If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolf Hitler.
Here comes Polio
In 1957, I was 17 months old, our family’s fifth and youngest child. I was, my mother says, just “nicely learning to walk”. Then I got polio. It came to me at my uncle Bap’s remote cabin one weekend in Northern Ontario, Canada. Close to midnight and engulfed by an angry storm, my mother, my father, my polio and I were taken across the dark, choppy lake to the car, to the hospital, to the dreaded news. There was no doubt. Polio: 1.
The predicted blueprint of my life had taken a detour. And I had a new, annoying companion to travel with: from now on it was Polio and me.
Polio the manipulator
Suddenly my sister tipped me out of my wheelchair onto the road. Years later she said she was jealous that Polio made my mother and my father pay more attention to me than her. Polio and my sister often partnered up against me. Polio: 2.
My mother lifted my siblings over the fence but I had to climb it unassisted. “To build your muscles,” she said, “because of Polio.” Polio: 3.
My father the ice skater suddenly swooped in and scooped me up. Off we went at thrilling speeds I didn’t know existed. At that moment I trusted my father and felt very secure. I closed my eyes. I was skating! Only me, not my siblings. “Because,” he said, “you can’t skate.” Thank you, Polio. Me: 1.
My mother insisted I could NOT be a nurse because it would be “too hard on your leg.” Be a secretary so you can sit. One dream gone. One limitation revealed. One lie spoken. One doubt cast. Polio: 4.
Polio, you beauty
hospital stays. The nurse who bonded with me when I was two, and who remembered me when I returned at seven. I remember the softness of her expression when she told me she had looked after me back then. Her name was Simone. Good on you nurse Simone. Me: 2.
the first person who adjusted the little brace on my leg, Mr. Tatlow. He had an accent I didn’t recognise. He smiled at me a lot and gave me gum. I felt very special when I saw Mr Tatlow, like Polio was something special. You are a beautiful liar, Polio. Me: 3.
I felt special whenever I went to hospitals for surgeries. Important bone surgeons worked their magic. After one operation I could walk without the brace. A miracle! Finally got one over on you Polio! Me: 4.
The score evens: Polio – 4. Me – 4.
Polio, the shrinking friend
I will never love you Polio. You’re like a conjoined twin I can never get rid of. But lately I feel like I am finally gaining (psychological) ground. I now have a foothold and I am standing up to your lies about me. Sometimes I find myself feeling sorry for you. You are a skinny, pathetic thing that continues to feed me lies about myself. Sorry Polio. I’ve stopped listening.
Final score: Polio – 4. Marlayna – 5.
Marlayna Zucchiatti has been living in NZ since 1996 when she immigrated from Canada with her partner and their four sons. She is a retired counsellor who helps organise New Zealand’s annual Polio Retreat and ‘stays sane’ by knitting.
Read more about polio on Corpus:
- Polio survivors in 21st century New Zealand: we’re still here by Gordon Jackman
- “Them rags that wells my legs”: Sister Kenny’s first polio case by Sue Wootton
- The inert body live on the page: June Opie’s Over My Dead Body by Lucy Hunter