Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Summer Terror

The news is currently discussing a new disease that has cropped up in California, and was probably active in Asia before that. The disease bears a frightening resemblance to polio, but the polio vaccine has no effect on it. It has left some with various degrees of paralysis and some have died. From the reports I have seen thus far, it seems to strike mainly at children.

Presently, the experts don't seem to agree on this phenomenon. Is it the same virus? Are the incidents of paralysis unconnected? Is it likely to become an epidemic? They don't yet know.

I am of the last generation of Americans to live during the terrible polio epidemics that took so many lives and left so many victims with varying degrees of paralysis. Even some of those who survived and seemed to make full recoveries have been found to have a type of relapse into problems with affected, but apparently recovered, limbs when they reach middle-age.

I remember how terrifying the outbreaks of polio were. Summer was the time when the dread disease most often broke out. When polio broke out in the area children were warned against going swimming. Swimming pools seemed to be a place where the virus thrived and spread.

Mary Louise (bottom) and Grace sledding. I think this was
 in the winter of late 1949 or early1950. I believe this visit was our last
 with this cousin we loved and admired. Maybe Grace or Terry will
 remember for sure. Mother didn't date the photos.
Our family was touched twice by this horrible plague. Our cousin Mary Louise Thames died from a very fast moving form of polio in the summer of 1950, when she was twelve years old. Our sister Brownie had polio later. Hers was a mild case, but left her with some problems in her legs that required special exercises to stretch her hamstrings. It was very scary when she was in the hospital and they diagnosed polio. How grateful we were that her story did not end as Mary Louise's had.

Although our younger sisters probably didn't remember a lot about Mary Louise, the three of us who were older did. We thought Mary Louise was wonderful. She was a lively, fun girl and we loved it when her family made trips from Texas to visit. We were devastated when she died.

Our parents made the trip to Texas for Mary Louise's funeral. When they returned they brought back Mary Louise's bicycle, which her parents had given to us. My older sisters each already had a bike, so Mary Louise's bike became mine. I learned to ride a bike on it and rode it for years. And I always thought of it as Mary Louise's.

The advent of polio vaccine was nothing less than a miracle to everyone who had lived through the polio scares. I hope and pray that medical science can quickly solve the puzzle of this new paralyzer.

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