Tank respirator (“iron lung”) in use at Union Hospital, Terre Haute, IN 1953-1973, Author Daderot (PD)

Polio has been known since antiquity [1].  Before vaccines for the virus were discovered, polio was a scourge [2].

Fortunate patients experienced only minor symptoms.  Others were paralyzed to varying degrees; left with deformed limbs, or permanently dependent on mechanical respirators (“iron lungs”) for their next breath.  A certain percentage died outright.

Up to 50% of those who survived polio succumbed to post-polio syndrome, as long as 35 years later.  The symptoms of post-polio syndrome include exhaustion, difficulties with memory and concentration, increasing muscle and joint pain, and depression.

Will Power and Moral Superiority

Recovery from polio is not reliant on will power or moral superiority.  Neither is recovery from abuse.  We must not, therefore, grade ourselves on the extent to which we can be said to have recovered.


Like polio, abuse can leave us vulnerable in certain areas.  This is not the same as being weak.  To be weak suggests that, with a little work, we might be stronger.  It implies a certain lack of character on our part.  That is not the case with abuse.

Effort and Determination

Yes, we can, with effort and determination, overcome some of the physical, mental, and emotional scars stemming from abuse.  But there is no arithmetic relationship between effort and outcome.  A teaspoon of sweat will not guarantee us a corresponding amount of improvement.  Nor, for that matter, will a gallon.

That is not to say the effort is useless.  Whether we succeed in overcoming the scars of our abuse or not, the mere effort develops qualities in us we could not have anticipated.  Qualities like courage, patience, and humility.  Like fortitude.

The Scars of Illness, Injury and Loss

Most of us will carry the scars of our abuse as long as we live.  The vast majority of human beings, however, carry scars of some kind.  These may be the scars of illness, injury, or loss.  They may be the scars of racism, antisemitism, or other bias.

Not All We Are

Whatever their origin, whatever their impact on us, those scars are not all we are.  The question we must ask ourselves is how we want to live our lives, going forward.

We do not often focus on his disability, but Franklin D. Roosevelt was a polio victim.  Paralyzed from the waist down, Roosevelt founded the Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, and what is today known as the March of Dimes, in addition to winning the presidency four times.

More than a few historians hold the view that polio served to strengthen Roosevelt’s resolve, and deepen his empathy for the problems of others.  As it happens, those were precisely the qualities the nation needed, during the difficult years of the Depression and Second World War.

“…[Y]ou meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order… to save many people…” (Gen. 50: 20).

–   Statement by Joseph to the brothers who had, years earlier, sold him into slavery

[1] Centers for Disease Control, Vaccines, “Poliomyelitis”,  http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/polio.pdf.

[2]  The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that polio could be eradicated worldwide by 2020.  The disease persists in Pakistan and Afghanistan because militants attack health workers, preventing the delivery and administration of vaccine.  Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), “Polio to be wiped out globally this year:  WHO” by Aamir Saeed, 8/5/16,  http://www.irinnews.org/news/2016/08/05/polio-be-wiped-out-globally-year-who.




Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

2 responses to “Polio

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