Greg Won't Admit His Daddy Is Ill, Says: Daddy Is In The Hospital Getting Well

October 31, 2012 

I have long legs. I am a six-footer. Walking gets to be like breathing -- you take it for granted, seldom think of the miraculous way your extremities hold you up and through a maze of coordinated nerves and muscles transport you about. Think about it. I never had before. That small, almost imperceptible movement that day was more thrilling than if I had won a 100-yard dash in the Olympics.

In the following weeks, I proudly reported each new movement to the doctor, my wife and just about everybody else I saw. I was using my fingers and arms more and more; I could feel myself. And after an interminable procession of days and nights, and bleak thoughts, I could sit up in a wheel chair.

I'll never forget the final time I tried sitting up. With the wheel chair standing beside the bed, an orderly took me under the arms and the nurse took my feet. They lifted me into the chair -- and bent me. My hips were pretty stiff from the weeks in bed and didn't bend very much. But after several days of twice-daily periods in the chair, the stiffness worked out.

I was a week out of isolation when the doctor permitted my children to visit me. Three-year-old Greg was glad to see me and kept hugging me. Nina Beth, 14 months old, would have nothing to do with me. I finally won her over in later visits by riding her in my wheel chair.

Greg never admitted that I was sick. He put it this way: "Daddy is in the hospital getting well."

A most welcome visitor was the barber. It had been two months since I had a hair cut when he came one night. He said he had been working all day but hadn't cut off as much hair in several hours as he did me in a few minutes. Hair grows and life goes on.

Out there beyond the hospital windows life goes on. You think about this, and wonder who will be the next victim of polio. And how many will be saved from this tragedy by the Salk vaccine. You think about the vaccine and the "experting" you did in a series of newspaper articles on it. We owe a lot to monkeys.

Here is a simplified explanation of the vaccine. Monkey kidneys are minced and a solution on which they will feed is added. The tissues break up into cells and multiply on the chemicals. Then the cells are inoculated with polio virus. The cells burst and produce a fluid, and this is the basic ingredient of the vaccine. As with other inoculations, the idea is to give one a little of the disease so that the system will build up resistance to it.

You think about how kind fate has been. When the success of the vaccine was announced, I thought, Well, now I can drop my polio insurance. Indeed, I did let it lapse. But for some reason, I paid the premium. A visitor remarked: "Why you are the only person in the world I know of who had polio insurance!" I guess I'm just lucky.

Another visitor was my editor. He had been conspiring with Mary. One day, he said, "I've got an assignment for you." At first I wondered about this, but he looked normal. The assignment was to write these articles, and he brought me a dictating machine. I like newspaper work. I am enthusiastic about it. But never was an assignment more welcome! It gave me something to do. More luck.

This was after I had been in the hospital several weeks. About then I began suffering from upset stomach and loss of appetite. My doctor diagnosed the disorder as "hospitalitis." He said it is common to long-term patients, and even to interns and other hospital workers. The food is bland.

They let me go home for Christmas dinner and it was delicious, but best of all was being with the children and watching them play with their toys. And tomorrow I leave the hospital again -- this time, I hope, for good. My next article will be written from Warm Springs. I have learned how to move my feet in the baths and to raise my left foot. My doctor says I might be able to walk some months from now with a brace on my left leg.

I have always thought Warm Springs a wonderful place. Now I know how wonderful it is going to be. There I am going to learn all over again how to walk. And when I do, I might even walk the whole 37 miles back to Columbus.

Editor's note: This is the fourth of five articles by a 24-year-old reporter for The Columbus Ledger who covered the Salk vaccine developments last summer and was struck by polio himself. In yesterday's article, he found he was able to move his right leg slightly, and wanted to shout. This article was written some time ago at City Hospital. Lisby is now at the Warm Springs Foundation, where he wrote the fifth and concluding article, to be published tomorrow.

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