One of my earliest memories, perhaps the earliest of all, goes back to when I was about four years old, in 1946, living in the Bronx borough of New York City. I awoke to a searing headache and fiery fever, aching all over. I remember a tube being inserted into my privates, to help withdraw urine. I awoke again, I don’t know how much later, hours or days, in a hospital ward. In the bed next to me was a man engaged with a terrifying contraption I now know was an iron lung, to help him breathe.
I could breathe OK, and the terrible fever and headaches had subsided. But I couldn’t move my legs.
My disease, I soon learned, was called infantile paralysis, poliomyelitis, or just polio. I had a relatively mild version. Within two or three weeks, when the acute stage ended, I was taken across the Hudson River to a rehabilitation hospital in a place called Haverstraw, New York. Over a period of months there, helped by a determined staff, I gradually regained some strength in my legs. I could walk but not yet run. Still, I could go home to our apartment in the Bronx, reconnect with my brother and parents, and start kindergarten, on time, with my age mates.