In the summer of 2005 I was visiting my sisters in my home town. After Mass a woman approached, put her arms around me and said, “Brian you are still alive. You were such a lovely boy”. My wife was standing nearby with a puzzled look on her face. It was not every day that strange women put their arms around her husband. That woman was Monica. Monica had nursed me one-on-one when I was fourteen and they thought I was going to die from polio. It was 49 years since Monica had last stood beside me. In 1956, Monica was twenty, and in charge of the isolation ward of the Ashburton hospital. I only ever saw her in a long white gown, rubber gloves and a white mask. She had beautiful blue eyes and wore rimless glasses. Her quiet voice encouraged me to eat and she held on to me when I went to the toilet. I needed her help to get sitting to standing, and because I could not stand she held me during the entire operation.
She was patient with me as the paralysis took hold and was never cross with me when I fell out of bed. I felt the comfort of her arm around me when I cried, and I cried often. In the middle of the night she would shine her torch on me and ask if I was all right. Did I need a drink? Time and again I asked her, “Will I ever be able to run again?” She replied quietly, “We will see, Brian.” Even in the early stages of having polio, I knew that nothing would be the same again. Monica’s reply told me so.