Epidemic? Been there, survived that


“The thousand natural shocks flesh is heir to.” — Hamlet

I’ve been joking lately that I’ve been in training for the current quarantine by being a shut-in for years. For me, virtual home isolation is a lifestyle.

It’s because of another plague I’ve twice had to deal with: polio.

I contracted it as a child in 1952, literally days before the vaccine appeared. The Army sent my dad home from the Korean War thinking I might not make it. Well, I fooled them. Lots of kids didn’t make it, alas.

But after two polio surgeries, courtesy of the Army (dad was a career officer) and the use of braces and crutches, I recovered and lived a pretty normal life for 50 years. I’m very lucky. I played baseball, tennis, a little squash, pickleball and racketball on a fairly competitive level. I’m proof it’s possible to survive an epidemic.

If you want a glimpse of what things were like — how scared many were — during the long-running polio epidemic, read Phillip Roth’s short novel, “Nemesis.”

Shortly after I moved to PT, about 15 years ago, its effects on me were reactivated.

One day, playing racquetball at the PT Athletic Club, suddenly I couldn’t run any more. A guy I would have beaten easily a year ago trounced me.

I had joined Rotary a few years before because the service club had done so much worldwide to eliminate polio.

Soon after the racquetball match, at our meeting of the Sunrise Rotary here, I met a lady from Victoria, polio survivor Joan Toone, who was our guest speaker. I told her the difficulties I’d been having running. She said, “You might have Post-Polio Syndrome,” matter-of-factly. I’d never heard of it, and you probably haven’t either.

But, it turns out, about 80% of us who got polio before the vaccine have had it return. A lot of them are limping around like yours truly.

PPS causes severe fatigue, as I learned the great post-polio support group on Facebook, and it causes weakening of the muscles.

And you have to simply stop most exercise, which is counterintuitive. Going to the gym is not a good idea. The tired nerve endings to the muscles are stressed out.

So, rest and not walking very much is the best therapy. So now I hobble around on a cane and take full advantage of my beloved disabled placard. And I’m not infectious.

For me, swimming several days a week was the best answer. PT’s excellent pool and low-impact swimming was my ticket to strong cardio health. But it’s now closed until further notice. Curse you, COVID!

No, this isn’t meant to be a pity party. It’s to let you know that people do survive epidemics. I did.

One more piece of advice: Make sure all your couches are in good working order! Lawn chairs, too.

—Meanwhile, as humorist Andy Borowitz tweeted that Donald of Orange has tested negative for empathy.

As for our mass quarantine, political comic Hal Sparks correctly observes, referencing the Spanish flu, “Humans have had to go through things like this before, but with far fewer resources than we have now.” (Including, of course, Netflix and Hulu).

In the meantime, let’s forget “Have a nice day” and substitute, “Stay healthy.”

I’ll sure be glad to wash my hands of this whole thing.

(PT’s Bill Mann is logging even more couch time these days. Newsmann9@gmail.com)


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Ed S.

Brilliant. A very moving and uplifting piece. Hopeful news for everyone. Thanks, Bill.

Wednesday, March 25