PART 2: "I WAS STRUCK DOWN BY POLIO"

October 29, 2012 

Jan. 24, 1956

(Editors note: This is the second of five articles by the 24-year-old newsman for The Columbus Ledger who covered the Salk vaccine developments last summer and fall and then, ironically, was struck down by polio himself. Like yesterday's article this one was written at City Hospital some time ago. Lisby now is at the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation.)

By Carroll E. Lisby

"You had me worried for a while," the doctor said.

I had him worried! Does he really know how to worry? Do you? Have you ever been hit right in the pit of the stomach with a sledgehammer? Did you ever fall into a bottomless crevasse? Did you ever wake to find your limbs useless and a vague face staring down at you, murmuring something about spine-bulbar polio?

You really worry then. You wonder what is going to happen to you, but mostly you worry about your family if you've got a wife, a three-ear-old son named Gregory, a 14-month-old old daughter, Nina Beth, and another on the way.

Fate tricked me. It was a mean scheme. All summer long I had boned up on polio. As a reporter for The Columbus Ledger, I was made a sort of "polio editor." I was the newsroom expert on the vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk. I did a series of articles on it. But when the virus struck me, I didn't know what it was.

It was sort of like a professional snake handler, suddenly being turned on by one of his pet reptiles. I went on an assignment on the night of October 22, with a headache, chills and fever. That was it. I was playing with a gun and didn't know it was loaded.

Next day, my neck was stiff. I joked to my wife Mary, "Maybe I've got polio." She shushed. "You've been reading too much about it," she charged. I stayed in bed most of the day, then went to work on Monday. On Tuesday, I was back in bed and have been in one ever since.

I was feverish and my legs ached. Oh, how they ached! They took on a character all of their own - laying heavily on the bed as if they were two great bodies and the rest of me was just a minor attachment. Then sometimes they were the attachments and my arms and chest were huge - and hurting.

Thursday I was having difficulty in breathing. Each intake was a project - like pulling a bucket of water from deep in a well, getting it near the top and then having to make a Herculean effort to get it out. Friday I began to have deliriums.

Vaguely, I remember this exchange. I moved my eyes as best I could to Mary, there at the bedside.

"There's a dog in her," I informed her.

"I don't see a dog," she replied.

"Well," I explained. "I wouldn't have said anything about it except that he's about to get the cat."

We don't have a cat either.

Once Mary helped me to sit on the side of the bed, with feet dangling. I felt a tingling on them.

"There are ants on my feet," I announced.

Mary said there were no ants.

Three-year-old Greg, who surely is headed for the diplomatic service, came over and touched his fingers to my feet.

"I killed one, daddy," he said. "I got him."

The vindication was inordinately pleasing. I went to sleep.

All along, I thought I had influenza. So did my doctor. And so did a second doctor, called later when my regular physician was out of town. Polio often is mistaken for something else in its early stages.

My "flu" became progressively worse. Sedatives, pain tables, paregoric - nothing eased my suffering. Mary became desperate. We decided to call in another doctor. He came to our home at 2:15 p.m. I was in the hospital within 45 minutes.

They took a spinal tap. Frankly I didn't' know much that happened that day or the next. Senses returned and I heard the news, I felt it, too. The sledgehammer crashed into my stomach.

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