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Hard About Growing Up

Life Story Club Contributor

July 31, 2020

 I think, for me, the hardest part about growing up was after I got Polio. I was in isolation and I was locked into the Kenny Institute where they allowed no parents to come and visit. So I was in isolation and quarantined, and I was only four. And when I got out, it was so psychologically damaging to me that for the whole of childhood, I could never go into any closed space because I had claustrophobia. I couldn’t handle elementary school when there was a movie, I had to sit in the library because I was afraid I would get stuck in the dark in the middle of a row, and I couldn’t get out. So I think, for me, although I had generally a happy childhood, the anxiety and the claustrophobia brought on by that experience was very embarrassing and sad.

My parents wouldn’t have had the money anyway. Sister Kenny Institute at the time. They were all over the country, but the one I went to was in Jersey city, New Jersey.

I was only in there for two weeks and I was so traumatized by the treatment because no one was allowed to visit. I was in…at 4 years old they put me in a crib with iron bars. They took away…my parents brought crayons and a coloring book for me to color. They took those away because they were afraid I was going to write on the walls. And so I had nothing to play with and nothing to do.

And after two weeks I looked out of the window and I saw a parade and it was a Mummers parade. And I got so frightened by the Mummers that I tried to escape and I pushed a very heavy metal door, which swung back on me and broke my foot. And after that, my parents were called. They took me home and they quarantined our house. And every day they used to bring me back for day treatment.

I didn’t have a severe case of polio. They didn’t know back then what they know now about children and treatment and the long-lasting effect it has on the psyche of kids.

As I got older, gradually I was able to go to a movie and I can stay that I pretty much outgrew that. I still have claustrophobia without a doubt, but not to the extent where I’m dysfunctional. But really the only person I used to speak to when I was 4 years old was a boy in the next room. He was in an iron lung. His name was Johnny and he and I used to talk to each other through the wall. =

Luckily I was not left with a limp. I think there were a lot of arrested cases of polio where you had the virus, but you didn’t have it really severely. But as I said, the emotional scars were worse than the physical part of it. But I’ve certainly, over the years, have been to therapy and, you know, I’m way past that. It’s just a bad memory now.

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