What Polio Did To My Dad

Pathogens don’t care why we don’t protect ourselves from them. They just prefer it that we don’t.

Polio has returned to America. I agree with the Washington Post: that’s a tragedy. Anti-vax mania literally is going to begin killing people. In droves. Where polio’s concerned, the past is prolog. 70% of people will survive polio just fine; they’ll experience minor symptoms if anything. But, 30% of us won’t get off so lightly. Polio did terrible things to my dad. This is not a pathogen you want to screw with. You certainly don’t want it inside your body.

Salk It To Me!

Having been born in 1959, I got the Salk Vaccine. Polio cannot harm me. I am grateful because I saw firsthand what polio can do to a person and to that person’s life. Polio infected my dad when he was four years old. Though he recovered from the worst of the disease, he could never forget he’d had polio. That’s what polio really did to my dad. It reminded him everyday that they had a relationship. Polio would forever be part of his life.

Polio deformed my dad’s left leg. It remained shrunken his whole life. But, a shrunken left leg wasn’t the end of things between polio and my dad. Turned out polio was even meaner than we thought.

Pathogens like poliomyelitis are soulless clots of RNA. They see human bodies as cheap sex hotels where they breed, turning our cells into them. They’re sex workers who need us way more than we need them. Back in the 1920’s, polio was a scourge. It’s easily communicable. Without any defense (like a vaccine), polio rolls through human populations like a wild fire through dry brush.

When Polio Strikes

As I said, most of us will experience mild symptoms similar to a flu. But if, like my dad, you contract polio paralytic syndrome, your ride’s going to be terrible. The flu like symptoms get company:

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe muscle aches or weakness
  • Loose and floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis)

My dad’s relationship with polio began when he was four. Now, here’s the kicker. My dad didn’t “get” polio, someone literally gave it to him. Back before the Salk Vaccine took polio off the infectious disease table, various different researchers suggested various different polio vaccines. Most flopped or proved unworkable.

The Disease Of “Best Intentions”

The Salk vaccine worked using dead poliomyelitis but other, earlier researchers experimented using live virus. My father grew up in an upper middle class Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia in the 1930’s and 1940’s. My grandfather was a physician – a dermatologist. In his wide circle of friends (all of them Jewish, most of them physicians), a few were doing polio research. They’d developed an experimental vaccine (using live virus) and wanted to test it out. My grandfather volunteered my father and his brother Horace.

Alas, the experimental vaccine did the opposite of what was expected. Rather than preventing polio, the vaccine gave polio. My dad spent most of being a five year old in a wheelchair. But, polio couldn’t cow my grandmother Eleanor. She wouldn’t let polio cow my dad either.

Polio Be Damned!

Despite the fact that polio did terrible things to my dad and my uncle, Eleanor showed her sons minimal pity. My dad was sent to sleepaway camp from age 6. While he couldn’t play all the sports, the camp accommodated him as best they could. Dermatology didn’t interest my dad but surgery did. So, he became a general surgeon and had a terrific career. But the polio attended every surgery my dad ever did.

Most surgeons stand on two legs as they work. My dad stood mostly on one leg – his uninfected right. Over the course of his career, that deeply impacted his right hip – the good one. In time, that hip, having absorbed so much torque, failed. My dad realized in one fell swoop that his days being a surgeon were over. Polio did terrible things to my dad.

My dad had an advantage over many male physicians who are forced to retire early. Most (at least back then) had no interests outside of their work. That meant when they retired, they’d retire having nothing to do. Except stress out and have a heart attack.

Post Polio Syndrome

My dad had photography and sailing. Those two things saved his life. But they couldn’t spare him from polio – or polio’s twisted half sister, “post polio syndrome”. To my dad, post polio meant more muscle weakness (in his lower back) and a complete intolerance of cold. It meant fatigue, muscle-wasting, non-stop pain and sleep issues.

Polio marked every day of my dad’s life. It should never have happened.

Polio’s back in America. That shouldn’t have happened either. “In July, an unvaccinated 20-year-old man residing in Rockland County, N.Y., was diagnosed with polio, which resulted in paralysis in his legs. He hadn’t traveled abroad during the presumed exposure period, which means he contracted the virus locally.” It gets worse: “Poliovirus has since been found in wastewater in both Rockland and neighboring Orange County, as well as in New York City.”

Je-sus! Polio is pumping through our pipes already!

Anti-vaxers have a virus all their own. It’s attacked their brains and robbed them of the ability to reason. What polio did to my dad, anti-vaxers are about to do to America.

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