In the year 1946: Recalling the polio virus
By Marv Kohlbeck
The year was 1946. World War II had ended but the state and national concern that year focused on a new enemy – poliomyelitis – a virus better known as polio. At that time my mom and dad along with six kids lived on an 80-acre farm which did not have electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water.
We hand milked 15 cows twice a day and dad worked in an aluminum foundry in Manitowoc to “make ends meet.” Needless to say, farming was a struggle then, and to make matters worse my three-year-old sister suddenly became sick. Our family doctor diagnosed that she had symptoms of the polio virus and he strongly advised that she be taken by ambulance to a hospital in Madison that was set up to handle polio patients.
Our family of eight was immediately placed under quarantine. We were devastated. For one month, none of us were allowed to leave the farm. Our neighbors willingly volunteered to milk the cows and provide us with safe drinking water during that period of time. The milk could not be sold for human consumption so we had to either feed it to the hogs or dump it on the manure pile. The outdoor privy had to be sanitized with a heavy sprinkling of lime. These were precautionary measures advised by the county health nurse as they did not know either what caused the virus.
The county nurse visited our family weekly. This episode took place during summer months, so it did not affect our schooling.
As a 15-year-old, I had been working at an area chick hatchery and my bosses young daughter was also affected by polio and recovered but ended up with a deformed leg. My sister has fully recovered, has no evidence of the disease, and has led a healthy life since then. The medical people never found any correlation between the polio affliction of my three-year-old sister and the chick hatchery girl.
Fortunately the Salk vaccine was developed at a later date and since that time polio has been kept under control in the United States although some outbreaks still surface in parts of Africa and the Middle East where it is difficult for medical people to reach the stricken.
Now, here we are 74 years later and suddenly our entire world is faced with a pandemic, a new virus better known as coronavirus. As days pass by, not only will there be a harsh medical strain put on the world population but also an economic strain of unknown proportions if the disease is not harnessed.
I called my sister Dianne last weekend and we both agreed that we have lived through the era known as, “The Greatest Generation” and have survived a lot of setbacks. Dad died from a heart attack at age 75 and our hard working mom died from pancreatic cancer at age 85. All eight of us kids, ages 66 to 89 are still living and are in reasonably good health.
As our dad used to say,” We may not make much money by farming but at least we always eat good.” Dad was a great provider as we raised livestock and a huge garden and mom was a wonderful cook.
Once again we must face adjustments in our way of living in order to conqueror this dreaded disease. Quarantines have once again surfaced as a precautionary measure. Based upon what we are told on radio or television or read in print it behooves us to follow the medical recommendations set forth for us to follow. We are living in a topsy-turvy world.
My sister and I found one ray of humor in our discussion in that our family never experienced a shortage of toilet paper as we relied on Sears-Roebuck or Penny’s catalogs in our growing up years.
Writing this brought to mind two people that were afflicted with paralysis as a result of suffering from polio. That included well-known local person, Jack Hackman who was born and raised in Pittsville and despite his partial paralysis became an executive officer of the Marshfield radio station, WDLB, and a leader of many community foundations.
The other well-known polio victim was former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32rd president who served four terms from 1933 to 1945. He served our country despite the obvious paralysis in his legs.