Polio 1948! How do we look back and compare with Coronavirus?

Steve Sparks, age 2, struck with Polio shortly after this photo was taken on his 2nd birthday.

Polio 1948! Click here…

“The fight against infantile paralysis cannot be a local war,” Truman declared in a speech broadcast from the White House. “It must be nationwide. It must be total war in every city, town and village throughout the land. For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.”

I can only imagine what it was like for the Sparks family in 1948 when their 2 year old child was struck with Polio. There was no vaccine in 1948! It was a pile on for the American people and the world right after WWII.

I only know from first hand accounts from my parents and big brother. I do know because there were severe physical damages to my upper left side and face that left me with muscle weakness in my left arm, and facial damage and jaw function from being paralized.

Imagine

I can only imagine as a 2 year old having my jaw supported with a clamp of sorts to keep my mouth open to eat and drink. I can only imagine what 1000s of kids just like me were going through, and all their families too. I can only imagine how it felt not being home with my family for 6 weeks. I can only imagine what it was like for my family to help me recover.

My big brother always mentioned that the worst thing for him was 24/7 crying. Even though this is me as a toddler, I can’t even get close to imagining how much pain was going on in my little brain. I feel shivers up my back and a big hole in my heart.

My family was not prepared or equipped to deal with my recovery. I was lucky, indeed, to survive and thrive. It was trial and error for everyone at the time. I treasure life at age 74 and feel privileged to be alive.

Life with polio…

As I got older, my family joked about it. They made fun of my crooked smile and buck teeth. I pushed my buck teeth back with my thumb for years to build a smile I could be good with. The weakness in my left arm and muscle atrophy made me self conscious for most of my life. My left side of my chest was not developed as a kid.

So, I found ways to cover up my left chest with a towel or my right hand when exposed at the beach or pool. I learned to do push ups with one arm. I was able to get through Navy boot camp in 1963 this way. My right arm did all the work. I learned to swim and surf with a very strong right arm. I learned to defend myself too with a kick ass right arm. I felt ugly most of the time as a kid. The good news, I survived and thrived! I made it, still here at age 74. Hooray!

Polio was a thing that no one wanted to talk about. To my parents credit , they wanted me to think I was normal and healthy just like other kids. I was clearly not normal and suffered delays in my early development as a child. The chronic after effects of polio persist for a life time, especially in later years.

End of WWII

“During the peak of the polio epidemic in the U.S., some hospital wards even had large, room-like iron lungs where multiple children lived. ” Imagine how these kids suffered physically and mentally, just like me… Mental illness was not close to being in the conversation back then…

As an added tragedy for our family, my father just returned from 4 years of hard combat in WWII. He suffered from severe PTSD and depression without adequate treatment and recovery. Dad was in bad shape.

My mother would say to me that Dad cried for weeks. He carried me to the hospital where I stayed for 6 weeks before returning home. What my parents didn’t know then is how Polio affected mental health in children. The physical damage was horrific for so many at that time. In comparison, I was lucky.

Empathy

Polio has given me great empathy and compassion for what families are going through with Covid19. Never in my long life have I experienced a public health crisis as a ‘political event.’ It is unconscionable to think that America is divided when it is a life and death matter. I’m shocked to see now that we as a people aren’t coming together to fight Covid 19 like we did Polio in the 40s and 50s, and through the 70s. Every child in America was given the Polio vaccine once it was safe in the 50s. It was a global emergency we fought as one people united just like WWII. America was mobilized!

National and global leadership…quote from the above website reference…

“Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio 12 years before he became president. Roosevelt concealed the extent to which he suffered from polio, but he acknowledged having it. His presidency put polio front and center on the national stage. In 1938, Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and spearheaded the March of Dimes for polio research. In 1946, President Harry Truman declared polio a threat to the United States and called on Americans to do everything possible to combat it.”

And quoting again…

“The fight against infantile paralysis cannot be a local war,” Truman declared in a speech broadcast from the White House. “It must be nationwide. It must be total war in every city, town and village throughout the land. For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.”

Covid19 fast forward…2020

Fighting unknown viral and bacterial disease as a threat to humanity is obviously not new. What is new is a divided America, misinformation and politics taking hold to fight a life/death public health crisis. Deaths of loved ones continue to soar and cases rise around the globe.

I ask why? Why is America’s behavior so outrageously and inhumanly this way now? How can politics even be in the conversation? Why? What happened to empathy and compassion? Where is humanity and humility as a people? What the hell are we doing, really?

I ask why?

Steve Sparks, Mental Health Advocate, Author, Blogger

Click here for Steve’s author page…