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In the 15th Century Marsilio Ficino put it this way, "CONVIVIUM is the demonstration of love and splendor, the food of good will, the seasoning of friendship, the leavening of grace, and the solace of life."  He was the head of the Florentine Academy, which in its day was clearly not simply an institute of learning, but a living community of friends.  That is my hope for this simple space.  WELCOME!

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Tuesday
Apr222014

JOURNAL

THE LAST LIVING POLIO PATIENT

John Winn

(This is a work in process.  Any suggestions regarding

content and readability are appreciated.  If you

missed the first chapter, go to LAGNIAPPE.)

II.

SHRINER’S HOSPITAL FOR CRIPPLED CHILDREN

Shreveport, LA

 

          It was like a merry-go-round in my head.  The memory is still vivid.  It just went round and round and I felt dizzy and like I was going to fall off.  There were bright lights on the merry-go-round.  I could even hear merry-go-round kind of music, you know, organ sounding, repetitive, not real, but canned.  And my head ached. I smelled funny.  My mouth was dry.  I remember the smell and the dryness---and the pain, my right ankle hurt something awful.  Then, except for the pain, it would all disappear; only to return as if controlled by some cue.  Each time it returned my mouth would feel even drier than it had before.    

 

          Nothing like this had ever been a part of my experience before.  Somehow I knew I was experiencing a bad dream, but it seemed too real to be a dream, especially the pain in my right ankle.  After what seemed like “forever” I began to hear a voice.  It was a woman’s voice.  Up to that point, I felt very alone.  Nobody was in the dream and nobody was real. 

 

          She was trying to be comforting, speaking softly, stroking my brow.  She was real.  Two things kept entering my mind then.  One was my Dad’s last words to me as he and Mother left me at Shriner’s Hospital.  He said, “John Murray, you are going to have to be a little man now.”  We were alone in the Exam Room.  Mother had left the room, because she could not stop crying.  She had held it together until Doctor Durham told her I would be separated from them for  probably four to six months.  I realized that phrase, “be a little man, be a little man, be a little man,” had been circulating in my head just like that merry-go-round.

 

          The other thing I remembered was that I was thirsty, so thirsty.  I asked if I could have a drink of water.  The voice said, No, that it would make me nauseous.  Then she said, “Let me rub some ice on your lips and put a few small pieces in your mouth.”  I tried to describe the merry-go-round to her.  She simply said, “Yes, Yes,” like she understood and that it was OK.  It did not seem OK.

 

          How long had it been?  How long had I been on that merry-go-round?  I was slowly beginning to come out from under the ether they had used to put me to sleep.  I had only been in the hospital a few weeks.  That was the day of my first surgery.  I learned it would be very difficult to “be a little man.”

+++

 

          It was not all “fun and games” like that at Shriner’s Hospital.  Recovery from the initial trauma of the surgery came sooner than I initially thought it would.  The day after I was returned to the ward from the recovery room I was allowed to have a few sips of clear soup.  In a few days most of the pain had subsided. 

 

          I was making friends with the long-legged casts that enveloped both legs from my toes almost to my hips.  Little by little I was gaining mobility.  By that I mean I could move from one end of the bed to the other, could use the bed pan and urinal on my own, could roll over, could get things I needed from the “stand” next to my bed where a wash basin, wash cloth, utensils for brushing teeth, tin cup, and other personal items were kept.  In short, I was becoming acclimated to my new physical limitations.

 

          The experience of having gone “UP,” as having surgery was called had finally made me feel like I was “one of them,” like I had made a significant next step toward “getting well,” as had all the other boys on the ward.  It was referred to as going “UP,” because we had to ride the elevator to the second floor to get to the operating room.  Relatively speaking, it was my “red badge of courage.”  So I was elated when a janitor and a nurse came to my bed to move me from the ward to the adjacent sun room.  It was like a promotion!

 

          This happened on a Saturday.  Someone had sent balloons to all the patients and we were having a great time.  I was on the “Little Boys Ward,” because I was only six years old.  I did not know how old you had to be to go the “Big Boys Ward.”  There were usually twelve of us in each ward, another four or five in the sun room, and another six on the porch, which was utopia. 

 

          It was not a large space, just room for four beds, one in each corner.  When the hospital was crowded another bed would sometimes be placed in the aisle formed at the foot of the four beds. Besides the coziness of the area and the fact that you could really get to know the other three patients, the great attraction to the sun room was its many windows.  It was a gorgeous fall day when they moved me there and the sun was literally bursting through the windows.

 

          Almost immediately we began batting the balloons back and forth to each other.  Before long, all four of them were on the floor, under my bed, in fact.  To show what a “master” I had become in reaching from my bed to the floor, a maneuver that was frowned upon, actually forbidden, by the nurses, I volunteered to retrieve the balloons.  I knew we did not want to delay our game by having to wait for a nurse to have the time to come get them for us. 

 

          So, I carefully braced myself by placing my hand on the wall adjacent to my bed and moving it slightly so I could reach down to the floor to retried the balloons.  What I did not know was that the nurse and janitor who had moved me to the sun room had failed to lock the brakes on the wheels to my bed.  Before I knew it the bed had rolled quickly from under me as I was on the floor, long-legged casts and all!  There was both gasp and laughter from the other three boys in the room---I am sure it was a funny sight.  I urged them not to call a nurse and tried to lift myself back into the bed.  That effort was futile.  I had been physically inactive too long and still weak from the surgery.  I had to acquiesce and asked my compatriots to literally call a nurse, in those days there were no buzzers or bells to be used for summoning.