Stu's Stories as at 2022

42 | P a g e The Brief History of an “Old Polio” - Me! From the 1950 Sydney Epidemic (Originally written in 2004 and updated in 2013) Although this is my story, it is an approximate mirror of many hundreds, or even thousands, of others who have had to battle the damage left to us by Polio. For me, it began in the early part of 1950 when I started getting severe pains through my chest. These steadily increased and spread through to my neck and back – I was just 15. When the pain was obviously getting worse and spreading further through my body the local GP was called. He went over me, gently bending limbs and neck this way and that checking reactions for pain and stiffness. He left me to talk privately with my mother and, after what seemed an age, came and said to me: “Stuart, your mum didn’t want me to tell you, but I feel you should know what you have and what you are in for . . . you have all the symptoms of Polio. I have called for an ambulance to transfer you to The Prince of Wales Hospital – this is where all Polio patients are being treated – and have informed the Health Authorities.” He then went on to explain the seriousness of Polio and the procedures that would follow. I was grateful for his honesty, for he was right. I was a kid who would have blown his stack and become most difficult to handle if they had tried to hide the facts from me. In fact, I believe it is a mistake to underestimate the intelligence and resilience of young minds to comprehend and cope better with problems once they know the facts. Of course, we all “knew” of a disease called Polio . . . used to call it Infantile Paralysis, didn’t they? That was a disease people who lived in dirty areas caught. Wasn’t it? Well, I was to learn the truth about that. My arrival at the “Wales” was a whirl – whisked down corridors and into a private room (not because I was special, but apparently usual procedure for testing and initial monitoring to see if I was to need breathing assistance). Even so, I had noted that there were beds head to foot right down one side of all the corridors and learned that there was (if memory serves me right) about 360 of us Polio patients there at that time. To try and keep the outbreak isolated they brought in extra beds and placed them wherever they would fit. 1950 was Sydney’s last big Polio epidemic. I believe there was one more smaller outbreak the following year and then the Salk vaccine came along and virtually wiped it out. I have always had, even then, a quite logical and analytical mind, and despite my fears of what the outcome would be for me, I was still intrigued, and amused, at some of the things they did. The normal mattress had been removed and wooden planks covered the base. On this was a hard mattress about 1-2 inches thick. I was spread-eagled on this – legs out, arms out - and then they proceeded to place what I called “draft stoppers” (long sausage-shaped bags packed tightly with sand) along either side of my legs and arms and around my neck. When I asked what they were for I was told “they were to help stop my limbs from being bent by the muscle contractions”. I was amazed and just laughed (very briefly, as this caused absolutely enormous pain in my chest).

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