Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Peggy was a farm girl who liked to square ...

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 Sunday morning.”

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