Lisa Hank suggested I send my story to you, thinking it might be interesting for your book, Charity Tales.
I will try to tell you briefly about my experience with polio my senior year. It was June 1954 when I was working a rotation in the emergency room of Charity Hospital. I had just finished three months of psychiatric training and felt physically and mentally worn out.
My first symptoms were stiff neck, bad headache, nausea and vomiting. I was admitted to the infirmary for nurses in the hospital. A spinal tap was done at that time and they felt it was a polio virus or meningitis. I was unable to void for a few days, after which I was sent back to my room.
I tried to work, but my legs and feet wouldn’t support me. I was then admitted to the polio center, which was in a separate building from contagious diseases. There was another student nurse my age. She was an affiliate from Grenada, MS but from a small town of Crenshaw, MS. Our beds were close together. Her back was giving her lots of pain. Her name was Mollie Rich, but I have lost contact with her since she married Bill Knox.
I did not see my classmates again until graduation, as I was still contagious. I became very depressed, but they finally let my sister come to see me, which helped.
The iron lungs were all around us, going constantly, and very loud. However, they helped people breathe who had the bulbar type of polio. We received wonderful care, including hot towels from a machine 3 times a day, plus whirlpool baths. Everything was donated by the March of Dimes campaign. It was a bad year for the polio epidemic in the U.S., and they were also flying in patients from Mexico.
I worked without pay in the TB sanitarium to pay back the hospital for the time spent in the polio center in excess of my sick leave. By this time all of my classmates had left CHSN to go on their way to a new life.
It was very interesting to know that any hospital in the U.S. would accept on the spot an RN that is a Charity graduate. My traveling companion was Pat Rody, a classmate. We found jobs in Illinois, Michigan, and other states. Our first experience was at Interlochen National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. What a wonderful summer that was. We had a small hospital with 12 beds and worked with doctors from the University of Michigan. I had a cabin and small infirmary with the junior girls, ages 7-11. I guess we were called “hobo nurses” instead of traveling nurses. We moved frequently and enjoyed being in different areas of the U.S. I wonder if Sister Pauline thought we might not be able to keep a job until we married and settled down to raise a family. I did later marry and had 3 sons.
I was so blessed to be able to work as a RN with my built-up shoe and a brace on my leg. I did school nursing, doctor’s office, nursing home, and the last 5 years in a state prison hospital.
I was working at the University of Michigan the summer of 1955 when Dr. Jonas Salk announced he had found the polio vaccine. How great!
Now I have post-polio syndrome. The muscles that took over for the ones I lost from polio are now worn out. It is much more difficult to do things with my legs growing weaker; however, I won’t give up.
Marilyn Massey Carter