I lived through one of the last polio epidemics in the United States. I had my 5th vaccine and the next day collapsed in kindergarten gym class. Our pediatrician came to the house, did a spinal tap and it was positive for polio. There was a question of whether or not I contracted polio from the vaccine. I had been playing with my friend Susan James. Her mother was not vaccinated and contracted paralytic polio the same day I did. She had a worse case than mine and eventually had her leg fused. The doctors did the best they could at the time with the knowledge they had available to them. I went through grueling hours of physical therapy with hot woolen blankets and was in a long leg brace for 3 years. My physiatrist Dr. Eugene Moskowitz and his physical therapist, Miss Holly had hearts filled with compassion and wanted the absolute best clinical outcome for me and all the children and adults in their care. I was once very angry to think I could have contracted the virus from the vaccine but now believe that were it not for the vaccine I could have experienced a much more severe case of polio. But this isn't about a discourse on whether or not to vaccinate. It is about choosing attitudes.
Once I changed my attitude from anger to hope and gratitude, I began to heal after being diagnosed with post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease according to the medical community. The diagnosis terrified me at first and then I got still and asked for Divine Guidance. Last year, while writing my memoir, I discovered a New York Times editorial written by my physiatrist on post polio syndrome:
Caution and Hope On Polio 'Signs'
Published: March 3, 1985
I read with interest the article entitled ''A Group for Polio Survivors Who Have New Symptoms'' (Feb. 10).
Having supervised the rehabilitation of poliomyelitis patients at Grasslands Hospital during the epidemics of the 50's and 60's, probably including the ''then'' infants mentioned in the article, I would like to add a word of caution and even hope as an afterthought.
Firstly, there is no reason to suspect deterioration in the nerve cells in the spinal cord. After 30 years, one must accept some loss of endurance, increased fatigue and even some discomfort induced by other unrelated medical problems. This is true in the athlete with repeated injuries, in the obese person with back problems and even in the jogger with foot ailments.
Any individual with paralytic disability in an extremity will experience the normal process of ''wear and tear'' except that it may be more difficult to adjust to it. Just as one learned to compensate for the initial impairment so must one adjust to the later, more subtle changes rather than develop an emotional hangup of being a ''polio victim.''
EUGENE MOSKOWITZ, M.D. Mount Vernon
I felt chills to hear about children being affected by polio-like symptoms and I sent our prayers of healing and strength to them and to their families. I can feel the fear people are experiencing with news of Ebola, the Enterovirus and paralysis. I know how destructive fear was to the fabric of our communities then and when people were first diagnosed with AIDS. Unlike the AIDS epidemic and the polio epidemics in the 50's and 60's, there are many voices of reason that rise up above the din of panic.
I'd like to add a voice of hope. Feeding and fueling the fear of contagion and pointing fingers of blame becomes a breeding ground for infecting hearts and souls with a disease far worse than the viruses themselves. Sure there is a fear of the unknown and the mystery of why the children are experiencing polio-like symptoms but when we stay in that state of fear we do not allow the helpers seen and unseen to do their work. Focusing on love, compassion and hope opens the door to healing and finding strength to heal whatever the viruses leave in their wake.
How do you choose?
The first 7 years of my healing odyssey are chronicled in Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility available on Amazon. I donate 50% of royalty payments to The One Fund Boston to help survivors and their families who were affected by the tragic events of 4/15/13.
I'm working on my 2nd book, "Journey Well," due out later this year: