Saturday, December 7, 2013

Louise - Pat, 78

In the summer of 1952, my family was planning our summer trip to Lake Okabogi.  This lake was about 100 miles from Sioux City, Iowa.  We had been going up to the lake for many years.  That year my sister and I were allowed to take a friend.  All my friends' parents were very strict.  It took some convincing to get her parents to finally agree.  Louise was to come up for our second week.  Dad had to stay in town to work the first week.  Dad would pick Louise up on Friday afternoon and bring her up for the second week.

Friday finally arrived.  I could hardly wait for their arrival.  Dad's car finally pulled into the parking area.  No Louise!!!  Dad went to get her and was told she was very sick with a high fever, terrible headache, and her whole body ached.

At the end of the week, we returned home.  I immediately called Louise's house.  She was in serious condition and was admitted to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital with paralytic poliomyelitis, better known as polio.  She was paralyzed from her neck down.  Fortunately she was able to breathe on her own.  No iron lung, but quarantine, no visitors allowed.  Her younger brother came down with bulbar polio two weeks later.  That form affects the lungs and breathing apparatus.  I don't know if he was in an iron lung.  I can't tell you how scared I was.  At the same time, how lucky we were that Louise wasn't at the lake when she got sick.

It was very scary because Sioux City was experiencing our first polio epidemic.  All the pools were closed.  Everyone was encouraged to stay home if possible.  St. Joseph Mercy Hospital had made a whole wing of the hospital for a polio ward.

About six weeks later, Louise's mother stopped at our house with a letter from Louise.  She had to sneak it out of the hospital.  Louise had use of her arms.  We corresponded for a few weeks.  Her mother would pick my letters up and bring me one in a day or two.

Our senior year started without Louise.  She was able to pull herself up to a seated position and was in physical therapy.  It was very grueling.  She refused to wear leg braces.  Finally she was home.  Her doctor released her to go back to school on a limited schedule.  Louise's parents, the school, and I devised a plan.  I would meet them at the front door of the school.  Her father carried her into the office.  A football player would carry her up the stairs to her classroom, and I carried her books.  My classes were not necessarily on the same floor or wing.  I did a lot of hoofing all over the school.  The principal gave me free range.  I didn't even need a hall pass, which was unheard of.

We were faced with the first Sadie Hawkins costume dance.  Louise really wanted to go.  I would ride my horse, Bonnie, over to her house.  I helped her do all her exercises.  She was really doing well.  We decided she was ready to start dancing.  Her bedroom was at the back of the house.  We put on some jitterbug records and worked really hard.  I don't think her mom knew what we were up to, but then she never did.  Our only thing left was costumes.  We decided to ask our football coach if we could borrow two of their practice uniforms to wear.  He agreed.  Louise talked him into giving us their official uniforms.  Louise was on crutches.  They had to be dealt with.  I took an old sheet and cut it into bandage strips.  I mummed our faces to look like bandages under the helmets.  Wrapped our legs like casts and put an arm in a sling.  We each used one crutch and leaned against each other.  We knew we wouldn't win the contest, and we didn't care.  We got to go to the dance.

We arrived at the dance.  We were the talk of the event.  No one knew who we were.  I talked with a low voice and Louise already had a deep voice.  The varsity players began to be very irritated that we were wearing their sacred uniform.  Some were slapping us in the rear and giving us shoves.  I was worried, so I ripped off my head gear and told them to knock it off.  You never saw so many shocked faces.

The following year after graduation, I went into training at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.  That summer there was another epidemic of polio complicated with spinal meningitis.  This time it hit the Indian reservations.  I worked on the floor in radiology and did a lot of portable x-rays in pediatrics.  News of a vaccine came that fall.  That was the last large epidemic.

Louise is still fighting polio syndrome.  It started with a vengeance in her fifties.  She has scoliosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and all kinds of other symptoms.  Her hips are compromised.  She is now using a walker or wheel chair.  She has to hove periodic infusions that cause rashes and allergies.

Medicine has come a long way since those hot summer days in 1952.  There are now vaccines, portable lung machines, and medications.

Louise and I continue to be close friends.  I was a bridesmaid at her wedding.  I was with her in the delivery room for her first child.  I talk to her about every ten days.

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