health professionals who use “production line” norm referencing while our survival is based on criteria referencing. All of a sudden activities I use to take for granted were no longer a simple option anymore so I had to rediscover. When I was still on crutches I use to think Calgary was a great city for accessibility, since coming back wheelchair dependent, it isn’t. However anytime I try to reach out to the City with some solutions I become a “bitter old man” with an axe to grind or at least that the way it feels. Anyway back to my point about the reappearance of polio.

A big part of my early career was working as a therapist in psychiatry and I did everything I would have advised any client NOT to do. I even found reasons to end a 17 year marriage over the fear of having a “care-taker” rather than a wife. Like I said post polio really screwed with my head but in the midst of a major life change one’s perspective can really misalign thinking. I really thought I was doing the right thing by providing an opportunity for my, now, ex-wife (at the time a 50 year old very skilled nurse) to find another man to spend her retirement with, someone who wouldn’t need the services of a care giver. This is part of why the re-appearance is so upsetting. It is a virus easily dealt with but can have some far reaching effect, like post polio syndrome.

Picture of a young polio patient in a contraption used for leg lengthening
Polio kids were excellent subjects for the growing speciality of orthopaedic surgery

My polio was years before “universal” healthcare and polio kids made ideal candidates for the evolving speciality of orthopaedic surgery. The picture above isn’t me but it was an early attempt done for leg lengthening. It is actually ironic that so many people think of “allen keys” as something Ikea came up with so you could assemble your own purchase. Since we were kids it gave healthcare an opportunity to practice on a growing body and that allen key was used to turn up the rods going straight through your leg. This leg lengthening, (for the word police) was called an “osteotomy“. Part of the process involved using an allen key to turn the part of that contraception about a 1/4 of a millimeter a day to stretch the bone sufficiently. That part of the leg bone was saw through, and to borrow a woodworking term, in a “rabbet” cut. Anyway at a 1/4 of a millimetre per day it would take about 3 months to “stretch” the leg 3″ but about a half inch would be lost in the process due to, what was referred to at the time, as “bounce back”.

The bone growth wouldn’t always grow at the same pace the bone was being stretched to. Out of interest the head bandage was purely to avoid what, new parents, now refer to as “crib head”. The loincloth, well that was pretty standard in those days. By the time I was 12 I had worn more loincloth’s than Tarzan. I never had that particular surgery but one of my roommates did so the head wrapping would also keep us from experiencing any possible head trauma while you banged your head against the bed during the daily “dialling up the screw”. It was painful however one of the things you learnt early in the hospital (unbeknownst of course) was to be stoic. I hold on to that to these days, often to my detriment, independence comes with a high price tag.

Black and white picture of five kids, all pre-school, undergoing stretching exercised in a hydro pool, exercises being done by nurses
“Hydro therapy” used to help stretch limbs that may have tightened up, often following surgeries.

Quick switch of perspectives here. I had a doctors appointment about three weeks ago. When you have what many consider “complex needs” the consistency of having a “permanent doctor” cannot be understated. Urgent or walk in clinics just don’t cut it otherwise you are repeatedly having to retell your history and that gets pretty tiresome. I am very lucky to have a family doctor who is within wheeling distance as part of a “Primary Care Centre” which are also teaching centre. She is only there one day a week, however she is also a professor at the University of Calgary’s Cummings School of Medicine. She always has two or three residents from the Family Practice section of the school and my last visit was while the latest crop of residents were starting. I am also fortunate to have a doctor who is accommodating and receptive to the fact that I am very good at being my own advocate for quality care.

She just picked up her new batch of residents for the year (doctors usually graduate in June and new residents begin their first year of training in July), try avoiding healthcare in the summer because you are getting the fresh cream of the newest batch of doctors. I believe she enjoys my visits (restricted through government policies to 15 minute visits for billing reasons) however I usually spend about 30 minutes educating her new residents on “polio”. It is no longer part of the med school curriculum and on this visit there was a moment when Dr. Kelly joined us with the first question from the resident was “why don’t they teach us this in school?”. I agree, this is how disjointed governments have made healthcare. How can you talk to new parents about childhood vaccinations when you don’t know about the disease you are protecting your children from, like “polio” or the serious consequences of something as “simple” as measles. The re-appearance, to me, of polio is the result, in part, to years of regulations where healthcare professionals have to review the government policy manual before they look at their Mercks Manual.

And if you are one of those “entitled” who believes this myth that polio has been eradicated, well I have three Westeros dragons for sale, give me a call. With that said, you are probably more knowledgeable about your streaming services than childhood development…Monday rant finished



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