by PETER BOWDITCH
I recently spent a few weeks on crutches because of a broken ankle, and I had a vaccination against pneumonia today. These reminded me of my earliest memory of being vaccinated.
Shortly after my twelfth birthday I was rushed to hospital to have my appendix removed. Back in those days it wasn’t the simple keyhole job it is today so I had to spend a few days in the hospital to recuperate.
Another thing about the olden days was that there was no gender separation, and one of the other patients in the children’s ward at Hornsby Hospital was a girl about ten or eleven years old.
I can still remember what she looked like.
She had a round face with very pink cheeks. Her hair was red, and even though it was cut short you could see that it had a curl in it. I can only remember her face and hair and not what the rest of her looked like because the rest of her was enclosed in a steel box. The steel box was an iron lung, and it was doing her breathing for her because she had been infected with polio.
She was quite cheerful, which must have been difficult. I don’t know what happened to her later and she may very well have been one of the lucky ones who through intensive rehabilitation was eventually able to survive outside the box, but at the time the general expectation was that once someone went into an iron lung they spent the rest of their life there.
Meanwhile my best friend in primary school was one of the lucky ones. He walked with a limp but he didn’t need the leg callipers that were on at least one child in every primary school class.
I still remember how we had to make allowances in playground games for the kids who weren’t quite as mobile as the rest of us. I also remember that an entire age cohort missed out on swimming lessons because of a fear that public swimming pools were places where polio could spread easily.