About 7 a.m. on Nov. 19, 1949, I was awakened by my mother to get ready for school. I was 6 years old, and had only been going to school for about six weeks, so it was still very exciting to me.
I got off the side of the bed, and my legs collapsed under me. I grabbed the bed post to try to pull myself up, but no matter how hard I tried, my legs wouldn't support me.
This was at the time of the horrific polio epidemic in the United States and worldwide. Even at my young age, I was aware of the polio threat, and I reportedly told my parents, "I think I have that old polio."
I was taken to doctors who, through painful spinal taps, verified I was, indeed, infected.
I spent the next year in hospitals, with only a short visit home at Christmas 1949. I endured the terrible loneliness of quarantine, only seeing my family through a glass. Later, after I was determined to no longer be infectious, I was still only allowed to see my parents once a week for a few minutes.
I can remember the rows upon rows of sick children. I can remember the terrifying iron-lung machines, with their frightening whooshing sounds, and the heads of children perched at the end of the machine, like a human head attached to a robotic body.
I was finally trained to walk using leg braces and crutches, and was allowed to return home and resume my life. I adapted to my new life very quickly. I did most everything other kids did--I played baseball with my crutch, breaking several in the process. I played all the games the other kids played, although I lost at all those that required running, such as hide and seek. Several times, I received surgery to cut tendons to keep muscles from drawing up and deforming me.
Fast forward to the present. I have obtained a college degree; I had a successful 30-year career with the federal government, and spent another 11 years working for a private company before a loss of hearing forced me to retire. I have a wonderful wife of 42 years and counting, two highly successful sons, and a beautiful 6-year-old grandson.
I am still a paraplegic, and now require the use of a mobility scooter or power chair to get around.
Despite all the goodness that I have enjoyed throughout my life, I would not wish for any other person to have to follow the path of pain, frustration, sadness, disappointments and discrimination that a polio victim endures. Even now, I fear every day the advent of a condition called "post-polio syndrome," which occurs in long-term polio survivors, and causes weakening of muscles that have been "normal" during their lifetime.
Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his polio vaccine in 1952, three years too late for me. Dr. Albert Sabin introduced a different vaccine a few years later. Polio has been virtually eradicated from the world--until now.
"Anti-vacciners," those who have succumbed to the pseudo-science of a few quacks and ignore the advice of the entire medical profession, are placing their children squarely in the path of an oncoming epidemic of polio, measles, smallpox, and other diseases that were considered extinct.
The predominant excuse is that vaccines cause autism. There is absolutely no science to support that, yet thousands of parents are exposing their children to the ravages of disease. It is insanity.
Exposure to measles during pregnancy can cause miscarriages or children born with developmental issues. So what if your child catches measles? Well, measles causes encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in about one in every thousand children who get it. Encephalitis is still an extremely serious condition which is difficult to treat and almost always requires admission to an intensive care unit.
Smallpox? A few rare varieties of smallpox are almost always fatal. These more-severe forms most commonly affect pregnant women and people with impaired immune systems. People who recover from smallpox usually have severe scars, especially on the face, arms and legs. In some cases, smallpox may cause blindness.
Polio? Death, permanent paralysis.
Who would wish these things upon their children? I wish you could ask my mother how it feels.
Bill Shadle lives in Sherwood.
Editorial on 02/20/2015
Print Headline: A path to pain