I was 2 and a half years old when I contracted polio in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I awoke with my feet touching the back of my head, and with a high fever.
I had been playing in a vacant lot across the street from our apartment building with other children, who also became ill. I was rushed to the hospital and left there, feeling I had been a bad girl for being left by my parents, whom I did not see for three years. Five of the children were brought there also – four died, I was told later when an adult.
I was in a quarantine ward in the hospital where Sister Elizabeth Kenny had just arrived from Australia to teach American doctors her techniques for treating polio, since they did not have satisfactory techniques at that time that were helping patients. But were doing more harm than good.
For some reason, by the grace of God, I was chosen along with a young boy, to be a demonstration patient for her, in a large amphitheater filled with doctors all wearing masks. (For years, as a child, I had nightmares of rooms filled with people wearing masks).
I suppose that I was chosen because I did not cry, no matter how painful the manipulation of my limbs was. My earliest memory was standing in the snow on crutches with braces on both legs, outside the hospital behind Sister Kenny while she talked to a woman holding a baby, telling her I needed a warm, dry climate.
The woman was my mother whom I did not recognize. She was holding my brother who was born in the same hospital – I am 5 and a half years older than he is, but because I was in isolation, I did not know about him. We moved to California by train after she turned me over to my mother.
By Lorraine Hartik