In the 1940s and 50s, the polio virus terrified American families. Parents tried “social distancing”—ineffectively and out of fear. Polio was not part of the life they'd signed up for. In the otherwise comfortable World War ll era, the spread of polio showed that middle-class families could not build worlds entirely in their control. During those days, parents were so worried for their kids. Now it’s the kids who are so worried about the older generation. Parents lived in fear that one of their children would contact the dreaded disease.
That is exactly what happened in the Materne family in 1945. My mom told the story to me over and over again after I grew old enough to understand. On the night before I contacted the disease, I had a slight fever and felt very tired. My mom just thought is was a cold coming on, but the next morning when she went into my bedroom to get me up, I told her I couldn’t get up and I couldn’t even move. I was paralyzed. I was rushed to a doctor and the diagnosis must have hit them like a sledge hammer, Infantile Paralysis, POLIO.
This was during World War II and at the time gasoline was being rationed. The doctors told my parents I would have to be taken to Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana. People in our neighborhood were caring enough to pitch in to give my parents some of their gasoline rations so they could afford the long 250-mile journey to New Orleans.
The corner of my heart I want to share is how much my mother and dad loved me and sacrificed over the many years that followed in taking care of me and helping me cope with the crippling disease of Polio. Let’s make sure we do the same during these crisis days of the COVID-19 virus.
Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel in order to be tough.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt (Polio Survivor)