One Survivor's Story

by Sandy Goldstein, a Polio Survivor

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - November 1999

As I reached my 50th year of surviving, I began to think back and examine my life as a child, and reflected on how those events affected my adult life.

In 1949, just before my sixth birthday, the Polio virus had everyone scared and panicking. Polio is a sneaky virus. It comes into the body by way of the mouth. That is why so many children contracted polio in public swimming pools. If the virus stays in the stomach, you experienced flu-like symptoms for about 24 hours and then it goes away. In cases like mine, the Polio virus finds its way into the spinal column and damages or kills the cells necessary to maintain the muscles in your legs, arms, and back. To do this damage, the virus stays in the body longer and you experienced the damage right away.

I lived in a small town in Kansas. I became sick and felt so weak I started to fall down when I walked. The doctor kept telling my parents that it was tonsillitis. This delayed their decision to get me to the hospital by two weeks and I'm sure I suffered for that delay.

I spent six weeks in isolation receiving hot packs and other treatments. Then I was transferred to the main hospital for five months for rehabilitation.

The children's wards were full of Polio patients, and I know they must have been overwhelmed, but if they had kept my back straight with one of the back supports available close at hand on the ward, my back would not have become so deformed. Doctors at that time undoubtedly did not know the benefits of stabilizing the back. Most of my severe disabilities are from medical staff not knowing what to do. As a result, I left the hospital needing a back brace and wearing heavy leg braces on my tiny six-year-old legs.

The Polio left me with severe scoliosis of the spine and both legs paralyzed. But I wasn't satisfied just sitting around. I had a strong will. I helped my mom around the house and with her gardens. With these activities, I developed strong muscles in my arms and shoulders. My strength and ability to become mobile came from the muscles in my chest, shoulders, and arms. I feel, however, that then as well as now, my will and determination have been my strongest muscles.

I had to stay indoors or at least sit in one place and watch other kids in their activities. I always put a smile on my face, but is was hard to withstand the pain and humiliation of being crippled. I wanted to be with other kids and be like them.

Later my parents decided that a wheelchair would be better for me. When we went shopping, however, I usually sat in the car with my baby sister while my mom and other sister went into the stores. I was limited on where I could go because of the design of buildings, sidewalks, and steps. Oh, how I hated STEPS!

Before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), life was a constant personal battle because there were no disability rights. I graduated high school and business school. I could type 70 wpm and I was pretty good at composing paragraphs, but I couldn't find anyone who would hire me. There were all sorts of excuses...the bottom line was that they didn't want you in the office. There were many times that I had to ride on a freight elevator to get to the office where I had the interview.

Some of my happiest years were the ones when I worked for a truck line. It was during that time that I met my husband and I was looking forward to the most important job of my life, parenthood.

My husband was in the military and we were married in Hawaii. Our son was born there, also. I have always told my son that he is a miracle baby because the doctors thought I would never carry him to full term. I pushed my body to the limit to have the baby that I wanted so badly. It took three days and I weighed only 95 lbs. afterwards. He has been and still is my reason for living.

When my son was eight years old, his father died. I became two parents-in-one. I taught my son how to survive. I am very proud of him and his many accomplishments.

I am now 56 years old and still surviving despite many surgeries, the after-effects of Polio, and being disabled for so long. I've had many hospital stays, surgeries, and rehabilitation. The necessary overuse of my upper body, especially my arms, resulted in injuries and surgeries to correct the injuries.

I now live on my own with my trusty canine buddy and my computer. I do 98% of the housework and home maintenance. I enjoy my ability to engineer and adapt, to alter and to produce.

I am learning more now than at any other time of my life. I know that I need a purpose and a goal to be happy and to be a survivor.

I enjoy remaking furniture to meet my needs and I have repaired my toaster oven, without instructions, and I make clothes and alter my clothes, to meet my body needs and to accomodate a wheelchair. I used to make custom made corsets for other people with special needs. I don't do that any more. I like mechanical things, I work on the inside of my car and keep the outside shiny also. I save wood pieces and I have tools and lots of screws, bolts, etc. I usually take a piece of furniture apart before throwing it away and I keep the hardware and some parts that I think I can use later. I am working on a recliner right now. I am making it into a regular chair. I like to take lamps apart and put them together like I want them. I hope this will help. Let me know if you need more info.

Guess I take after my Grandfather, an old coal miner from Austria. He made a completely working model of a coal mining operation. It is in a museum in Kansas. He made it all from scraps. My first wagon was made from dynamite boxes and had metal wells, he wrote my name on the side.

You may e-mail Saundra Goldstein at:

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