Living With Polio

“Not Going Is Not an Option”

Jann Hartman, Seattle, Washington

I grew up believing in fairy tales and loved stories that ended “happily ever after.” Even when I got polio in 1953 at almost 6 years old and spent most of that year in the hospital, I still believed that everything would
work out for the best. I met my “knight in shining armor,” we got married and had three wonderful boys.

John retired in 2005; we sold our home, bought an RV, and headed out. The plan was to travel south in the winter and head north in the summer. We hoped for many more golden years even with my post-polio syndrome causing some problems. Our plan was a good one, but as I have learned, “when we plan, God laughs.”

Early in 2006, John was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that had metastasized. Now, I became the caregiver as he got progressively worse. We stored our RV and moved in with my parents in Florida so they could help with John’s care. It was a really stressful time for all of us.

John rallied a little after about the fourth round of chemotherapy, so we made plans to fly from Florida to Seattle. It was important to John that I would be settled with one of our boys, and our son had bought a house with a separate suite for us.

Friends and family became very important as John’s days on earth counted down. I saw him hanging on as our 36th anniversary approached on Sept 12. He seemed very pleased to have made it, but my heart was breaking knowing it would be our last one. He died four days later.

The grief I experienced was intense that first year. Even now, three years later, it comes and goes. You just have to allow yourself plenty of time. I also believe it is best not to make any drastic changes that first year, if possible. My life had changed almost entirely since our move to the Pacific Northwest, and that wasn’t easy for me. It’s a beautiful area, but not where I ever expected to end up. I joined a church and attend a great Bible study group. My new friends are very supportive and very dear to me.

Without John, I wondered how I would ever be able to travel. It is harder now, but not impossible. I was able to go to Hawaii, and I’ve visited old friends from high school and college in Pennsylvania. I attended the 10th Post-Polio Health International Conference at Warm Springs last year. I love spending time with PPS friends in Branson, Missouri; Arkansas; Wisconsin; and Vancouver, Canada. I am blessed to be able to visit my parents in Florida for a few months each year.

Last summer, we made my mother-in-law suite even more accessible. I now have a lift for my car so that I can load my scooter. I also have a travel scooter that folds up, but I am not using it as much as I probably should.

As I get braver, this too will get easier for me, I hope. I do not like to travel alone and go with friends whenever I can. But, for now, not going is just not an option.

Originally published in Post-Polio Health (Fall 2010, Vol. 26, No. 4)

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