Recently, my wife asked me to read an article in the June, 2012 magazine entitled Realsimple (pp. 169-172) about a woman named Ann Lee Hussey. She contracted polio in her childhood leaving her with a number of side effects that she still experiences at the age of 58. Despite the pain she experiences daily, she’s made a number of trips to “rugged and dangerous places” throughout the world immunizing as many children as possible against the virus which causes paralysis and even death. It was truly a moving and amazing story about a woman who would not allow her infliction to interfere in her life’s dream and work.
Reading this reminded me of someone whom I knew who also had polio as a child of eight long before Sister Kenney or Jonas Salk entered the scene with their therapies and vaccines. Her name was Josephine but was called “JoJo” or “Jo.” She was placed in a facility called the Crippled Children’s Hospital and strapped into her bed because the belief, then, was that the patient should be immobilized. This was contrary to what was established later on when it was realized that this practice resulted in muscle atrophy so that the best course was to exercise rather than immobilize. She spent three years in that facility with her family visiting as often as possible. She was taught to walk with the aid of braces connected to specially made shoes that locked in place so that her knees would not give out resulting in a fall.
As she grew into her adolescence, she became more mobile, despite the constant pain that she suffered, and soon the braces were not necessary anymore. She attended regular schools including a private high school. She was extremely imaginative and was able to draw (she called it doodling) beautiful pictures … especially the faces of famous people. She had a tremendously positive attitude, an infectious laugh and a philosophy that centered around her saying “And this too shall pass.” Although she was looked upon by many people as being different or an invalid, she considered herself to be normal. She always strove to be independent despite the attempts of some family members to keep her in a dependent position because of her handicap.
As an adult, she started a business selling cosmetics which she did by making appointments in her home. When her pain and the returning atrophy disenabled her from continuing, she began to venture out into the world through the auspices of organizations that gave people with handicaps a chance to earn a living. She would be picked up and dropped off at the facility and return home after a day’s work. as she grew older, her condition worsened as is usually the case with most polio victims. She was pretty much confined to her bed and was only able to get up with the aid of a Hoyer Lift which placed her in a wheelchair. Her arms and legs became more flacid and it even became difficult for her to feed herself.
Her primary caregiver, her mother, deceased when she was in her early 40s and because of her needing 24/7 intensive care she was placed in a nursing home facility. Her initial adjustment to this change was very difficult but, in time, she began to acclimate to her fate. Visits by her family, especially her nieces and nephews, seemed to buoy her spirits. Although she was even more incapacitated by her condition, she became the voice for those who “had no voice”… those people who were being abused by some staff members. Her staunch support for these people would often bring down the wrath of other staff members who felt threatened by her mission. By the same token, she was revered by most of the other patients as well as staff members who understood her value to the facility and the true nature of her motivation.
She died peacefully after spending over 20 years in that facility. Her wake brought hundreds of people to pay their respects including many of the professional and non-professional staff members of the nursing home facility. She lived with the pain that she had experienced ever since the age of eight but still was able to maintain her dignity as a person, not as an invalid. Her words, “And this too shall pass” ring loudly in my mind when going through difficult times. She was my heroine. She is my beloved sister.
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.