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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hickory Polio Epidemic 1944: Interiew of Survivor #1

My mother contacted me by phone today and we talked about Joyce's book, "Blue," and the Polio Epidemic in Hickory, NC, of which mom was a part.  The following is a brief interview that I want to share with my readers and Joyce Hostetter:

Me:    So, Mom, do you remember much about the polio epidemic in Catawba County in 1944?

Mom:  In 1944 in Hickory?  Oh, yes!!  That was me!  I was there!

Me:  Yes, I thought so.  How old were you?

Mom:   I was 12, I think.  I think I was about 12 or 12 1/2 because I remember I was so embarrassed.  The doctor in the emergency room made me take all my clothes off and they wanted to see me walk and then stand against the wall so they could take pictures.  They wanted to see me walk.  Then they took pictures both front and back.  I was so embarrassed.  Yes, I remember because it was just as I was becoming a teen-ager and I was embarrassed.

Me:  So, how did it all happen?

Mom:   Well, it was the Summer.  I was staying with my cousins out in the country at the farm.  There was a big swimming area...a kind of lake with a river of water coming down into it.  It was very nice to swim in but the boys were always swimming there and they would swim naked.  I couldn't go there, and my friend and her brother who lived in the big house on one of the hills weren't allowed to go there, either.  So, we found another place to swim.  It was a pond with bushes and trees all around it.  It was private and small.  We swam there just a few times, and then all three of us got sick.

Me:  What happened?

Mom:   Well, the brother, I don't remember their names, he was badly paralyzed.  He ended up in a wheel chair, as I remember.  She was lightly injured like I was.  But, we all three were hospitalized in Hickory.

Me:  Do you know where they are now?

Mom:  No, I don't.  But, I could probably find out when I go back home sometime.  I only know that I heard he never really recovered.

Me:  How did you get to Hickory, Mom?

Mom:  I don't remember that part at all.  I just remember that I ended up in those big tents.  I was in a big tent as big as your living room and another room together.  They laid wooden floors down.  We were just put in beds in rows.  The tent was very big.

Me:  Did Grandmother get to be with you?

Mom:   No.  There weren't any visitors or family as I remember.  The person in the bed next to me was a young woman who had had twins.  She was very sick.  I know she wasn't able to see her twins for 2 years.  But, my mother was not able to see me.

Me:  Poor woman.  I wonder if the reason Grandmother didn't come also had to do with the fact that she had no car and that gasoline was being rationed, as well.

Mom:  I don't know.  But, I remember that they didn't want us to do anything by lay there, and I would slide down off my bed once I started feeling better, and I would put my hands on the bed and try to walk around it so I could go home.  I wasn't supposed to do that but I did anyway.

Me:   You tried to exercise because you were tired of lying there such a long time?

Mom:   No, I wanted to see my mother.  I wanted to go home to my mother.

Me:  Where did the polio strike you, Mom?  On your left side?

Mom:  Well, not really.   It was on my left and right sides at the top.  From my shoulders down my arms to my fingers.  And then at both of my thighs, mostly.  That's where it was mostly painful on me.
They would take army blankets, which were cut up, and put them in the old washing machines in very hot water to soak them.  Then they would put the strips through the ringer and then wrap my arms and shoulders, thighs and everything with those strips.  They were so hot!!  Just so blistering hot.
The doctors didn't give us anything at all for the pain.

Me:  Oh, that sounds just horrible, Mom!  Nothing at all for the pain for you?

Mom:  No.  I don't think they knew what to do except the hot wraps and they fed us soups and soft things.  They would come and sit people up, if they could sit up, and feed them.  They used to sit me up to feed me.

Me:   Did they have you do any sort of exercise?  Were you made to exercise your arms or legs at all?

Mom:  No, never!   It was just be in the bed resting.  They just wanted us to rest.  That was all we were supposed to do.  I just remember the tents and how big they were to me and laying there missing my mother.

Me:   Okay, well, we'll talk about this more later.  Would you like to?

Mom:  Yes!   I'd like to talk about it more.  I know all about the time and what happened.

To be continued.....

Your Bookish Dame/Deb


Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Deborah - this is so incredible! I will put a link to this post in my blog sidebar as well as on my Facebook page. My readers will love hearing from an actual patient of the Miracle of Hickory.

I sure did! Looking forward to more! THANK YOU!


Yes, this was so nice of you to post. I am also looking forward to reading more about your mother's experience.

Jeannie Smith

Hi, I am a sister to Joyce Moyer Hostetter. I enjoyed this interview very much.....would love to hear more.....thanks for sharing...
Jeannie Moyer Smith


Very interesting. I recently read Joyce's book Blue. It got me so interested in the time period and this other aspect of the WWII era.
Thank you for the first-hand account interview with your mom. I look forward to hearing more.


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