Personal Stories Reaffirm Our Commitment to Eradicate Polio
Oct 22, 2013
Nurses Who Vaccinate is hosting a Nurses Night Out event on World Polio Day, October 24th in Islip, NY. In an effort to spread the word, the question arose as to how to best phrase the news about World Polio Day. Would it be to celebrate, honor or share?
To really make the most of World Polio Day, we must attempt to do all three. We should celebrate the successes we’ve seen in the global efforts to eradicate this disease. We must honor and recognize the organizations and individuals who work towards this important goal. And while we’ll continue to share the encouraging statistics of our eradication efforts, we must also share the stories of polio survivors, whose personal experiences fuel our passion to inform others and reaffirm our commitment to these goals.
While Judith S. Beatty may be just another woman in her 70’s today, she has written a heartfelt account of her personal experience with polio through the eyes of the young girl she once was. Her complete story, which appears on Shot By Shot’s story gallery, exposes the emotional scars of polio survival, in addition to the physical aspects of the disease.
Judith begins her story in 1949; a time she describes as very promising, with her father returning from war and her family moving out of a dingy apartment outside of New York City to a two-story house in a small town in Connecticut. However, when she contracted polio at the age of 6, life took a dramatic turn and her story reminds us of the culture of fear that permeated the times.
“I remember being very sick at that point and being dressed quickly and put in the car. I was taken to the Englewood Hospital in Bridgeport, about an hour away, and put in an iron lung. By that time I was paralyzed from the neck down. My mother related to me years later that they said I would die that night. It was no idle fear. The year I got sick, 42,000 children contracted polio and 3,000 died from it.”
“Fear of the disease was so strong that people shunned my parents after I fell ill. Our house was quarantined so no one could come in.”
The most heart-felt aspects of Judith’s story relate to the devastating isolation she experienced during her illness and the physical and emotional impact that polio had on the rest of her life.
“After the iron lung, I spent about 5 months in the hospital, the first part of it in quarantine. I was in a room by myself for about 30 days. There were very few nurses. My mother told me later there was one nurse for 200 children.”
“When my parents came to visit me during this period, they were not allowed in the room. Chicken wire was draped across the doorway and secured with nails.”
“When I was taken out of quarantine, all of my toys and books were destroyed. Everything I had touched was incinerated. This was just devastating, if you can imagine how it feels for a child to lose everything.”
“I was in the hospital for so long; I came to feel that I would never leave. That the hospital was my real home. I felt unloved, almost forgotten.”
Judith elaborates on the life-long physical attributes of this disease, to include spending 7 years with a heavy leg brace, a permanent 3-inch lift on her shoe and long-term scoliosis treatment to include a metal reinforced back brace. These physical ailments not only prevented her from playing sports or dancing, but resulted in traumatic experiences – like wetting her pants in school because she couldn’t get up to go the bathroom when the teacher called for a restroom break. Or how she would become hysterical when her mother would leave her alone in the car while she went shopping, for fear of being abandoned.
While Judith considers herself lucky to have survived polio, she explains,
“The traumatic experience from my childhood has affected me deeply. I very rarely discuss these events with my family or friends. I even lived with the guilt that by dipping my toes in the ocean that one day I had brought this horrible thing on myself. I was brought up not wanting to call attention to myself and never wanting to be pitied. Many years later I had to seek help from a therapist to deal with what they now call PTSD. Bringing up these memories has been difficult. But it’s worth it if I can raise awareness about diseases like polio.”
If Judith has the strength and courage to share such a personal story that has been haunting her for nearly 70 years, than I sincerely hope that people will consider making an important contribution to the efforts to eradicate polio from the world today. No child, no family and no community should ever have to suffer in the way that Judith describes.
To read Judith’s story in its entirety, click here. To hear others stories of polio, visit the Shot By Shot story gallery by clicking here.
To learn more about the events surrounding World Polio Day, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and join Rotary International’s End Polio Now campaign.
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