Throughout the month of July 1943, seventy-five years ago, my mother continued her fight against polio. As I mentioned last week, we are uncertain about so much of her story. We don’t know whether or not she ever had to use an iron lung to breathe. As her sister Novella recalls, if she did, it was only for a short time. Nonetheless, mom’s condition was critical: unable to swallow (fed through a tube) and unable to move her arm. In a recent conversation with Novella, mom’s sister, she told me that mom was the sickest patient in her ward to recover (live). In fact, if you can believe it…
Elizabeth Kinney, an Australian nurse (pictured below), developed controversial methods for treating polio patients. She advocated the use of hot woolen compresses to relieve the muscle spasms and pain associated with the disease. In the middle of July 1943, at unairconditioned Harris Hospital, young patients would beg for these hot compresses despite the heat. Kinney was also against the common practice of immobilizing affected limbs by means of braces, splints, and casts. She argued instead for what we now call physical therapy: passive exercise of arms, legs, hands, etc.
Kinney traveled to America in 1940 and stayed for eleven years. At some point in the summer of 1943, she visited the poliomyelitis ward at Harris Hospital. One distinct memory mother had of her time in the hospital was when “Sister Kinney” visited the ward, looking at each patient and declaring whether or not she thought they would survive. I can’t imagine what it was like for a six-year old girl (mom) when “Sister Kinney” came through her ward, looked at her, and openly stated that she was not going to make it (one of mom’s distinct memories). Mom, with a mischievous spirit, always seemed to enjoy proving people wrong. I guess she decided to show that woman that she could get well, though she remained critical throughout the month of July.
And for now, that is where we need to leave our story. News about “Sister Kinney” and her methods made the local papers. The Polio outbreak continued, just as the war in the Pacific raged on. Closer to home, mom’s condition hit everyone in the family hard. Get-well cards and picture post cards began to fly in from friends and relatives near and far away. It’s not too difficult to imagine a little girl who can’t move around, has no television or iPad to watch, looking at her picture post cards over and over again (see below and at the bottom of the page).
Congratulations to Chelsee – and Melanie – for new subscriptions to “Seasons” and winning copies of the forthcoming book, A Life that is Good: The Message of Proverbs in a World Wanting Wisdom (Eerdmans, September 2018). I had intended to give away three copies, but only two new subscribers stepped forward. As a result, I’ll continue the same promotion through July and give away one more copy of the book to a new subscriber (drawn from a hat). To begin a subscription and enter the drawing, write me at [email protected](and be patient for my reply, see below).
With the exception of “Story Day” on Friday, I’ll be taking some time away during the month of July. I’ll exchange West Texas heat for a much cooler place that lacks good Internet connections. Let’s just say it’s about 9,000 ft. above sea level. I’ll be back and writing again on Tuesday in August.
Glenn Pemberton is a minister turned professor turned writer. After serving churches in Texas and Colorado, Glenn completed a Ph.D. (Old Testament). He then taught at Oklahoma Christian University before coming to Abilene Christian University in 2005, retiring as professor emeritus in 2017 due to a severe chronic pain. Glenn now spends his time writing for the church. Along with short essays he has published four books, including The God who Saves: An Introduction to the Message of the Old Testament (2015), and Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms (2012). Glenn and his wife Dana continue to live in Abilene, Texas.