A Life Revised

by Fredson Bowers, GBPPA Member

It was December, 1953 and I had just returned from a job interview with a New York bank. I wasn't feeling well and my back had been painful for two days. My mother called the doctor who came and immediately suspected polio when he had to help me stand up. An ambulance was summoned, and I was carted off to the VA Hospital in Jamaica Plain where tests confirmed that I did indeed have polio.

My breathing deteriorated along with everything else and the next morning I was placed in an iron lung, completely paralyzed from the neck on down. I spent the next few days experiencing hallucinations from the high fever. From the vantage point of forty-five years later, some of these are quite humorous. I thought that I was being attacked by little people called Ooglies and the nurse (bless her) spent her night shift opening portholes in the iron lung and pretending to throw them out. I believed that there was an atomic bomb outside the hospital ready to explode. I also thought that I was a turkey and being eaten. I remember vividly my bones being thrown into a garbage pail, the lid being lowered and someone sighing, "Too bad, too bad".

Within a couple of weeks my breathing had improved to the point where I was removed from the iron lung, but I still could not move a muscle. Time began to pass, my contracted muscles were stretched and exercised by the physical therapist, and I began to gain some movement. I graduated to a wheelchair by the spring of 1954, and would sit by the window looking out at a world that had become foreign to me. People would come from that world and spend time with me, then disappear again. The hospital had become my universe. Until I met my future wife, Barbara, that is. She was a secretary in the fiscal division, and we met out on the patio where she was having lunch with the secretary on my ward. I immediately forgot all about my former fiancee who had pulled the plug on me several months earlier.

I finally graduated to Canadian crutches and was deemed worthy of discharge from the hospital some thirteen months after onset of the original disease. Barbara and I continued to keep company and, to compress the narrative a bit, I landed a job in insurance, we married and raised six fine children.

I had made an excellent recovery, except for the complete lack of quadriceps so that I could not bend my knees without having them collapse. There matters stood until some twenty-five years later when I began to experience weight loss and muscle weaknesses, symptoms of a condition shortly to become known as post-polio syndrome. A few years later I attended the second meeting of a group which would eventually become our own GBPPA. I remember becoming rather disheartened by the story of a woman who went from a full time job to a wheelchair in five years (not a typical post-polio situation, but nobody knew that then), and saying to Barbara, "I don't really think that I need the group." I skipped the next meeting but then I thought, "Well, maybe the group needs me." I attended the fourth meeting and have been hanging around ever since trying to make myself useful.

At present, I cannot lift my left arm at all and my right arm only part way. My back and legs have become weakened so that outside the house I need a cane for short distances and a rolling walker for longer excursions. I plan for the future but don't worry about it, because worrying takes energy and I don't have any to spare. Would I have had it any other way? Absolutely not! I have a wonderful wife and family, great friends in the post-polio group, my general health is good and I can still make myself useful to others.

Sometimes one is fortunate to see the hand of God in one's life. Without the polio, I would have had an entirely different family, career and life. For me, the hand of God was polio.

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