Polio in my life – a story by Terry Haighton

It was 1946 and the war was finally over. The family had moved from London to Essex and I attended the local primary school.

One day we were supplied with a form to take home for our parents to sign, it was to advise them that with the onset of polio, the whole school was to be vaccinated, and they were required to sign the application giving their permission. With the knowledge that in the past I always had a bad reaction to any form of injection, my mother was naturally concerned.

The following day a meeting was arranged with the headmaster. My mothers’ concerns were discussed with him, whereupon the headmaster suggested he contact the Health Department for further information to allay any fears my mother had. Fears were allayed when it was explained that all problems would be dealt with by the attending nursing staff.

The day arrived for the vaccinations and being rather wary, I hung back and ended up being the last student to be vaccinated. By sheer coincidence, it was at this time a fresh pack of vaccine was opened, but after the procedure nothing seemed to be amiss.

It was shortly after I arrived home that I started to have a bad headache, this combined with feeling ill, so straight away my mother suggested I prepare for bed. This was while she heated some milk and honey for me to drink after taking some aspirin for the headache. I was put to bed with these words from my mother, “sleep tight, everything will be fine in the morning,” how prophetic these words were.

Upon waking in the morning, the first thing I realised was that I could not move my left arm or left leg. In fact the whole left side of my body appeared to me, as a child, that it was asleep and numb. I screamed and my mother ran into the bedroom totally alarmed at what was happening.

The next couple of days were sheer panic. It involved many visits from our doctor, the school headmaster, followed by representatives from the health department. After numerous tests, my parents were advised that my body had reacted violently to the vaccine. I now had a form of infantile paralysis, as it was called at that time, or more formally known as polio. As the war had only recently ended, there was not the equipment available that I needed.

I ended up being home schooled for nearly a year, thanks to my mother who organised it all. I also had home therapy from a physiotherapist from Monday to Friday. Having always been a very active child in sports and dancing, I was more than willing to cover all the exercises given to me by my physiotherapist.

My mother refused hospital treatments, always using natural methods of healing where possible. And so it was that massage became the normal treatment for me, which was administered by my mother and the physiotherapist she employed.

This was not unusual in my family, with five living children, as more than once treatment by my mother had superseded anything the doctor had prescribed. For example, mum would treat serious chest coughs with snake venom on a cube of sugar, this never failed.

When two of my brothers’ went down with the measles, it was the brother treated at home who recovered exceptionally well, while the brother who was taken to hospital, arrived home with damaged eye sight, despite my mothers’ objections to where and how he was being treated. The doctor and health authorities, were equally amazed at my recovery in how, over a period of twelve months, I managed to get back on my feet.

Unfortunately with polio there is never a 100% success in recovery. The residual for me was a weakness on my left side, creating a walk that could be easily recognised by colleagues. While at work when walking along a corridor, it was the hard and soft fall of my feet which announced my arrival.

With my own determination and strength of mind, I have managed to lead a very active school and work life. Marriage in 1957 produced three children, this was a pure miracle in itself, considering that after my accident as a child, while having a pillow fight with my sister, I jumped off the bed, but not far enough, as I came down on top of the decorative brass balls, which in turn smashed through to my womb.

I was once again paralysed from the waist down. This meant a session for several months in a borrowed pram, while I was recuperating. There were no wheelchairs available at that time, with the war having just recently come to an end.

The prognosis from the family doctor being, “this young lady will never be able to carry a child, her injuries are too severe.” That was later proved wrong by the birth of my three children.

Although each birth was traumatic, the first in fact totally draining me and causing several problems, I managed to overcome each set back.

When pregnant with my second child, I was advised that the foetus had died in the womb, therefore I was not accepted for treatment in the antenatal clinic and treated as an outpatient in the hospital. I was then given the choice of having the foetus aborted at 5 or 7 months, this timing being the best for the delivery.

My mother, who came with me to see Miss Calvely, my gynaecologist, was totally shocked at this suggestion. I must say so was I. I then insisted that I go through full time with the pregnancy feeling that while the child was I my womb, it was safe. I was then advised that my baby would be born black having deteriorated after death within the womb.

At the end of my pregnancy term, my daughter was delivered safely, only weighing 3 lb 4 oz., but alive and well. My third child, a son, was born with the cord around his neck, which caused a lot of concern. I also haemorrhaged badly and became extremely ill.

Consequently I now have three heart problems, a hole in the heart, a heart murmur, together with a rapid heart beat, not as my heart specialist quoted, having a four piece quartet, but a full orchestra playing.

As a consequence, having polio as a child, has remained and still is a problem in my life. Only my own discipline with exercise and healthy eating has been the one positive.

It is by trial and error that certain medications can be of assistance, having many allergies I have to ensure that anything new is thoroughly checked before I am able to use it. One medication being extremely useful is magnesium for leg cramps.

I do consider myself lucky in having a forward thinking mother, for without her everything would have been a lot harder to accept.

Thank you to my mum, for all of your love and hard work.