This is my mother’s account of the onset of Polio in my life as of November 6th, 1953.
Janis was five years old, complaining of a very bad earache, unable to sleep, asking for the hot water bottle to be refilled and warmed all through that first night. She was feeling better by morning, pale but in good spirits.
On November 10th Janis began eating less, sleeping more and ran a fever.
I called the local doctor on the 11th but he couldn’t see Janis until the 13th. On November 12th she stopped eating and began to tumble, needing assistance to move about. The doctor said to bring her in right away, but after a two-hour wait we took her straight to the Gladstone General Hospital where she was admitted; the tumbling had turned to muscular spasms when she drifted off to sleep. Her neck was stiff when she was first admitted though we weren’t aware of this.
It was a factor which haunted me through her confinement. By day and night she had violent muscular spasms when sleeping – at regular short intervals gradually dying out to half hour periods and then later to none. The doctor gave her a lumbar puncture and said he believed it might be meningitis. The doctor said when she entered the hospital, “a few more hours and it would have been useless to take her in”. At times the spasms were so violent that she would be up on her knees. When I said, “It’s okay, Janis” or “it’s alright”, she would immediately lie down and go off to sleep. She also had bad coughing spells when she brought up thick discharges from her throat. Without someone constantly there to wipe this out of her throat I believe she would have died in the early stages of her illness. I stayed with Janis day and night, leaving her side around 11 p.m. that same night to give birth to my next child. Her condition worsened; we were at a loss to know what was wrong.
The first day, she received 500 c.c. saline intravenous solution; no foods, also second day, 3rd and 4th day 1,000 c.c. As it was necessary to find veins it became increasingly difficult to find a suitable spot in arm, wrist or foot and finally the fluid was injected into the tissues to prolong life.
By the 18th, after evening visiting hours, it became apparent that she was sinking fast. The doctor came in with a hypodermic for giving adrenalin to her heart. When he had finished looking to her immediate needs, he called another doctor – something in the saline solution was missing; they decided it could be potassium. They fed her eggnog through a tube via nose and throat, but once the potassium was administered she began to take on new life.
The doctors and nurses held a special meeting to consider whether Janis should go to King George Hospital, Winnipeg. Janis was eventually diagnosed with bulbar poliomyelitis, and as the iron lung wasn’t necessary it was decided to keep her in Gladstone. As the doctor said “In there she would be one among many, but in Gladstone she was a pretty important young lady”.
Janis was recovering - first a step, then a few steps until finally after 18 days she was able to come home. She lost 7 lbs during her stay, her throat was weak and her nerves were bad but we still had our daughter. Mary E. Watson
Janis has no residual ambulatory issues, but is extremely sensitive to cold temperatures, has difficulty sleeping, experiences shallow breathing and weakness in her vocal chords.
Janis is currently a member of the Post-Polio Network MB Inc., volunteering on the telephone committee, calling other members on a regular basis to say hello, answer any questions, and inform of upcoming events. (April 2015)