Peggy was a farm girl who liked to square dance, hike and swim. And she was a
star guard on her high-school basketball team. She was also in love. One July
morning Peggy woke up not feeling very well. She got worse. Her doctor did
some tests and sent her to the hospital. A few days later it was determined
that the sick girl had polio. Crippling polio! This was before Jonas Salk and
others discovered how to prevent the dreaded disease, anterior poliomyelitis.
Not only was she finished with active sports and dancing, she probably would
never stand alone.
In a special program at a Kansas City Hospital, technicians taught her to
stand with the help of two leg braces and two arm crutches. Later they taught
her to shuffle along. She was expected to use two crutches and two long braces
for the rest of her life. But this spunky gal and her mother didn’t listen to
that kind of talk.
Peggy retuned to high school in October. She was having regular osteopathic
treatments, her mother rubbed and massaged those legs deeply, and Peggy came
to Christian College to swim. The first time I saw Peggy, her mother and
sister helped her up the steps and steadied her as she walked to the dressing
room. They pushed her in a heavy chair to the water’s edge. We helped her into
the water. How those eyes sparkled!
Holding to the pool gutter in waist-deep water, she pulled herself along. That
day she said, “I’m going to walk alone by Christmas.” I tried to hide the
hurt that was in my heart because her doctor had told me, “The exercise will
be good for her but those muscles are ‘fives’ and nothing will change that.”
“You should see us work at home,” Peggy said. “We bend and stretch and pull
my feet and legs. Mother does it, but I help a little.” One day Peggy said,
“I want get out early and try to get dressed by myself.” She wiggled and
squirmed from the pool, pulled her pitiful body along with her hands, like a
seal, across that wet tile floor to get to the dressing room, and she was
dressed and beaming that great smile when her mother returned.
Her next victory was to come up the outside steps alone. Then she left one
crutch at home strengthening muscles on first one side and then the other.
“I’m going to walk alone by Christmas,” she’d say. I began to believe that
she might eventually walk alone in years to come. She continued to amaze us,
leaving off one brace and alternating that, left and right. The college girls
in her class admired Peggy and were annoyed at the new little things she would
accomplish. One day she came with both crutches, leaving one brace at home.
She soon could alternate, left and right, on that, also. Peggy wanted to dance
and play basketball. And she was in love!
After the Christmas break, students chattered as they gathered for swimming
class. One fairly screamed, “Look, it’s that girl!” Peggy was entering the
room with no crutches or braces! We stood, silently and disbelieving, as Peggy
flashed the most triumphant smile I’ve ever seen. Without a word, she walked,
with a slight limp, to the dressing room to get ready for her swim.
Years later, I asked Peggy, “How have you been?” “Just fine.” She had
married, had a first-grade son and worked in an office in the Boone County
Courthouse. “Do you ever have any problems, from the polio?” I asked. “No
problems” she said. And then she quickly corrected that. “Well, yes, last
Saturday we were at the lake and we’d been skiing a lot. I was really tired on