Life Can Change in a Moment

The summer after freshman year in high school was one of my best. My level of activity was high. I had achieved a new level of ability and confidence. I filled the days with activity that involved my grammar school friends. During the school year we were not able to spend time with each other as before because of all our school activities. Some of my friends got jobs that kept them from hanging around as much. My own job was becoming more a part of my life. Mr. Tumey increased my hours, so I worked several days during the week, and on Saturday too. In between all the grocery work, I caddied at Ravisloe Country Club as often as I could. In spite of all the activities, the old gang met in the evenings after supper. We hung out at each other’s homes, at the corner store, or at the soda fountain. On most nights, I got home by 10 p.m. After ten we collected on someone’s front porch for a while. I played golf often with Joe Barath, Rich Makowski and Jack Adams. Most of the time, we rode to Jackson Park golf course on the street car; clubs and all.

The newspapers headlined stories about the polio epidemic almost daily. Mom kept me away from the beaches and crowded places where I might come in contact with the virus. Our gang wasn’t big for beaches anyway, although we did occasionally take the streetcar to Rainbow Beach near 75th Street.

The summer of 1953 was hot and dry. I rode my bike to and from Tumey’s, and pedaled anywhere I needed to go in the neighborhood. If a friend was with me I let him sit on the top tube while I pedaled. The big basket hanging off the front made it impossible to ride someone on the handlebars.

In August, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. School was only a few weeks away and I dreamed about trying out for football. A lot of my friends were going to do the same at their schools. On the Monday after my birthday, I remember playing eighteen holes of golf with my buddies in the morning. We got home by noon. After lunch, I rode to Tumey’s on an intensely hot sunny afternoon, and delivered groceries until closing. The temperature was in the ninety’s during the ride home. After supper I went to hang with my friends. That night we had a great time socializing, and stayed out on the porch until eleven. Finally, I went to bed. The next day was another work day.

I slept late, and woke up with a giant headache. My throat hurt so bad it hurt to swallow. When I rolled out of bed, my neck was stiff, and so sore I couldn’t move my head. Mom came to check on me. She felt my forehead and declared that I had a fever. I went back to sleep. When I didn’t get out of bed at noon she checked my temp with the glass thermometer. She called Dr. Horner to ask for advice. He said he would come over after his office hours.

Dr. Horner’s office was on 79th and Cottage Grove Avenue so it wasn’t far for him to come by car. My neck kept getting stiffer and stiffer, my throat was on fire, and I ached from head to toe with the fever. Bright light from the window made my head hurt more. I slept most of the day. The doctor arrived around supper and examined me. He took Mom outside to talk. He told her that I had polio and needed to be hospitalized immediately. It took a couple of hours, but that night an ambulance took me to Contagious Disease Hospital at 26th and California.

By the time I got my ride in the ambulance, I didn’t care what was happening. The fever made me delirious. Visions of football tryout looped continuously through my mind . . .

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