My Polio Story – Karen (Wade) Potts
I am now 57 years old and got polio in 1957 when I was 6 months old. In 1957, the polio shot wasn't given until babies were 6 months old. My family took me to West Virginia to show me off to their parents and when I came home, I got sick. I thank God that I still have my Mother so I could ask her about what happened.
My Mother shared that my sickness started with a fever and I cried all night. She said even touching me caused me to cry. My parents took me to the doctor and he said I was cutting teeth and they sent me home. After I wouldn't stop crying, Dr. Joseph told them to take me to Ziegler Hospital on Michigan and Livernois and they diagnosed Polio. I was then sent to Harper-Grace Hospital where I was in isolation and Mom and Dad had to look at me through a window. I was the youngest child there. I spent a year (and my first birthday – sad picture) in the hospital. They were able to take me home on weekends, and she remembered I had a bar connecting the bottom of my shoes that I hated. It was so hard on them to leave me there every Sunday. She said that the nurses used the Sister Kenny method of wrapping hot wool blankets and exercised my weak left leg; the nurses weened me at 9 months old using suckers, and the nurses gave me my first haircut. It was very hard for Mom to remember, being 78 now, but I told her I appreciated the pain of trying to recall those days.
My earliest memories are found in lots of pictures, being the first-born child, of my little white brace that I got when I was around 2 or 3 years old. My polio is in my left leg, and the muscles are weak and atrophied. Back then, the brace and shoe were one piece and the shoe was one of those ugly BROWN high-top boots (I now realize the boot was to stabilize my ankle). But the brace made me able to walk and I grew up a happy child in the city of Detroit, close to Michigan and Central Ave. I climbed our cherry tree in our backyard, usually beating my brother to the top. I rode a bicycle, played at the park, and had friends on the block. I remember the nice German man that made my braces when I was little – can't remember the office name but it was on Michigan Ave and Oakman in Dearborn.
Mom drove me to see Dr. George Pendy at the Rehabilitation Institute for my polio care at least once a year. I had to get a lot of leg braces made to keep up with my growth. Dr. Pendy recommended a surgery to put a pin in my good right leg to stop it from growing so my left leg could catch up. That was my first surgery and it worked! My Mom said she collected dimes for the March of Dimes since they were very helpful with expenses when I was little.
My Mom and Dad didn't talk about my polio (maybe on purpose so I wouldn't dwell on it?). They treated me like I wasn't any different from my brother, who was born when I was 2 years old. My whole life, I've grown up being able to do anything I wanted, except run!
At age 5 in 1962, I started Kindergarten at Oakman School in Detroit on Wadsworth Street. It was a special school for handicapped children, and I was better off than most of the kids in the school. Some of them were in wheelchairs, some just looked different and I wasn't sure what kind of medical problems they had, but we became friends and had a good time. If anyone reading this attended Oakman School from 1962-1967, please email me! I have some pictures from back then I'd love to share. I was there until 5th grade and the riots in Detroit forced my Dad to flee Detroit, so we moved to Dearborn Heights. I got double-promoted to 7th grade before leaving Oakman.
I was finally able to attend a regular school in 7th grade and we walked to school (about 3 blocks) and home every day. I was a straight-A student for the most part, never in trouble, played the flute in high school, attended band camp, and was in the marching band! I couldn't march on the field so I got to announce during the half-time show! That was fun! They say people with polio are type-A personalities and I thoroughly fit that mold! I graduated from Taylor Center High School in 1974. There was another girl in my class (Sandy) that had polio also and we were friends all through school. I took a Civil Service test in my senior year and scored the highest (who remembers a “block” class that taught typing, filing, short-hand and mimeographing :)? Three months after graduation I got a call from the IRS Personnel office offering me a job (sight-unseen, I might add) as a Clerk-Typist, grade 3. My ever-wise Dad counseled me to stay with the Federal Government, even though I had gone to Carnegie Institute and became a Certified Medical Assistant in 1975 after attending school during the day and working full-time for the Government on the afternoon shift.
I got married in 1976 and gave birth to my baby girl, Michelle, in 1980. My Dad (according to my Mom) never thought I could have a baby due to the polio. He was very proud of his first Grand-daughter, showing her off at every opportunity. Unfortunately, he died before she was 2 years old. He was the rock of our family, almost ready to retire from the General Motors Fleetwood plant on Fort Street and I-75, but he died of a massive heart attack at age 49. Because of his death at that early age, I have taken great care of my health and see doctor(s) when necessary.
In 1982 before my Dad passed away, I broke my “good” right leg above the knee because of oil on the parking garage at work. I had the best Orthopedic Dr. at Detroit Receiving Hospital – Dr. Little! He put bars and screws in my leg to stabilize the bone and I was back to work in 8 weeks! Overuse of my good leg caused very painful osteo-arthritis in my knee and every step was painful. Unfortunately, in 2008, in preparation for a knee replacement on my good leg, I had the bar and screws removed and three weeks later, I passed out at work and my good leg hit my brace and broke it again! This started my journey with new doctors and blood clots. I was put on Cumadin, had blood transfusions and a Greenfield filter installed in my Vena Cava (big blood vessel taking blood up from the legs to the heart). I retired in December, 2011 after 37 years of Service and got my new right knee in March, 2012! I now walk pain-free! My husband was able to retire also!
I began seeing Mark Taylor at the UofM Orthopedic Center on Industrial Drive in Ann Arbor for my braces in 1994. Dr. Ann Laidlaw is my Polio doctor now (also at UofM). Mark also has polio and he and Dr. Laidlaw have been involved with the Polio Perspectives group. They are a great team and I am so happy that since 1994 I can wear regular shoes that match! That may seem like a little thing to most people, but I wore those clunky brown high-tops for 38 years and to be able to buy a regular pair of shoes is a blessing! Dr. Laidlaw diagnosed me a few years ago with Post-Polio Syndrome based on my wrists, shoulders and arm weakness that seem to get worse each year. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with her diagnosis, but there is nothing I can do to change it. I try not to overdo it to save my muscles.
I was remarried in 1995 to my soul-mate, David, and we have 5 children combined and ELEVEN grand-children! We bought 10 acres in Erie, MI as a retirement home and we are enjoying our retirement every day! I love gardening and have a large perennial garden, I love scrap-booking, I am a huge BIRDER and amateur photographer, and we LOVE attending Church at Abundant Life Ministries where we have been since 2012. In 2012, we bought a trailer and took off in January 2013 for 6 weeks to be “winter Texans” (not snow-birds :) in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas for an awesome birding vacation! Check out my new birds and butterflies from this trip, and other interesting birds, butterflies and bugs on my website birdladypottsnaturephotography.zenfolio.com! We will be taking off again in January 2014 and we are blessed to be able to go anywhere we choose (haven't decided yet!)! God has been good to me and my life hasn't been easy, but I know when I die that I will get a new body and won't need that brace any longer!
Karen (Wade) Potts