The sunlight streaming through the window woke me, and I blinked my eyes while I reached my arms up to stretch. Or, at least I tried. Then I remembered again, my arms don’t stretch. They hardly move. My eyes closed, searching for the dream I was in, where I was walking in a field of wildflowers, carrying my baby Catherine on my hip while feeling the wind in my hair. It was just a dream. How could I still forget? It had been years since I had been able to move my legs or arms. I called for my husband David to come help me.
I remember the day so clearly, every sensation of living in that moment. It was a cooler August day, with a slight breeze, so I hurried to get the baby down for a nap, and got the laundry to hang on the line. I loved the rhythm of hanging laundry. Push the line, clip one side, get a second pin while I pull the line to move it across, push the line again. I noticed that one of David’s church shirts was missing a button on the cuff, and made a mental note to add one later. Thankfully my handsome husband was feeling better, as he had been under the weather earlier in the week. I remember thinking that we must have more laundry that day than I had expected, as my shoulders started to ache before the pile was done. I shook out my arms and continued to hang the clothes of my family, while I hummed a happy tune.
As I completed the laundry, I realized that I was weary, wearier than I had maybe ever been. I decided, uncharacteristically, to lay down and rest while the baby slept. When I awoke, I knew I was not well. My mind went instantly to the young gal north of town who was sent to the hospital over in Missoula with a fever. We heard she had polio, which sounded serious, but we didn’t know much about it. “That girl has always been a bit sickly,” I reasoned, and figured we were young and strong with our lives ahead of us, and we’d be fine.
The next few weeks are a complete blur to me now. I don’t remember David taking me to hospital or the weeks I spent unaware of my surroundings. I do remember some of the six months I spent in the ‘iron lung’. It was claustrophobic and I found it difficult to relax and let it breathe for me, but I was willing to do anything to get home to my husband and baby girl. Sometimes sadness tugged at my ankles and questions would threaten to drag me down, but I fought back the best way I knew how. I prayed all day every day that God would save me from polio and let me live.
A man came in the room and roused me from my wander down memory lane. He seemed to know me, and something about him seemed familiar. Maybe he worked here? I asked him for a drink. He took the plastic cup from my bedside table and held the straw to my lips. He must have tipped the glass too far, and water ran onto the pillow. He told me to close my lips. I told him not to tip the cup so far. He smiled and held the straw to my lips again.
I rejoiced with every milestone I reached. The doctors said I’d never walk again, but oh, they didn’t know my spirit. They didn’t know how tough and independent I was. I eventually was able to sit in a chair. Using my shoulders, I could swing my arm up to a table or a counter. I strained my body to lurch my legs forward as I learned to walk in my braces. The supports reached to my thighs, with a hinge at the knee. After five long years in the rehabilitation facility, I was able to return home to my little family, with my husband and my daughter.
Things weren’t at all how I left them, but I was committed to rebuilding my family. My husband carried me from the car to the house, sweeping me up in his strong kind arms. It might have been romantic had it not been for the braces and my weak arms swinging at my sides. On second thought, maybe it was romantic anyway. He laid me in our bed, with a pillow propped behind my head, and removed my leg braces.
He would put those braces on and off for fifty years to come. He would get up early to do the chores with the animals, and then come in and get me up for my day. You’d think it was me that was the lucky one. And I was. But he needed me too. I threw my whole heart into contributing to our family. We realized early on that we needed to be a partnership if we were going to survive this life together.
At first my weak body felt so powerless. But then I remembered that I had a powerful voice, with a big heart, and could bring good things to this world. I used my voice to help others, to teach others, to encourage others. I used my heart to think of ways to bring joy, hope, and celebration to others.
I slumped in my chair and looked down at the ground, my mind slow and hazy. I was thirsty but I wasn’t sure where or how to get any water. My arms felt leaden. Something was terribly wrong with me. How long had I been this way?
Someone nudged my elbow and told me to sit up so I could eat. I didn’t want to eat. But, he insisted. I turned my head to avoid the spoon, and he got food on my cheek. I looked toward him, and saw an old man sitting by me, with a spoon in his hand, saying something about how I needed to eat. Who was he? Where was I? Tears came to my eyes and my head felt heavy as it hung forward.
“David,” a nurse called out. “That’s likely enough for today. You’d better get home, it’s a cold night out there. We’ll see you again tomorrow.”
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