It’s World Polio Day on 24 October and Horsham grandmother Christine Beet kindly shares her memories of polio – and some very lovely family photos.
When I was a small child in the 1950s, my older brother Paul and I had every childhood illness going. Mumps, measles, chickenpox, whooping cough – we had them all. When I was expecting my first child, I was told I’d also had Asian flu and German measles.
Despite our many illnesses, both Paul and I recovered from each infection at home and never spent any time in hospital. But that changed after two neighbouring children, also a brother and sister, were diagnosed with polio.
It was December 1955. I was only three and half years old, and Paul was six and a half. Mum had told him not to go round and play with them, but I think he still did! Polio affected the little boy, Clifford’s, arm and his sister Sue’s throat.
I spent just a couple of days in hospital and, although diagnosed with polio, I remained symptom-free. But Paul, whose leg was affected, was admitted to the general hospital near our childhood home in Woolwich on 11 December 1955 and only came home in mid-February the following year.
Paul had to walk up and down the hospital corridors with weights attached to his feet. Mum would visit every day – it was a bus ride away – but of course you couldn’t see or hold your child and everything you took in with you had to be sterilised. A boy in the bed next to Paul was in an iron lung. He’d played a lot of football and was told that, if you were very active, then more muscles would be affected.
When Paul came home, Mum had to massage his leg twice a day so the muscles regained their strength. She used to sit him up on the draining board!
Thankfully, neither Paul nor I suffered any lasting effects from having contracted polio. Sadly, our little neighbour Clifford was not so lucky: he didn’t get massaged, so he ended up with a withered arm.
It’s not till you have children that you become aware of what can go wrong. I would hate to live in a country where polio is still a threat. Having brought up three children, I’ve always said you should have immunisation when it’s available. Back in the 1950s these things were only just starting to be possible. Today I think we take it for granted, actually.
Action’s polio story…
Here you can find out more about Action’s polio story; thankfully, new cases of polio have been eradicated in the UK and worldwide levels have plummeted, with the number of endemic countries at an historic low – testament, in part, to the vision and determination of our founder, Duncan Guthrie.