Monday, March 4, 2019

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio Book Review

When I was a child, I remember meeting someone who had been crippled with polio.  She was the first person I ever met who was in a wheelchair, and as children are apt to do, I was extremely interested in the fact she was in a chair that rolled around.  Of course my parents were embarrassed at the attention I was giving her chair, but she showed it off to me and told me about how she did different activities that many of us take for granted.  Of course, this is a great way for children to learn about handicaps.

I remember coming home and telling my mother I hoped I never got polio.  She told me I never would and reminded me of the little cup of liquid I didn't like the taste of but was required to drink.  She explained that would keep me from getting polio.  Of course I asked why that lady didn't drink that liquid and it was explained when she got polio there was no vaccine.

Polio was a very real -- and very scary -- part of life before the vaccine was developed.  The iron lung, a machine that helps patients breathe was developed in the 1920s.  In 2017, there were still three people alive living in an iron lung.  Polio was highly contagious -- and when she was twelve years old, Peg Kehret had a twitching thigh muscle in chorus, then went home for lunch.  She collapsed, and was diagnosed with polio.
Small Steps is the story about her going from a carefree twelve year old to being totally paralyzed within days.  It is the story about how determination, hard work, luck, and quick medical care can make the difference between walking again and life in a wheelchair.

I didn't realize there were three types of polio and Peg was unfortunate enough to have been infected with all three.

This book is honest, but it's not overly graphic.  Written for children about the age Peg was when she developed polio, it gives a look as to what life was like in the 1950s for polio patients.

I loved the stories she had from the Sheltering Arms hospital where she was roommates with four other girls.  I am sure they had their squabbles, but she remembers them fondly and even tells in the epilogue what happened to each of the girls who became as close as sisters to her during her recuperating.

I also loved the thought of the nativity play.  What a normal, annual event in what would have been one of the saddest places of that time.  A baby Jesus with polio?  Mary using polio sticks to walk to the manger?  Someone saying they should have dressed a wheelchair up as a donkey?

This was an amazing book.  It may have been written for pre-teen tweens, but it is a book I was fascinated with, and it brought to mind the lady I met when I was a child who was in a wheelchair.

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You can read a sample here:

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