A Polio Survivor Story by Julian Swinstead

I was born June 1949 and contracted polio when I was about 2 years old and was sent to Escourt House for around 2-3 yrs.

My parents were poor and had five boys. They could only come and see me occasionally on weekends. When they did, Dad unscrewed a door from home and tied it to the roof of the Volkswagen Beetle. They would come and get me and strap me to the door on the roof (outside) for an outing. Later they got a bigger car and could slide me through the back windows (on a board) where my brothers would torment me.

I cannot remember anything much about that time. I was in plaster from the hips down, or so I have been told. Matron Macdonald at Escourt House told my parents she was experimenting with a new technique for handling polio which she had heard of from America. It involved NEVER allowing the affected limbs to be free of restraint — such as keeping them in plaster or calipers, especially overnight. NEVER allowing the bones to deform. Apparently my Dad said I was in great pain continually, and I do remember being put in the big bathroom at Escourt House (the empty bath) with the door shut, because I screamed so much. I do remember that that was very scary. But boy it must have worked. After leaving Escourt House I then wore callipers and attended the Adelaide Children’s Hospital for several years for therapy.

I apparently recovered despite a deformed left calf muscle and a leg that was measured as half an inch or so shorter than the other one. I managed to play A grade SANFL football for Central Districts and football in Melbourne for Port Melbourne. I was also active in many other sports including running, tennis, swimming etc. When I finished football (at age 32) I took up martial arts and have done that (seriously) for 30 odd years, as well as tennis, cycling, swimming and stand up paddling.

I have recently returned to Adelaide to live after 25 years away (Darwin). I had a period where I simply would run out of “juice” and my legs were sore. That was around 10 years ago. I had to pretty much give up karate kicks above hip height. However I have since decided “stuff it” and have resumed serious training. I have had a total knee replacement, ironically on my other leg. That also set me back as I had all sorts of warnings about not doing too much.

I now walk at a very fast pace around five kilometres at least every second day, interspersing that along the walk with challenging exercises, including push-ups, chin ups, squats, rowing and cycling; and stretching routines. I walk on unpaved areas wherever possible to exercise my ankles etc. and thick grass to force me to lift my legs. While my left calf muscle remains deformed (seriously under developed) I am feeling more and more comfortable in my fitness. I am also playing tennis again.

My orthopaedic guy says the other knee is going to have to be replaced, but at present it is fine.

That’s my story. Hope it is of interest to someone. If, for the purposes of research, you needed more information, my older brothers know much more about that time than I do. Although I have not spoken to them regarding this note, I am sure they would not mind speaking about it.