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CMIRC Marks World Polio Day

On October 24, 2021, CMIRC marked World Polio Day in a low-keyed but impactful way by donating US$500 to the Polio Plus Fund of the Rotary International Foundation. The source of the funds were our 1Q raffle proceeds and I rounded out the difference with a personal donation. I know of at least one other club member who has a family member who was much more affected by polio, but I'd like to tell my story.

Some of us may remember that in the early days of polio vaccines, live virus was used in the vaccine. In the summer of 1960 my family lined up, along with the rest of the community, for our first sugar-cube dose.

We then went on a holiday to see family friends who lived on a farm without indoor plumbing (sort-of). As kids, we always loved visiting "Aunt Mary and Uncle John" on their farm although technically they weren't relatives. There was a water pump in the kitchen, barn and a few other locations. There was a room adjacent to the kitchen that served as a sort of bathroom, with a bathtub that drained grey water into their vegetable garden, a washstand and a commode for night use. Every morning the contents were emptied into their outdoor privy, which had a classic wooden seat and some sort of white powder that you sprinkled on your more offensive offerings.

Every evening the "menfolk", i.e. my father and Uncle John, showered in the barn where there was what today we'd call a solar hot water system, with a black water storage tank on the roof and a gravity-fed shower station in the barn. After showering, they'd hand-pump water into the tank for the next day's showers. I wonder what Uncle John did in the winter.

As for us children and the "womenfolk", bathing consisted of pumping water at the kitchen sink, heating it on the stove (it was gas; they did have gas and electric) and then mixing hot and cold water in the bathtub in the adjacent bathroom. Aunt Mary suggested that my brother and I bathe together to save on the amount of hot water to to be heated and carried. My brother was still in diapers.

As soon as my father came into the house after the womenfolk and children had finished their baths, he pointed out to my mom that this was a very bad idea, given we had just received live polio vaccines. I remember that for the rest of the visit, she had us stand up in the tub and did Thai-style ap nam, where she'd pour water over us, soap us up, and then rinse. No soaking or playing in the water.

But that one time of my poopie little brother and me soaking and playing in the bathtub was enough. We returned home and I started kindergarten. Within a week I fell ill with polio. Not wild polio, but circulating virus-derived polio. This post from this month's Rotary Magazine for Great Britain and Ireland explains the difference.

I was hospitalized for a week and caused quite a stir with my kindergarten. Apparently, students were sent home for a few days while they deep cleaned everything. I was shunned and happy when we moved and I was able to enroll in another school.

My parents downplayed my diagnosis. After all, I was born with a congenital heart defect and had undergone open heart surgery at Mayo Clinic before this incident. My parents called the local hospital "a clinic" and it seemed that way after Mayo Clinic's hospitals. I didn't seem to have any lasting effect from whatever had put me in the hospital.

Did this stop my parents from completing the polio vaccination series for the family? Did they become anti-vaxxers because their daughter had contracted polio from the vaccine? Absolutely not. They blamed themselves for not following good hygiene practices and completed the entire vaccine series for the entire family.


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