Walking again

This piece was written for the Six Sentence Challenge with the prompt word of ‘walk’.

Two little girls lay in Iron Lung Machines while being treated for Polio. Their family looks in from the window outside.

Photo courtesy Getty Images

It was the 1950’s and a three-year-old boy called out in the night for a ‘gink of water’ and when his father answered his call and handed the boy the plastic child-sized cup which he would normally easily grip two-handed, this time it fell straight through his fingers, and then again.

At the small country hospital an hour’s drive away, the sleep-deprived doctor, called in by the concerned nurses, swiftly diagnosed suspected poliomyelitis and the ambulance sped into the night for the city, a two-hour journey, while in the back the boy stopped breathing three times and had to be revived.

For a while he lived in a tubular respirator machine, an iron lung, with only his head exposed and he had to look up into a mirror to see the medical ward and the staff, and his parents, when they could visit between work and caring for his older sister three hours away.

Weeks went by before he could breathe by himself and the arduous journey for he and his mother, of returning his limbs to functioning like they used to before, began.

Months of being strapped to a board to straighten his limbs, wearing calipers on his legs and daily physiotherapy invented by a Queensland bush nurse brought him back to the world of other children.

If the joy of seeing your child walk unassisted for the first time can be overwhelming for parents, it pales against seeing your four-year-old emerge from a world of ambulances, iron lungs and daily treatments to once again, simply walk and get himself a drink of water.

37 thoughts on “Walking again

  1. Yow!*
    I am of the age to remember the polio as one of threats we were aware of as children… that and nuclear war… jeez, emotionally toxic times, those late ’50s early ’60s, much”

    * a compliment on an engaging and compelling** Six
    ** quite the combination, that

    Liked by 2 people

    • Can imagine how frightening those times must have been. For us as kids in the late 70s and early 80s UK, we had the government public information broadcasts to scare us, and these pamphlets called ‘Protect and Survive’ sent to every household telling us what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, how to turn your living quarters into a fallout shelter, how to deal with dead family members, bomb drills at school. Absolutely terrifying.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The lead in image, your Six – powerful reminder of this disease and how frighteningly widespread it was at one time. I’m thankful I wasn’t alive at the height of the US outbreak in the early 1950’s. What a scary time that must have been. I remember getting a host of vaccinations when I was a kid – one of them was for polio.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And these days very few people do. During Covid I could never understand why the media never referred to it as an example of a previous viral epidemic when it was a much more recent example than the Spanish flu of 1919.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Your experience, I suspect, makes you wish to have a quiet word with an anti-vaxxer or two.
    Also, sometimes not having the memory of bad things is a blessing. However, things like claustrophobia, etc come into focus later.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This brought back memories! I did not get polio, but I remember the fear and concern that it brought to the community. A little boy, about my age contracted polio. He lived across the street from my grandma, and I was visiting my grandma the day he was brought home in the iron lung. We watched them roll the iron lung into the house. He wasn’t allowed to have visitors for fear others might get polio too. I wasn’t allowed to take swimming lessons and we didn’t go to movie theaters. People avoided being in crowds. (This was either in the late 1940’s or possibly the very early 1950’s, but I think it was more likely the late 1940’s.) I also remember later on when the polio vaccine became available how thankful everyone was to not have to worry about getting polio.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My Oma (Dutch for grandmother) had polio as a child when she was 2, and has had to rely on a walking aid ever since – well, until she started using a wheelchair full time in her 90s a few years ago.
    Your story is well written. The emotion behind the events shines through strongly.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A fine telling of what must have been a traumatic experience for a child, even if you only remember parts. I had a major op at age 6 and remember some of the details but not all. Spot on about using Polio as a reference to our current pandemic. I wasn’t around when it came about but did get my shots as a child.
    True and sad story – my neighbour of 9 years who was anti vax anti mask and into the conspiracy theories died just recently of guess what…
    Meh. So needless.


  7. My uncle had his hands and feet crippled by this cruel disease, and spent a lifetime in pain and orthopaedic boots.
    He had the courage and humour to live a full and useful life, but your sensitively written piece reminded me of his lifelong suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow. This was an amazing and powerful response to the prompt. It evoked many memories and stories. Guess I’m old. Remember when polio was the worst there was? I do remember the fear around it. I sure hope the time comes soon when kids can consider Corona Virus a long ago thing of the past.

    Liked by 1 person

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