Saturday, May 18, 2024

Covid pandemic mirrors pain of polio

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Jan Wills-Collins, a retired nurse and Health and Safety consultant, has published her memoirs, ‘The Hidden Scars of Polio’.

The Covid-19 lockdowns has inspired a polio survivor to write her memoirs.

Jan Wills-Collins, formerly of Half Moon Bay and Bucklands Beach, was 11 when she contracted polio.

In the New Zealand pandemic in August 1952, Jan and her two-year-old sister Judith’s lives would be permanently affected by this deadly disease.

The right side of Jan’s body became paralysed and Judith was in a coma for three weeks.

The subsequent experiences she had with polio and the pandemic, the fear and uncertainty, is something that can be likened and compared to Covid-19.

When Jan was in hospital, she and the other sick children were not allowed to see her parents.

“With Covid-19, we have had situations of families being faced with not being able to see their sick relatives,” Jan said.

“How devastating it would have been to individuals not being with their loved ones at the time.”

Luckily, Jan and Judith received a treatment trialled by Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse who was a pioneer in the treatment of Infantile Paralysis or polio.

She discovered that by keeping polio sufferers warm, their muscle contractions and deformities “could be halted.”

“So even though I lost the use of some muscles in my leg and foot, I was never disfigured,” Jan said.

She was left with a permanent limp in her right leg and long-term health problems. Jan’s parents faced issues themselves.

Due to the misinformation surrounding the disease at the time, people were scared to walk past her mother and father, an experience Jan herself faced as other children would be afraid to sit with her at school.

Additionally, because of the financial strain, Jan’s parents sold their shop and her father lost his job.

Years later, as an adult, Jan suffered from post-polio syndrome (PPS), a disorder of the nerves and muscles.

PPS can cause muscle weakness, pain in muscles and joints, and tiredness.

“When I say I think Covid-19 is going to have really similar effects to polio, that’s what I mean,” Jan said.

“I’ve read that there are a lot of people who had quite bad Covid and now are experiencing what could be likened to post-polio syndrome.”

Jan and her family spent years at Half Moon Bay and Bucklands Beach.

She is now retired in Whangamata. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Jan published her memoirs, The Hidden Scars of Polio.

“Covid has sparked so many memories and similarities to the impact polio had on me and so many others,” she said.

“I felt this might have the potential to help others who are suffering from Covid today.”

The fear and uncertainty many felt when Covid hit, as well as the isolation and long-term health effects, all draw parallels to the polio epidemic for Jan.

“I hope that the memoirs can help those still suffering from the long-lasting effects of the disease and inspire others with hope in a period of Covid,” Jan said.

When it was announced that the polio vaccine was a success, people were cheering and church bells were ringing around the world as they lived for decades in fear of the disease with no prevention and no cure, she said.

“Vaccination is important.”

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