After spending 59 straight days, including more than two weeks in Summa's Coronary Intensive Care Unit and then another 10 months in and out of hospitals and physical rehab centers for the better part of the past two years, I know all about being quarantined (self or otherwise) and the cabin fever it causes. It gets to you. Regardless of how strongly your family wants you home to share life with them, after a while you figure it's unlikely to happen and accept life as being that way your remaining days. But compared to the present coronavirus, I'm glad I'm not in a hospital or rehab center today, or my remaining days could be fewer than what I had been hoping.


The last time I recall any pandemic was during the last years of the 1940s and the early 1950s. Another virus, called Infantile Paralysis, or Polio, was making its rounds across the nation, and in the farm country where I lived it was doing its nasty work. Children were being afflicted with this virus at a rate that put the medical profession in a state of alarm. There were no lock downs, but still it was bad.


In early March of 1953, I was lighting candles as an Alter Boy for Sunday evening Novena services. My mother noticed I was struggling to light the high candles in the back. I just couldn't stand straight and hold the candle lighter steady enough to light the wicks without falling backward.


Even though I had not been doing any of the farm chores, I stayed home from school that week due to feeling weak and very exhausted. That was when they called the doctor. With the polio virus running rampant in the area, especially among farm kids that included some at my school and a couple in my class, it got me, too, and I was admitted to the isolation ward of the local hospital.


Keep in mind this was the early 1950s. The Salk vaccine would not be perfected by Doctor Jonas Salk in Pittsburgh for another year, and then it would take even more time to produce all the vaccine needed to wipe out this dreaded disease.


Polio cripples its victims. It causes them to become lame. This virus is what crippled President Franklin D. Roosevelt before he ever ran for the presidency. It's why you almost always see photos of him sitting. Still, there are a few of him standing where you can see the metal braces on both legs.


Besides a patient being helped with an iron lung, Polio weakens the leg muscles so badly, there is no strength left to allow victims to stand on their own. Without leg braces, they remain stationary. Just to get from one point to another, they need assistance. In some cases, such as my own, young polio victims rebound and are able to function during their early adult years. But in many of those cases where young victims experienced a rebound, doctors have discovered what is called Post Polio Syndrome that develops in their later years; that is a re-occurrence of the virus as those victims age. When that happens, their already weakened leg muscles quickly give in and if the victims are not already on leg braces, they soon will be.


I must clarify that the polio epidemic then was no where near as heavy as today's coronavirus. I don't have the figures of how many it afflicted but I assure you it's far less than the number of cases or the amount of deaths that this COVID-19 has done. Still, when you live through something like that it makes an indelible mark on your memory and you pray it never happens again.


And for all those who have lost loved ones or who have been afflicted and survived, you share a silent moment of prayer; if for no other reason than you, too, have been there many years ago.


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