Part 1: 'I WAS STRUCK DOWN BY POLIO'

October 28, 2012 

You Dream the Devil is Chasing You and Your Legs Won't Move

(Editor's note: Reporter Carroll E. Lisby became the "expert" in poliomyelitis for The Columbus Ledger last summer, writing several articles on the disease and the Salk vaccine. Ironically, he was struck down by polio shortly after his articles were published. This is his own story, this first chapter having been written several weeks ago in City Hospital. The reporter since has gone to the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation.)

You walk along and walk along from toddling days and you never see that fine wire you tread until you fall off it. On either side are the threats and dangers that were there all along and wonder, Well, how did I come this far?

Up to now, the terrible things happened to the other fellow. A man drowns in a New England flood, dies on an Ohio highway or is crushed in an Arkansas tornado. Sometimes across town, or maybe even in the next block, there is tragedy. But not for you.

When it comes, at first you don't believe it. It is a monstrous joke, or a feverish fantasy. Close your eyes, say your prayers, think pretty thoughts and it will all go away. It has to, because it isn't real. But it doesn't, and it is.

My tragedy is poliomyelitis. The dictionary defines it as "inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord." It is sometimes called infantile paralysis, but more often "polio" and we associate it with little children. But I am a grown man.

There are hundreds of strains of polio, several of the crippling kind. It is caused by a virus, and in the last few years more has been found out about it than in the last few centuries. Why it struck me, they don't know. Nor do I.

I really want to tell this story, my story, I am not vain. I suppose you would call me self-effacing. Around the office where I worked, I guess I was considered shy. But I want to tell the story because it is my job. I should do it. I am a newspaper reporter.

Even here on my bed, in physical pain and mental anguish, I can see that there is some drama to the story, and also some humor. Perhaps I can entertain you. But the main purpose is to inform. You walk that tight wire, too, and you might misstep. Bear with me.

I am 24 years of age, married. We have two children. The third is expected in May. Mary and I were in love from first sight -- at least I was. We went to school together and married there -- the University of Alabama. Everything, we've done together. I guess we even think alike, and some say we're even beginning to look alike. She's here by my bed now.

"Have you had your bath yet?" she asks.

"Two already, and the third one coming up." I answer. "I'm the cleanest man in the hospital."

She laughs, but I know it's hard. How can you laugh when you've got two children under four, and another on the way, and your husband is bedded with paralytic polio, the use of two legs and one arm gone?"

Is this some commonplace thing? Is a breadwinner supposed to go to bed and be imprisoned there by his own muscular helplessness for months on end? Isn't a man supposed to be at home at night, walking back to the kitchen, maybe helping with the dishes, and bouncing his young ones on his knee?

You can't get hilarious about polio. Still, there's no harm in a quip or two. You've got to keep up the morale of your visitors. They look so sad. So tell a joke during the day and be cheerful. Night will come, and then you'll have that dream again -- that familiar old nightmare; the very devil is after you and you struggle and strain to run, and your legs won't move.

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