“Mommy….. Coleen threw up all down Daddy’s back and it is all over the rug,” I was running as fast as my five year old legs could carry me into my parent’s bedroom with the “yucky” news.
“Marion, can you call Dianne and tell her we aren’t going to be going out tonight. We can’t have her babysit because Coleen is burning up,” hollered my Dad from the living room.
My almost 3 year old sister, Coleen, had just barely gotten out of the hospital. She was quite the acrobat and had had gotten her large toe to her mouth and chewed off her big toenail. Several days later it became quite infected and she was admitted to one of our local hospitals for treatment.
The year was 1951. We didn’t know it then but it became known as “the year before the big epidemic”. Polio became a word to put fear in the hearts of many families. My little sister became the 4th diagnosed case of polio in Rochester that year. This little ball of energy, who dug a hole under the back yard picked fence and had run half way around the block at 18 months, was in a coma.
The little blond baby, who roller skated in the basement before she was two, had a raging fever that even the Mayo Clinic doctors couldn’t diagnose for a couple of weeks.
She was getting penicillin around the clock. My parents smuggled me in to see her because they didn’t know if she would live or die, still no diagnosis. They thought encephalitis and then she “woke up” from her coma.
We were coming to her room from down the hall and could hear her sobbing.
“Coleen, honey, what is the matter?” Mom picked her up out of her crib to comfort her crying.
It was then we heard the sobbed out story from my sister, who had been potty trained for months. Apparently she had to urinate and pushed her call light. No one came. More time passed and still no nurse. Coleen couldn’t hold it any longer and wet her bed. She was a very independent little tyke and incredibly humiliated by having to wet the bed. She began to cry loudly.
Finally, the nurse came in and changed the bed. She told my sister that if she didn’t quit crying, her mom and dad would never come to see her again.
This must have gone very deeply into my little five year old heart. Many years later, after changing majors in college about 3 times, that day came back to me in Technicolor. I had been majoring in Child Development and made a switch to nursing when those words of Coleen’s came back to haunt me. I wanted to be there for those sick children and make sure they never had to be threatened like my sister was.
She remained in the hospital nine months, but she lived. While other children skipped and rode their bicycles to school, I pulled my sister to class in our silver wagon. There were those who teased and taunted, but not for long.
Coleen has a “can do” spirit in that small body with the crippled legs. When I was eight, I got my first used bicycle. The folks told Coleen there were going to be some things that she just wouldn’t be able to do. Riding a bicycle was one of them.
As soon as they left the room she whispered in my ear “YOU can teach me how to ride that bike!”
Pretty soon we were out on the sidewalk. We fell down and began again. We got skinned knees and bruises. However, pretty soon Coleen could ride a bike by herself.
Then there was ice skating. The other girls helped hold her up in the “kick line”, she was able to be in the ice show. During practice she fell and knocked herself out. This time her big sister “told” the folks. I didn’t want something terrible happening, as a result of the head injury.
Some might say that polio robbed us of our childhood. It definitely made serious changes. At times we hated the polio, however, it drew my sister and me into a very close and loving relationship that continues to grow even today.
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