Another Life Begins At Michael Reese

2929 S. Ellis Ave. Chicago, IL 60616 (312) 791...

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The name Michael Reese was totally strange to me as were the names of any hospital.  At the time Michael Reese Hospital, a prestigious teaching hospital, pioneered in polio rehabilitation techniques.  Our family physician, Dr. Imre Horner, was on staff there. He arranged to get me in.

Michael Reese (MR), on 29th and Ellis Avenue, is four and a half miles straight east from Contagious Disease Hospital (CDH).  The two hospitals were relatively close to each other, but the difference between them was enormous.  CDH was a government operated public facility designed to control or prevent the spread of communicable disease.  Michael Reese was a private hospital in business for curing disease.

I didn’t need curing when I entered MR.  I needed rehabilitation, and Reese had a strong polio rehab center.  The polio virus damaged many of my muscles. My body needed a program of training and exercise to teach the remaining muscles to substitute for the damaged ones that didn’t work; weak muscles needed strengthening.

The aides slid me off the ambulance cart to a hospital cart and wheeled me through miles of corridors and into an elevator.  Up it went, then, a ride through more corridors to a room on the sixth floor. Immediately, I noticed the rooms at MR were different from at CDH. The walls were solid except for one which had a window looking outside.  It was dark when we arrived and I couldn’t see out of the window, but I saw stars and city lights. At CDH, with all of its glass walls, there was never a ray of sunshine or outside light to see.

“One, two, three…..move” and I was on the bed in a new home.  There was a second bed in the room, another difference between the two hospitals.  A young man just lay there smiling at me.

He welcomed me with a big “hello.”  He had dark curly hair with bushy black eyebrows and a contagious smile.  His arms and head were the only parts of him exposed. He was very thin, nearly skin and bone.

” I’m  Myron,” he said.

He also survived polio, except his paralysis affected him from the neck down to his toes.  His chest muscles functioned just enough to let him expand and contract his lungs without the help of the iron lung.  He had limited use of his right arm, which allowed him to scratch his nose.

Myron was three years older than me, and a senior at Steinmetz High School.  We became good friends during our time together.  I often wonder what happened to him and what quality of life he had.  I’m sure he had a much harder time than me because he never regained the use of his muscles like I did.

Life at Michael Reese improved over that of the Contagious Disease Hospital. There were no restrictions on getting up to walk around the room.  Visitors actually came in to sit and talk without a chalk board.  I saw more of my friends.  Mom even brought some of the girls to see me.  I recall Mary Ann Pavel from Woodlawn as one.

The window looked out on the back-end of the hospital.  The view provided a look at the roof with lots of steaming vents and pigeons.  Way in the distance, the buildings of the loop were in view.  Chicago didn’t have many sky scrapers yet, so I didn’t see the spectacular skyline of today, but I did see a 1953 skyline. Soldier’s Field blocked any view of Lake Michigan just four blocks away to the east. I didn’t care, I loved the new home.

Assessing the Damage-Part Four

I had been in hell for a long time when a new doctor arrived. My leg still had a tube with fluids running. The bed was still on an angle with my feet up in the air. Why? It was a way to keep fluid from filling my lungs. Unbeknownst to me, I lost the nerves that control the muscles for swallowing. All saliva and drool ran out of my mouth or down my throat. It also meant I could not take food or drink by mouth without choking.

The new doctor asked me to move my head from side to side. He held his hand against my face as I strained to push him away. He asked me to smile. I did. He asked me to smile again; I told him I was smiling. My face muscles were paralyzed. Even though my brain was telling me to smile, and I really thought I was, the message didn’t get to my cheek muscles. During my stay at CDH I became known as the ‘kid who never smiles.’ I couldn’t move my mouth to form words very well either. None of it made sense. I thought I was smiling and talking normal, but no one understood me, and they thought I was grumpy all the time.

My arms were next. I was able to move them up, down, around, and to put pressure against his hands. He moved to my legs.

“Bend your knees and hold them together.”

I moved my legs and bent them as he asked. The doctor put two fingers against my knees. “Now spread your knees apart against my hands.”

I pushed with all of my might but nothing happened. At that moment I realized I wasn’t going to make it to tryouts.

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