September 15th, 2019

planet

small steps by Peg Kehret

I ran across an interesting book in my little free library.

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio
by Peg Kehret

It's for young adults and I read it in 2-3 hours.

It's 1949 and Peg is 12 years old, a busy school girl looking forward to the homecoming parade that weekend. She feels twitches in her legs, and falls down in the hallway. When she gets home she feels achy and feverish, and starts getting extremely sick and can't even pick up objects. Her parents take her to the hospital and a spinal tap confirms she has polio, a terrifying diagnosis for a girl who's grown up seeing photos of people trapped in iron lungs and paralyzed for life.

She gets sicker, barely able to breath and fully paralyzed from the neck down. But then she starts getting better, eventually learning to walk again. All it takes is seven months of grueling heat treatments and physically therapy. The kids around her are not all so lucky. Peg really has the best possible circumstances - her parents brought her in quickly so treatments could start right away, they were extremely supportive and fought for her to get the best care, and we had learned about successful treatments by 1949 that we didn't have just a few years earlier.

In fact so many things about polio are luck of the draw. Peg probably got it from a carrier who showed very few symptoms and didn't know they had polio... who was that really lucky kid? But at least she wasn't from a giant family with too many kids who left her to be a ward of the state like one of her roommates.

And finally the real lucky ones, Peg's two children were born in an age where we just vaccinated them against polio. I was born after polio was eradicated in the US. My kids have probably never heard of polio. It's still on the vaccine schedule, so they got vaccinated without even thinking about it.

Nobody's ever heard of this book, and I certainly haven't heard stories of kids who got polio. What if we let them all fade into the past? This one girl's story of the darkest time in her life is really an important one to keep in the world.