It was decades after polio treatment before I fully appreciated the value of what the amazing rehab people did with me in therapy, or the emotional toll my affliction must have taken on my mother. I was a three-year-old simply doing what I was told to do, and in my future childhood years, I just got up, put on the brace, grabbed my sticks and was out the door, trying my best to be a normal kid. I didn’t know then that I had been originally expected to spend my life sitting down, dependent on others to care for me, so gratitude for this gift of mobility didn’t occur to me at the time. I was just glad to be free of the imprisonment of six months of hospitalization. Appreciation of my “good fortune,” that of being able to stand and walk, though with acute difficulty, did not come until young adulthood. There were times when I was told I was lucky or should be grateful during my childhood, and I felt a little guilty for not really feeling that gratitude as deeply as it seemed people thought I should! Maybe adults were attempting to pull guilt out of me, and in that respect, they were successful.
At the same time, I don’t remember feeling particularly sorry for myself in my disability at age three. I felt very sad at being confined in the hospital for so long, not being able to play anymore except in the bathtub or with my mama and the birds on the beach, not seeing my parents or my other relatives and old playmates, and believe I had reached a certain somewhat depressed resignation, with those interspersed brief moments of freedom. I may have cried in loneliness, but, I don’t remember that. I just remember acceptance of day after day of monotony and wishing every moment that I could get out of the hospital.
I do recall being a little angry about the entire situation – you can see this in a couple of post-hospital photos of me — and I fear this is ingrained in my personality. I know I haven’t been horrible, and am certainly not irritated all the time, but anyone close to me has eventually seen me break down in tears over not being able to do everything (or even something), or has seen me angry and/or frustrated. Though polio did not strike me as unfair when I was a child, the idea sure has crossed my mind more than a few times as an adult. But I came to see that nearly everyone has many life experiences which are unfair.