PART 3: 'I WAS STRUCK DOWN WITH POLIO'

October 30, 2012 

After the virus strikes, there is an "incubation" period in polio. There is no treatment except complete rest. You just wait and let the paralysis run its course. It's like crouching on a levee and watching floodwaters rise, not knowing how high they will go or how long the levee will hold.

I entered Columbus City Hospital and we waited, hoping it wouldn't spread farther. My legs already

were useless and my arms almost so. A sudden worsening of the paralysis affecting my breathing and circulation could bring death. Nurses watched over me constantly day and night in a room in which I was isolated from other patients.

It was, I learned later, something of a "death watch." An iron lung was kept outside my room -- just in case. Friends who called my doctor were told that my condition was crucial. It was three weeks before I got out of isolation -- on Thanksgiving Day, and never have I had occasion to be more thankful.

The paralysis had run its course. Now I could have visitors. Now I could relax -- as nearly as one can relax in my condition. My lungs were weak. The breathing was not hindered, but I couldn't get up enough air pressure to cough or sneeze. One day the ludicrous thought struck me: Just wait until next hay fever season, I'll laugh while the others sneeze.

You think a lot when bedded for months. After the incubation and isolation, the haze melts away and your thoughts spin like an old newsreel, recalling sights and things of other days. You played along the banks of the Tennessee at Florence as a kid. You had the measles, and that was just about the extent of your illnesses -- until now.

There were the days at Florence High, and you were valedictorian of your graduating class. You were proud to enter Florence State Teachers College a few days before your 16th birthday. Later there were several months at the University of Tennessee and a year at Alabama, a half year on the Florence Times, and then back to Alabama in 1951 to work on the master's degree.

You remember March 11, 1951. It was time to go to church and you had a car so a friend invited you on a double-date. He was with Mary, but not after that night. From then on, it was you and Mary. By May you were engaged, by August married. She called me "The Brain."

You both continue in school, but you work part-time on the Tuscaloosa News. Next year, it's the Decatur Daily, and then in 1954, you moved to The Columbus Ledger, you have started your family and your career is well begun. And then the sledgehammer hits you in the stomach.

But the thoughts weren't too bad. And the days were brightened by letters and cards. Some enclosed money. The local chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis offered you help on medical expenses. The Georgia Rehabilitation Service inquired of your needs.

Friends took care of the family. Several reporters went to our little brick cottage and raked leaves off the lawn. There were visitors in and out of my room. One day I noticed how odd hospital visitors act. They whisper when there's no need. They walk into the room as if eggs were scattered over the floor. They are ill at ease, solemn. On this day I wanted to shout and sing and laugh.

I had just moved my right leg! It was almost imperceptible. But it was movement!

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

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