By: Treva Davis

W390 S3210 Hwy Z

Dousman WI 53118-9548

Word Count 4,437

August 3, 2010




The Threat


          Although it had been a warm September day, Dad wrapped me in a blanket. “There,” he said, “snug as a bug in a rug.” Then he scooped me up and carried me out of the house.


“Is this the doctor’s car?” I asked, as Dad placed me in the back seat. I don’t want to be in the doctor’s car. I only like places I know.


“No, Tee,” Mom said, “It’s our car.” She was in the front seat.


          “Are we going to Dr. Ben’s office? It’s dark out.”


“No, we’re going to the hospital, because you’re very sick.”


I’d been throwing up all day. I felt hot all over. My neck and back hurt. My eyes were sore and my head hurt, like it was too big. Even though it was nighttime, Dr. Ben came to see me in my bed. He listened to my heart, looked down my throat and thump-thumped on my tummy. Then he put his hand on the back of my head and pushed me forward to touch my forehead to my knees. I couldn’t do it and my knees popped up to my nose all by their-selves.


“Owwww, it hurts!” I cried.


Dr. Ben turned to my parents. “Did you see when I pushed Tee’s head forward ¾ that her knees came up involuntarily? That’s a positive Brudzinski response. I want her in Evanston Hospital right away. This looks like polio.”


The Pain


At the hospital a nurse took me to a big room and put me on a cold, hard table. Big bright lights shined on me and made my sore eyes all squinty. I could see only the people’s eyes ‘cause they had on masks.


I don’t like it here. Nobody talks nice to me. Where’s Mommy and Daddy?


A man with a white coat and a mask on his face held a huge glass tube with a big needle sticking out. That looks like the thing Dr. Ben gives me shots with, but that one’s much bigger. The man started walking toward me, but a nurse turned me on my left side so I couldn’t see the big needle any more. Then she leaned hard on my legs.


Why are you leaning on my legs so hard? It hurts!

Why aren’t they nice to me? They’re nice at Dr. Ben’s office. I’m scared.


Suddenly I felt a sharp, burning-hot pain in my right thigh. I screamed and the nurse leaned on my legs harder.


You’re mashing my legs. It hurts. I don’t want the big shot.




I wailed and wailed, louder and louder and the nurse leaned and leaned, harder and harder.


“Mommy, it hurts! Daddy, make them stop!”


The hurting went on forever. Finally, it stopped and the nurse got off my legs.


My hip aches, where I got the big shot. My leg feels numb, like it’s asleep.


The nurse picked me up, carried me down a long dark hall and put me in a crib.


I’m a big girl. I have a big-girl bed. I don’t need a baby bed. I’m so sleepy . . ..  


        [At age four I didn’t realize the danger I was in. In 1947 there was no cure for poliomyelitis, also called infantile paralysis because it struck mostly children. However, Dr. Ben (Benjamin Rappaport) received my parents’ permission to treat me with an experimental thermal poliomyelitis streptococcal antibody vaccine developed by Dr. E. (Edward) C. Rosenow. The injection I received, in the side of my upper right thigh, contained 40 cc of vaccine (a large dose - 1.35 oz). Dr. Ben, who I didn’t recognize because of his coat and mask, was the man wielding the huge syringe.


I also received a spinal tap that measured a “spinal fluid cell count” of 447, a record high, as reported by Dr. Ben in the 1947 Quarterly Bulletin of Northwestern University Medical School in association with Evanston Hospital, where I was treated. Unfortunately, there is no explanation regarding what cells were counted. Dr. Ben possibly counted white cells per milliliter of spinal fluid to determine the level of infection.


In October 1948 Dr. Benjamin Rappaport was reported in the Journal-Lancet (68:395-7) as having administered the first successful prophylactic polio vaccine. He administered 10 cc of thermal antibody to 30 people who had known contact with 26 of his polio patients. None of the vaccine recipients developed poliomyelitis. However, it is Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin who are known for eradicating polio. Dr. Salk, who was financed by the March of Dimes, developed an injectable vaccine in 1955 using killed poliovirus. Unfortunately, a bad batch of vaccine sickened, paralyzed and killed some children, so inoculations were temporarily halted. In 1961 Dr. Sabin developed a preferred oral vaccine using live attenuated (nearly killed) poliovirus, which is still being administered today.


The March of Dimes was a campaign to raise funds for polio research directed by Basil O’Connor on behalf of his friend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt was believed to have contracted polio, but more likely had Guillain-Barrè Syndrome, which results in paralysis similar to that caused by polio.]




When I woke up I couldn’t find Teddy, my teddy bear. But I did find Larry, my white llama. Larry had silly ears. They were made of green felt. Everybody knows llama’s ears aren’t green.


Where’s Teddy? I always sleep with Teddy. I need to pet his fur when I suck my thumb. Larry’s not soft ( he’s wooly. 


          I looked around my room. It was little, as wide as my crib, only. Two walls were kinda funny ‘cause they went only halfway up. The top of the wall was a glass window up to the ceiling. I could see the two rooms across the hall and the room next door.


There was one outside window too, but all I could see was a brick wall.


I never saw a room with glass walls. 


I sat up in my crib to see better.


I saw a glass room across the hall with a big girl in a big bed. She was lying down with her eyes closed and the covers pulled up.


I think she doesn’t feel good.


A lady was sitting on a hard chair next to her bed. I think that’s her mom, ‘cause she’s holding the big girl’s hand and her forehead is all wrinkly like she’s worried.


In the glass room, next to the big girl, was a big boy in a big bed. He was lying down with his eyes closed, but no one was holding his hand.


He must not feel good too. Where’s his mommy? I bet he’s lonesome.


I grabbed the bars of my crib and pulled myself up.


My leg hurts.


I looked through the window at the end of my crib.


Hey, there’s a little boy in a crib like mine. He’s eating a pork chop, mashed potatoes and peas. Ick, I hate peas. Why is he eating dinner? It’s morning!


I scooched down in my crib real fast, before he saw me.


            I want my Puffed Wheat. “Mommy? Mommy!

A nurse came real fast down the hall. I could see her through the windows.


          “Are you hungry, Tee?” she asked.


          How does she know my name?


          “Uh-huh. Where’s my mommy?”


          “Your mommy’s at home. You’re in the hospital because you’re sick. We’ll take good care of you so you can get well and go home.”


          “I wanna go home. I want my mommy. I want Teddy.”


          “I’ll get you something to eat. Then you’ll feel better.”


She left in such a big hurry I could feel the wind she made.


The nurse came back pretty quick. She fed me some milk in a little cup. She wouldn’t let me hold it.


I’m a big girl. I can feed myself.


Then she scooped up a gooey egg on a spoon and held it to my lips. I turned my head. 


“Mommy makes my eggs with no gushy part.”


“Just try a little,” the nurse cajoled.


“I don’t like icky eggs!”


“Just try some. It will help you get well.”




The more she coaxed, the louder I cried. Through my tears I saw a doctor walking fast down the hall to my room.


“Is everything all right here? I heard this loud crying and thought . . .,” he trailed off as he took in the scene. 


“She just doesn’t want to eat her egg,” said the nurse.


“You eat that egg, now,” he snapped. “It will help you get well.”


“Waaah!” I wailed, ‘til she finally stopped pushing the slimy egg up to my mouth. I grabbed Larry, hugged him tight and snuffled off to sleep.


Pow Puff


The next morning Daddy came to see me.


“Hi, Tee,” said Daddy. “I thought I’d come to see you before I go to work. How do you feel?”


“I’m not throwing up any more, Daddy. Where’s Teddy?”


“I’m glad you’re better, Tee. I’m sorry Teddy couldn’t come to the hospital with you. If he did, he couldn’t come home again because he’d be full of bad polio germs.”


“Oh. But, Larry’s not soft like Teddy.”


“Well, what if I bring you something soft the next time I come?”


“Okay, Daddy.”


“I have to go to work now, Tee. I’ll see you soon.”


Daddy came the next morning again on his way to work.


“Hi, Tee,” said Daddy. “I brought you a nice soft powder puff.”


“Oh, a pow puff!”


“Oh, I forgot that’s what you used to call them. Mommy sewed a ribbon to it so we can tie it to your crib. That way it won’t fall on the floor and get dirty.”


My pow puff was a big soft ball of fluff, almost as soft as Teddy.


[I now realize that Dad had to drive a long distance to visit me. We lived in Glenview, Illinois, I was in Evanston Hospital and Dad worked in Oak Park. His one-way trip would have been 63 miles, taking more than two hours. Since we had just one car, as was typical then, and Mom didn’t drive, I don’t think she visited me in the hospital; at least I have no recollection of her being there.] 


Making Friends


The boy in the crib next door popped up and knocked on the glass.


“Hi,” he said. “My name is Timmy. What’s yours?”

“My name is Tee. How old are you?”


“I’m five. How old are you?”


“I’m four.”


“Are you real sick?” asked Timmy.


“Yeah, kinda. But I feel better now.”


“I’m gettin’ better too.”


Timmy and I could see each other real close ‘cause there just was glass between us only.


Then Timmy spit on the glass. A big, juicy gob of spit slid down real slow. It stopped on the ledge at the bottom of the glass.


“You do it!” said Timmy.


“Okay.” I spit. My spit wasn’t big like Timmy’s. But it slid down, down, down the glass and stopped at the ledge.


“I’ll race ya!” said Timmy.


“Okay, I’ll race ya, too.” I stood on tiptoes to get as tall as Timmy.


“One ¾ two ¾ three,” Timmy counted. And we both spit. Slowly Timmy’s spit and my spit dribbled to the bottom.


“I won!” said Timmy.


“Let’s race again!” I said. “On your mark. Get set. Go!” We spit.


“I won this time!” I said.  “Oh-oh, the nurse is coming.”


We both scooched down real fast so she wouldn’t know we were havin’ spit races.


The nurse came into my room and felt my forehead.


“What’s the girl’s name over there?” I asked, pointing across the hall.


“That’s Susan,” said the nurse. “She’s very sick.”

“Oh. Who’s that boy over there?” I pointed to the room next to Susan’s.


“That’s Billy.”




“Now you know that you are never to get out of bed, Tee,” warned the nurse. “You need to rest your muscles so they can get better. No one should ever get out of bed.”




Then she left in a big hurry and made that wind I could feel like the other nurse.


Across the hall I could see Billy sitting up in bed lookin’ around, so I waved at him. Billy waved back and said, “Hi.”


“I’m tired of sittin’ in this bed,” grumbled Billy. “I’m goin’ for a walk.”


Timmy and I chimed in together, “Don’t do it, Billy! It’s against the rules! We’re s’posed to stay in bed.”


“I don’t care. I’m gonna do it anyway. Just watch me!”


Billy pulled back his covers and put both his bare feets on the floor. He took two steps with his arms sticking out like he was walking a tightrope.


“Hey, Billy, the mop-lady is comin’!” I said. Billy hopped back in bed quick as a bunny and pretended he wasn’t naughty.


I liked the mop-lady. She gave me a ride in my crib so she could mop behind it. Then I could see through the outside window. I saw boys playing football across the street. When the mop-lady was done, she didn’t put my crib back. She was nice to me.


One morning, when Daddy came to see me, he brought some bubble stuff. It was real fun ‘cause you could make your own balloons then chew ‘em like gum when they got old. He brought some for Timmy too.


“Timmy, do you know how to make bubbles with the bubble stuff?”

“No. Whadaya do?”


“You squeeze the tube and put a blob on the end of the straw. Then you blow it up — like bubble gum. It smells funny, sorta like window cleaner, but you’ll get used to it.” Timmy got blue bubble stuff and I got green.


“Hey, look. We can stick our balloons on the glass,” said Timmy.


“Yeah, they stick.” Timmy and I spent a lot of time making bubbles and decorating our window.


[The treatment for polio at that time was complete bed rest with splinting or casting affected limbs in an attempt to prevent deformity. This practice proved harmful to polio victims because the immobility caused more muscle atrophy and weakness than already may have been present. Fortunately, none of my limbs were splinted.]


[I was spared the suffering that so many children experienced: severe pain, paralysis and even an inability to breathe without the assistance of an iron lung. The poliovirus can paralyze chest muscles that facilitate breathing, including the diaphragm. I was admitted to the hospital on September 20, 1947. My fever was gone on September 24, and I was able to go home on October 5, just 15 days after admittance. Some children were hospitalized for months and some never went home.]


Going Home


When Daddy came to take me home, I got to ride in a wheelchair to Daddy’s car. After we got home, Daddy carried me from his car right to my bed. My room looked sunny and happy to see me. I was sure happy to see it.


 “I got a drinking bird!” I squealed. “It’s just like Dr. Ben’s. Look he’s dunking his beak and drinking!”


drinking birdMy bird looked sorta like a red ostrich with a top hat. He had a long neck, a round head with a pointy beak, long legs and a fat-round body with a fluffy feather for his tail. He leaned over and stuck his beak in a glass of water to get a drink. When he was finished drinking, his head came up and bobbed back and forth for a while. Then he’d be real still, ‘til he got thirsty again. When he started to lean forward, I knew he was gonna get another drink.


“Mommy, why is Paul’s teddy bear in my room?”


“The neighbors gave it to you because they thought it might have polio germs. Remember you played with it the day before you got sick?” said Mommy.


“So I get to keep it?”


“Yes, he’s yours now.”


I’m going to make a chocolate malt for you. Would you like that, Tee? Dr. Ben wants you to drink one every day.”


“Mmm, yes, please!”


 “Now Tee, Dr. Ben wants you to stay in bed for three weeks,” cautioned Mommy.


“Okay, Mommy.”


But I barely stayed in bed for three days. I didn’t feel sick any more.


Since the poliovirus was transmitted by water, food and physical contact, swimming pools were closed and drained during the summers in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease. Since flies were also thought to transmit polio, people were encouraged to kill them by swatting or spraying insecticides, if they could afford them. Theaters were frequently closed and people were told to stay at home and away from crowds. The belongings of children diagnosed with polio were often burned as well as the furnishings from a home with an infected child. Families with sick children often could ill-afford to replace the goods they felt compelled to destroy.


The Aftermath


I appeared to have no ill effects from the polio that struck me down. Thanks to my progressive thinking pediatrician, Dr. Rosenow’s vaccine and my parents’ trust in both of them, I could run, skip and jump as well as any other four-year-old.  When my strength was tested about four years later, I was told I had left side weakness. Even so, I never noticed it or felt my left side to be different from my right. However, as an adult, I began experiencing a lot of muscle pain, which I simply explained away as too much gardening, an injury, being pregnant or using a non-supportive chair at work.


In my mid-twenties, I attributed the spasms in my mid-back to having been thrown off a horse at age 17 and carrying three babies to term. My doctor ordered X-rays of my back, but reported he could see no structural reason for my spasms. I kept raising kids and singing in a band.


In my mid-thirties, the muscles in my lower back seemed to lose their elasticity. When I was bent over, scrubbing a floor or weeding a flowerbed, I could not straighten into an upright position without climbing up something, such as a chair or a shovel. When arising to walk, after sitting for a half-hour or so, I would remain in a stooped over position for several steps, before I could stand erect. Nevertheless, I continued my career at the insurance company, remodeling my house and working in my garden.


In my early forties, I was in a car accident that caused whiplash and a strained left shoulder. Although I seemed to recover from those injuries, a year later I couldn’t lean on the wall across the tub with my left hand to turn on the shower. I also could not turn my head without severe pain in my left upper arm, shoulder and neck. My head tilted toward my left shoulder and my left shoulder became higher than my right. I suffered for years with debilitating spasms in my neck, shoulder and upper arm. After a rough chiropractor brought me to tears adjusting my neck, I resigned myself to living with the pain, the high shoulder and the head tilt. Still, I did not give up my volunteer work. I put my head down and plowed through a sad divorce from my addicted and fallen knight, raised three teenagers, and briefly held two jobs to give them a Christmas. I also found a new career when, instead of a promotion for doing a great deal of specialized work for my company, my position was eliminated.


Gradually I experienced more pain throughout my body and the sensation that more than just my low back muscles were losing their elasticity. If I wanted to change positions, my muscles would only move slowly and grudgingly. I awoke frequently because of the pain or the effort it took to just turn over. The sleep I needed to heal became increasingly elusive.


I wrote about my distressed sleep in 1998.


“When Sleep Won’t Come”


Another night in the popcorn popper,

First on my back, then my right side.

Nope, try the left.

Neck stiff as week-old taffy,

I sample all four pillows available for these special occasions.

None are right for scalp stretched tight as timpani skin.

For a change I hear the end of my relaxation tape.

More covers, less covers.

My precious Prince Sleep fails me like a hard-to-please lover.

At last he comes.

I relax in his arms

For one brief moment

Before bird-chirping dawn.


My neck became so immobile that it was painful to look right and left when driving.  My chronic stiff neck also resulted in numerous headaches. My downward spiral of chronic pain and fatigue continued.


In my mid-forties, I read about a condition called post-polio syndrome (PPS). PPS attacks people who contracted polio when they were young, but who had seemingly recovered. Could this be the name of my condition? I researched symptoms that matched mine to a great extent. I found a doctor at the Medical College of Wisconsin who could diagnose PPS. However, since he was not in my health insurer’s network, I could not afford the evaluation. My insurance company told me that, if I could get an in-network neurologist to diagnose PPS, and then refer me to the Medical College, they would consider covering my costs.


The nature of post-polio syndrome demands that a polio specialist do the diagnosis, so the likelihood of my getting an accurate evaluation was not good.  As I feared, the neurologist I saw did not have much knowledge of PPS. After a painful exam, he deemed that I did not have PPS, but only that something was wrong with my right hip because he couldn’t bend my knee up to my chest and out without my screaming ¾ an inability I had explained to him prior to his exam. I left his office crying tears of pain and frustration.


So the door was closed on my pursuit of a diagnosis at the only medical facility in my area known to be able to evaluate PPS. Since I could not prove that I did, indeed, suffer from this syndrome, I resigned myself to living with my condition and learning, as best I could, how to treat my symptoms.


After the punishment of two more corporate down-sizings, I wrote a cookbook and started my own business, Spice of Life. I taught healthy cooking to people who had health issues or just wanted to have a tasty as well as nutritious diet. I loved to cook and had learned how to eat well by helping members of my family who had health challenges.


Sadly, by my mid-fifties, I had to close Spice of Life because I could no longer work. The pain in my neck, back and legs overwhelmed me to the point of nausea. I was exhausted from lack of sleep due to pain. I often experienced, what I called, personal earthquakes. The room would suddenly spin around me and I’d have to grab onto something or someone to stay upright. The most frightening aspect of my symptoms was my diminished brain function. I couldn’t remember what I did yesterday or ten minutes ago. I was unable to concentrate, had difficulty learning tasks and often felt confused and, frankly, stupid.


My husband, Tom, had to repeatedly teach me the sequence required to start the lawn tractor. I was ashamed and angry at my inability to do something so simple and frightened that I might never get any better. I could no longer understand the two technical manuals that I’d written, one of which was considered the book to have in the employee benefits industry. Too bad my royalties were lost along with my last position.


At age 57, a doctor and a neuromuscular massage therapist diagnosed my pain, fatigue and brain fog as fibromyalgia. At last my misery had a name! Fibromyalgia is described as producing widespread pain, disturbed sleep, and exhaustion from head to toe. It causes pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but there is treatment. I set to work researching what I could do to feel better.

I was declared disabled by the Department of Labor, which entitled me to certain benefits, like job counseling to help me determine my wage-earning capabilities. After a year of massage therapy, pain medicine and rest, I was able to return to work. The Department of Labor bought me a supportive, well-padded and adjustable chair for my work place. They also came to my office to provide ergonomics coaching. Although the pain and fatigue have not left, they are improved and easier to live with.


In my mid-sixties, as I once again research post-polio syndrome and record my polio experience, I wonder anew if PPS is the cause of my muscles going into painful spasm or not contracting after being stretched. After all, no one has a definitive cause for fibromyalgia. However, having had polio makes me a PPS candidate. Dr. E. C. Rosenow, the physician and scientist, who developed the vaccine that saved me from paralysis and possible death, also predicted PPS for those who seemed to have recovered. Like fibromyalgia, doctors are not sure why PPS exists or how to eliminate it. But if PPS is what I have, I will once again research what I can do to feel better.


Special Thank You: I would like to thank Dr. S. Hale Shakman, Director of the Institute of Science, Santa Monica, CA, who so kindly answered my numerous questions as I researched this piece. I was excited to find information about my pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Rappaport, in a book entitled E. C. Rosenow (1875 – 1966) & Associates - essential works & foundations - A Reference Manual, by S. H. Shakman. So I wrote the Institute of Science, who published the book.


When I inquired about getting copies of a few pages from the manual regarding Dr. Ben, I hoped for a response, but didn’t expect one. I thought at best I might hear from a librarian who would simply provide instructions on purchasing the book. Instead, I got a heart-warming response as well as a copy of the entire manual, from the author and director of the Institute of Science, himself!


Dr. Shakman said he was sincerely touched to hear from one of the very polio survivors whose case he had studied. We have developed an electronic friendship since that time and I am most grateful that God put Dr. Shakman into my life to enrich and bless it. Thank you “Dr. Dad.” May God bless your life and gifts to the world.

POSTSCRIPT:  And bless you and thank you Treva for sharing your wonderful story.  Stuart Hale Shakman -posted at 8 April 2015