It was 1959, He was 3 years old and would not be 4 until November 21st. The summer was hot ...He was the middle child of 5. His mother had given the oldest girl to her older sister to adopt. Not an unusual happening for that generation when a pregnancy happens when it shouldn't and you wanted no one to know.
So as far as the kids and neighbors knew, he was the second to oldest. His older brother was 2 years older, his younger sister 2 years younger, and the baby was a year younger than the sister. Just a baby. Near by, the Grandmother lived and helped in the raising of the 4 kids, and the older sister and her husband also lived, on the same street, raising their adopted daughter, who was the birth daughter of the boys mother. The father, was in the picture as well.
He became sick and was taken to the doctor. His mother heard the words that no mother ever wants to hear ...and at that time, a word that struck fear into the hearts of even the bravest of souls. A word that today, just means a simple 'well baby' trip to the doctor. But back then, it could mean the world would end ... it certainly meant the world as the family knew it was ending.
They lived in a small town in Northern California, not too far from Sacramento. The city was too small to handle such a sick baby, and quickly, they transfered the three year old to San Fransisco's Children's hospital.
Just 9 years earlier, it had been a center for the polio epidemic, but polio was on the decrease, thanks to the vaccine. This child, had missed the vaccine. It was being given to school age children in his community, and he was not quite 4.
His father, unable to handle the pressure of 4 kids and one of them terribly ill, just disappeared from their lives, abandoning them all.
His mother took him to San Fransisco, where he was placed on an iron lung. 3 years old, and in an iron lung, in a hospital far from home ... with strangers ... and away from everything familiar.
His mother, having 3 other children at home, decided to leave him in the care of the strangers at the hospital. I've tried and tried for 20 years to see this through her eyes, and no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot. I've had sick children ... I've had very sick children. I've sat in the hospital with a child that was sick with pneumonia. I've sat in the hospital with a child with meningitis ... and while I don't know what it is like to have a child with polio, I do know what it is to have a sick child.
I do know what it is to have to make the choice between the child at home and the child that is sick ..and I don't get it. There was an Aunt and Uncle and Grandmother to step in for the 3 healthy children back home ... and there was no one in San Franscisco but nurses and doctor's for the three year old boy in the iron lung
Over the next 6 years, the child would spend half of his childhood going through surgeries, and therapy ... in and out of San Fransisco Children's ... spending birthdays and holidays with nurses to celebrate for him. His playmates were the other children in the ward, and his teachers were the nurses.
I've been asked by several people why I go up to the hospital for 5, 6 8 to 10 hours a day to sit with my husband ... why I'm wearing myself into the ground. He's a big boy ...he can entertain himself ... most adults do, and get by with visits. They remind me that I've been in the hospital 26 times and I don't need this kind of care ...and for some I just say I know ... and for others I tell them about the three year old left alone ... in the iron lung
The six year old who had back surgery, to fuse his back 2/3 of the way ...or the 10 year old who had nurses to throw his birthday party.
I see his eyes light up when I walk into the room and his face drop when I tell him I'm going to leave. If I had it physically within my body, I'd be with him 24/7.
He may be a 51 year old man, but his soul is a 3 year old who's been abandoned once again ... and he's been there for a month today ..and he knows he has a few weeks ahead of him.