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  • Writer's pictureSally Jameson Bond

Styes In My Eyes and the Scourge of Polio

I’m just getting over a stye. It’s the third one I’ve had since the end of March when the first one made its unwelcome appearance. Three weeks later, number two popped up. The next day, I saw an eye doctor, got some antibiotic drops, and continued the thrice daily hot compresses. I went again to show him stye number three. There was talk of lancing (eek!) and a regimen of oral antibiotics, but fortunately, I’ve avoided all that, at least for now. The doctor recommended continuing the hot compresses once or twice a day even after everything had healed. If that’s what it takes to keep the styes at bay, I’ll gladly follow his advice. It feels good, even during our current hot summer weather.

But good grief—who gets a stye, let alone three, at my age?? (According to my doctor, it’s not that unusual.) I have no memory of childhood styes, although it’s likely I did have one or two when I was a youngster. I do remember having measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Vaccines for those came later.

In 1944 and 1945, parents of young children had plenty to worry about. During my initial research efforts for my book, I paid some attention to references for childhood diseases that were prevalent during World War II. In several issues of Time magazine, I came across full-page ads for Sharp & Dohme, a pharmaceutical company. (It merged with Merck & Co. in 1953—that name might be more familiar to some of you.) In July 1944, the ad’s headline was “Lockjaw [tetanus]—its greatest threat is to children.” Later that year it was “Diphtheria—its worst month is October.” “When Whooping Cough keeps company with Death” was highlighted early the next year. All three ads promoted the Immunization Record Card. I suspect my parents had one of those, or something similar, for all five of us kids in the fifties and sixties.

I recently learned there was a poliomyelitis epidemic in this country in 1944. Better known as polio or infantile paralysis, the epidemic peaked in September, and by the end of the year, more than 18,500 cases had been documented. An earlier polio epidemic struck the country in 1916 when, just two years before we entered World War I, more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths were recorded.

Perhaps the most well-known person in America who was afflicted with polio was our 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was thirty-nine years old in 1921—in the prime of his life—when he was stuck down with the disease that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Initially, he was quite ill, with high fevers, severe pain, nausea, and a sensitivity to touch, He was eventually fitted with heavy steel leg braces that allowed him to stand with crutches.

In October 1924, Mr. Roosevelt traveled to Warm Springs, Georgia for the first of many hydrotherapy treatments. It was there he learned to walk short distances with the support of a strong companion on his left side and a cane on his right side. In spite of his physical limitations, he was elected governor of New York twice (in 1928 and 1930) and president of the United States four times (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944). While he was president, efforts were made to shield his disability from the American people, but during his address to Congress on March 1, 1945, just a few weeks before his death, he stated: “I hope that you will pardon me for this unusual posture of sitting down, but I know you will realize that it makes it a lot easier for me not to have to carry about ten pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs.”

Franklin Roosevelt died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945. To date, he is the only physically disabled president who has served our country. His legacy extends beyond the political world. In 1938, he established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Later known as the March of Dimes, the organization focused on the rehabilitation of polio victims and also supported the work of Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, and others which led to the development of polio vaccines.

Other celebrities you might know who were afflicted with polio include singer-songwriters Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young; film maker Francis Ford Coppola; golfer Jack Nicklaus; Olympic champions Tenley Albright and Wilma Rudolph; actors Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, and Donald Sutherland; violinist Itzhak Perlman; football coach Bud Grant; author Arthur C. Clark; and Emmett Till, an African American teenager who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955.

There are approximately 300,000 polio survivors in the United States today, and recent data indicates as many as 80% of them have experienced Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS). Symptoms of PPS, including decreased muscular function, acute weakness, pain, and fatigue, typically occur between fifteen and thirty years after the initial diagnosis. Treatment varies by individual, but most often involves energy conservation (pacing physical activity), physical therapy, and using assistive devices.

The good news: since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the United States. Clearly, vaccines work.

Blessings to all.


Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here:


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