Stu's Stories as at 2022

48 | P a g e Why I Consider Myself so “Lucky” Because I do not show a lot of sympathy to adults who suddenly find themselves sick or in pain I am accused of being “hard”. This is not to say I am not sympathetic to genuine sickness. The opposite of this are my feelings for children. With them I have the greatest sympathy and feel their pain, wishing I could take it onto myself leaving them free to enjoy their lives. Why? Well, we have to go back to 1950 when I contracted polio in the last big epidemic in Sydney. Because of the after affects of this I have lived my life in pain, but have always considered myself “lucky” for the opportunity I have had to live a reasonably full life. I have never sought, nor wanted, sympathy. When it is offered I brush it off as if it was an annoying wasp. Why should I accept sympathy when I feel so “lucky”? Let me again go back in time to the “Coast Hospital” in Sydney. It was 1950 and an epidemic of polio raged across the city. I was a fit 15-year-old whose family had only been in Sydney a few months when I was diagnosed with polio in March of that year. Consequently, I was transported to the “Coast Hospital”, as this was where they were trying to isolate all who had contracted it. At 15 I understood what was happening to me. My GP insisted I know what I was facing; that the expected outcome of polio was death or paralysis. In other words, if I survived I should expect to be paralyzed in one form or another. He insisted on me knowing so that I knew what I had to fight. For telling me this, and the support he gave me over the next 12 months, I will always be grateful to him. I was “lucky” as I was placed in a single-bed room (maybe it had just become vacant, I do not know). As I was wheeled down the corridors I was rather shocked to see beds head to foot along all the corridors as the wards were full. The air was full of constant screaming, and the whoomph-whumph of respirators was another constant background sound 24 hours a day. Even now when I am old, I can still see the room with its beautiful outlook across Little Bay; I can still hear the constant screaming of 100’s of children who did not understand what was happening other than their little bodies felt like they were being torn apart. I was “lucky” as I was one of the oldest and understood what was happening. I would associate a polio epidemic to that of what I have heard about a war zone. Soldiers return from a war zone in a number of psychological states – there are those who return feeling “lucky” and continue to see the glass as half full and get on with their lives, while others return and fall into depression at what they have endured. They do not feel “lucky” and always see the glass as half empty. However, both groups will never forget the horrors of what they went through. This is how I see a hospital full of epidemic victims - a war zone; with effects that left us not knowing whether we would die or come out the other end crippled – and to what extent. Just like a war zone and its after-effects. I often think of the doctors and nurses who gave their all to help us. The stress, the strain, the feeling of helplessness they must have endured.

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