Polio Place

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Bonnie Jo Grieve; 1954; age 5; New York State Rehabilitation Hospital, Haverstraw, New York

That is me in the center. I am five years old. The New York State Rehabilitation Hospital at Haverstraw is in the background. My half-brother, six, is on the left. Immediately prior to contracting polio, my brother had shoved a heavy metal door into my face, breaking my nose and knocking out three front teeth. That is why my mouth is tightly closed in the picture, because my mother did not want anyone to know or see that my brother had knocked out three of my front teeth. From age 4 to age 7, I was missing those three front teeth.

I remember that day well. I was wearing a deep blue velvet coat with a white fur collar and matching snow pants. These had been bought for me by my grandmother for this very occasion. I was very tall for my age, and very thin, but the coat had to be much larger to fit over the back brace and the shoulder brace. I remember walking down that ramp. I had to hold on to the railing as I was too weak to walk up or down any steps. After taking the picture, my father picked me up and carried me to the car, a dark-red ‘52 Dodge, where my (paternal) grandmother was waiting for me with a big, soft, deep-rose satin comforter that she wrapped around me. She held me snugly in the back seat for the entire long drive back to NYC. I was very happy.

This was the first time I had seen my family since the night I was wrapped in those thick gray wool blankets and carried away by the ambulance men six months earlier.

As it turned out, I was back in NYC for one night only. I was too weak to get out of bed. The next morning, my mother decided I had to go back to Haverstraw and had my father drive me back.

My memory of it is that they felt I had been discharged prematurely and brought me back to stay at Haverstraw for another few months. But who knows, I was only five. I remember that the next time my family came to Haverstraw, it was hot. I could walk much better, and they brought me home to stay. But I still often had to go back to outpatient clinics at both Haverstraw and to the Hospital for Crippled Children (New York Hospital, now Cornell/Weill Medical Center) for years afterwards.


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