tv Book Discussion on Limping Through Life CSPAN February 21, 2016 1:00pm-1:31pm EST
consensus for anyone asking of how we'll balance the need of justice with the needs of public safety. this has been an incredible book. "the rise and fall of violent crime in america." a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how american parents are devout, what our history as an on where we are going. thank you so much for taking time today. >> it was a pleasure. thank you so much. >> .tv is on location at the university of madison was on thin. we attacking with authors and we are pleased to be joined now i am emeritus professor, gerry adams. his book is called living through life, a farm boys polio
>> the edge o the people in 1918 knew the flew was airborne and polio is not airborne. >> host: how much of an epidemic was it in the states? >> guest: no one seems to know exactly when it began because most of us remember franklin roosevelt had polio. it was on the east coast in the '20s and '30s. after world war ii, from '45-'55
we had a tremendous epidemic. in wisconsin it roared up the fox river valley up to green bay with thousands of cases, many deaths, it was a terrible disease. >> where were you in january 1947 and what happens? >> guest: i was in 8th grade in a one-room country school living on a little farm in central wisconsin where he had no electricity and no indoor plumbi plumbing. coming home from school -- >> host: perfectly healthy? >> guest: not really. on the way home, i was tremendously tired. and more tired than i can remember. we had been sliding down the hill -- the country school had one acre of land and lizzy was
the farmer next door and gave us permission to slide down the hill. i was dragging my sled home. and i said i cannot believe how tired i am. and she said you don't have to go out and do your chores. so the expectation was as the farm kid i should be out in the barn helping my dad. by supper time it was getting much worse. i was developing a tremendous headache, sore throat. farm people did not go to the doctor. you had to be near death to go to the doctor. my mother said you are probably coming down with a cold and treated me for a cold. i went up to my cold bedroom. we didn't have central heat of course and the stove pipe went up through the floor to warm the upstairs room. she gave me what is called a
whiskey sling which sounds interesting. it is a glass of water and little whiskey and honey and you drink that. i cannot stand the smell of whiskey to this day. it was terrible. we would drink that. she rubbed my chest with skunk grease -- can you imagine that? rendered skunk grease because we could not afford thinks like vapo rub if there was such a thing. that was supposed to draw it out and the whiskey was to make you prespire and sweating was the cure to everything. if you didn't get numona you would be okay. and i came down stairs the next day and my right leg wasn't working. i told her and she said how
could that be? and she said i think we should go to the doctor. she loaded us up in our old 1936 plymouth and took me down to the wild rose hospital that was built in 1941 by a doctor out of chicago that liked to vacation at the hospital. cooperative hospital. only cooperative hospital in the world at the time. the doctor in charge took one look at me and said my folks, i think jerry has polio. my dad took one look at this doctor and looked at me and stood there holding his chap, fifth grade education, long-time farmer, look on his face was the look of someone who had just lost their best cow. if you were a farm person you would appreciate that more than folks who are not familiar with cattle.
my mother said what should we do for him. and he said the hospital is full. iron lungs lined the halls. he said take him home, keep him warm, give him lots of liquids. i think he thought i had had it because the neighbor kid had died a little before this. the doctor was loosing about one kid a day in this hospital at that time. terrible time to be an md and terrible time to have anything to do with the medical profession. i am hope. miserable kid on a caught in the dining room and there i stayeded for a month trying to get over this. the headache disappeared and the sore threat left but the paralysis didn't leave. i could not walk. stand up. lost weight.
i was ornery and miserable. in the previous year i was really active. farm kids are all active. there was a little lake on the fourth of july we took off from farm work and my dad said let's go to silver lake. we would go on the afternoon of the fourth of july and we would have a pinic. and my mother had the food under the pine tree and you would go swimming off to the lake. and i noticeded -- noticed there were city kids lined up in short pants. i went over and joined them. they said come in and we will have a foot race. i joined the race and i beat the city kids. i raced right past them. i have been used to going to the cows and stuff. they awarded me as goofy as it sounds first place for winning that foot race was a can of
asparagus. asparagus can must have been a big deal in 1946. i came back to the table where my dad, mother, and two brothers were and i said i just won a foot race and got this can of asparag asparagus. and my father said you were in that foot race? do you know those kids are catholic? it was the nights of columbus. she said that is the nights of columbus. those kids are catholic. well, i didn't know the nights of columbus from the queen of england. i was clutching this can of asar spare -- asparagus and she said you have to take it back and my dad, bless him, he said he won the race he keeps the asparagus.
i was remembering as i was on this cot by the old wood stove in the dining room trying to keep warm i could remember the days when i could run, walk and do the things farm kids could and i could not do that anymore. there were no physical therapist in those days. certainly not in wild rose, wisconsin. my dad said to me, this is april now, the snow is melting and i was able to be upward a little bit. he said you got to do something about this bum leg. we don't you -- the doctor said you will probably never walk again. in those days, unfortunately if you will had a physical disability you were immediately declared mentally incompetent so did not anyone even know that which is a terrible thing but it was fairly common.
i just got a new tractor. we farmed the horses all the way through the depression and through world war ii. we had this brand new farm all-h international tractor. and we had gotten it just the year before. two years before. 1945. my dad said well, we need -- you can drive that tractor, can't you? your head works. my arm works. but this leg doesn't work. to drive that tractor you had to work two brake petals to turn. if you want to go to the left you push the left to the steering world and i could not work the brake pedals at all. we have a sandy field and the tractor yields together in the front if you could not work the brake peddle it would not turn. it as a beautiful day, the birds are singing, the sun is on my back and the first time i have
been outdoors and the tractor is pulling and i can see up ahead this fence. this new fence we built the previous year with brand new fence and cedar posts that were expensive. we can see the fence coming closer and closer and i am screwing on the steering wheel and it is skidding and the next thing i knew the fence post busted off and my dad is coming with the team of horse and the stone boat says you need pick up the stones on the field. he said to me, i thought he was going to load me up and take me home and that was the end of it. the first thing he said is are you okay? and i said i am okay but this isn't. and he said i can see that. let me turn the tractor around. you get back on there. you figure out when you get
toward the fence you will shut it off, slow down, or brake. i was so angry with him because every night now for about two weeks driving the tractor he would rub this knee horse liniment. if it is good for horses it must be good for people was his theory. rub this knee with horse liniment and pull on it until the end of april i could stand up and begin to walk a little. when you look at the cover of the book and see this calf, which was my 4-h calf, and that summer i am trying to prepare for the county fair. trying to teach this calf how to lead. and that calf became my second physical therapist because as where was teaching this calf to lead it was teaching me how to walk.
i was well enough to do the work i needed. i never could run. i always limped. there is a lot more to the story. >> host: you are in your early 80's. >> guest: 81. >> host: and you are still walking. is that a rarity? >> guest: it was. i give so much credit to a whole host starting with my father whom i was so angry with at the time, and the fact where was working with this animal who both of us were terribly bull-headed. he is a bull and has the right. and my dad would say with your bull headedness you will work through it. it was a tough time. there were lots of people helping me that i didn't realize at the time. my school teacher, faith jenks,
came out to the farm and brought me lessons every day. and then the following day she would sit down with me and we would go over the lessons because i had to pass the county examination in order to be admitted into the high school. that was the way it worked those days. i was scared to death i would not make it and pass the exam. but i did and thanks to my teacher who came out every day to help me. when i got to high school, a little bit of that story, all of the freshman boys were expected to go out for baseball. baseball was the big deal. there were a hundred kids in the whole high school. my graduating class it 15. standing at the plate, and cliff simonson had a fastball you could not believe.
his claim to fame is when the freshman stood up there he could send the ball within six inches of your nose. and the idea of being the kid would jump back and say i didn't have enough umph. there were not any emt's or anything. i come to and the coach, paul wright, he says to me are you okay? and i said i am not. i have a lump on my head and a terrible headache. and then he said words that were unbelievablely true but harsh. jerry, i don't think you are going to make the baseball team. -- unbelie which was obvious bu he said something else that is profound. he said you should take
typewriting. and i said typewriting is for girls. in 1947 it was true. the girls took typewriting in order to get into secretary positions. so here i am in this class with 15 girls. as it turned out what freshman has to opportunity to sit with 15 girls. yet manual typewriters, most people don't remember what they were even, but we had to work them by hand. lc smith. a whole line of them. these girls had beautiful long fingers and i said how can i compete? i had stubby fingers. after the first couple weeks they began the typing test and i was spooking to the girls because their pinkies didn't have any strength. so they could not get the "a" to work. and no one knew what to do with
the semicolon. i was feeling good. the typewriting class was the newspaper staff for the wonderfully, provocative "rose bud" which was the name of the newspaper. the baseball team is called the wild rose. i am a reporter for the newspaper now because we could type. we had hextagraph machines and we typed all of these stories. then i am an a assistant editor and then i am the editor. i borrowed from the milwaukee
journal and also from the readers digest and so much more. that is how i got into writing. i have always had a second career as a writer. paul wright did something else for me too. he said jerry we need someone to announce the basketball games. at age 14, i had a microphone and i am announcing the basketball games. it was hilarious because one of my colleagues, aaron walters, was a good baseball player. and i say it is alan walters coming down the floor. two more points for alan walters. and the kid next to me said we know who that is. i was having fun. i was in public speaking and all that stuff. wright pushed me in those directions. >> host: jerry, as -- are you
the only person in your peer group who had polio and did you feel ostracized? >> guest: nobody knew it. this kid is limping. he must have gotten hurt in a farm accident. i would not tell anybody. ever. when my wife and i were married she did not know i had polio. i spent ten years in the army reserve and no doctor ever asked me if i had polio. i was smart enough to join the transportation core because we got a ride but i was a captain in the army reserve which people find unbelievable because i was always limping. so i never told anybody about polio until my editor at the historical society said one day to me could you write a book about this and i did. tough book to write. >> host: anger? >> guest: no.
sorrow. missed opportunities. a sense of worthlessness. i have lived a life of worthlessness because once you cannot do what everyone else can do, meaning what 12 and 13-year-olds can do, play baseball, basketball, and run track you feel worthless. the fact i was writing didn't cut it. that was a sissy job. you spend a life feeling worthless and people say what is it like to have had polio you have gotten over it. and i have spoken to survivor groups who agree with me. once you have polio you always have polio. the psychological impact of that disease, for me at least, is far more devastating than the fact i am limping today and experiencing post-polio syndrome. that psychological,
worthlessness just prevails. and how does done one react to it? there are two days basically. you either become a drug addict or alcoholic or overachiever because you wanted to show people i am not worthless over and over again. i am the only kid in my extended family to go to college. my uncle, my dad's mother, said hermon, where did you go wrong when he heard he was going to college and my dad said what are you talking about and my uncle said the only reason anybody goes to college is to get out of work. and i got a masters and he said i didn't know jerry could get out of more work. >> host: did your family avoid
you when you first had polio? >> guest: on purpose. they kept my brothers especially my brothers away from me which was a good thing. at that time we did not know how it was transmitted. i have no idea how i got it other than it was everywhere. it was bad sanitation. no one in our community had indoor plumbings so it was iffy. >> host: you are the only one in the wild rose -- >> guest: no, just in the family. >> host: what is an iron lung? >> guest: an iron lung was a gruesome piece of equipment that was probably 3/10ths long and about this big around. you were put into that thing to assist you in breathing for
those who had barb wire polio. that is why it was called iron lung; to help you breathe. most of the people who had polio in those days were children and didn't make it. than died. i was fortunate. i have met a lot of polio survivor and they are in terrible shape. they are in wheelchairs and walkers and it affects all kinds of things. it can later affect you mentally, too. it hasn't bothered me so far. >> host: 1955 jonis salk. what happened? >> guest: they had been researching vaccines for polio and the journalist salk was the one who came up the vax seen
that was so effective where there were thousands of cases and now there were none. it was unbelievablely effective. and one of my crusades and i hear this all of the time from mothers who don't want to vaccinate them, but get your children vaccinated especially for polio. if you have problems understanding i would like to talk to you and share what it is like to live a life of having polio. no kid should have to do that especially now with salk. there is no reason to have a kid going through life feeling worthless because of a deformity named polio. >> host: are you still suffering from post-polio syndrome? >> guest: yes, i am. i am walking with a cane.
for years i did not. the last ten years it has come back to visit. people say why don't you get a knee replacement? it is not the knee joint but the ligaments and muscles around it. >> host: are you suffering mentally today? >> guest: no. well, i don't think so. but you might speak with my wife and some of my other friends. >> host: when did you let it go? when did you get over the fact you had polio? >> guest: i never did. i have never gotten over it. as i mentioned earlier, once you have polio you always have it. i have never gotten over it. >> host: what about the part you call "the funk" or the sorrow you had? >> guest: i think i have gotten past that. i have written 40 books and spent 38 years at the university and people remind me you have done some things.
won all kinds of awards. three hour long documentary are for public television. people say why are you still writing you are 81 years old? why are you still doing television stuff? it takes 20-30 hours to do an hour-long documentary. my start answer is i am trying to figure out how to do it and if i do i will quit. but the real answer is there is a worthlessness. >> host: you talked about the tractor. are you able to drive today? >> guest: sure, no problem. i still run a farm. i was there on my tractor the other day. it has power steering. >> host: what was your role here
at the university of wisconsin? >> guest: i was a professor of agricultural education. prior to that i was an ex tension agent. i moved to madison to be a publication editor. i have ran a double career where i have been freelance writing. i am writing papers for news columnist still. >> host: how many polio survivors are there in the u.s.? >> guest: no idea. thousands. a lot of us. it is tricky because my doctor, young fellow just out of med school, and anyway, i said i had polio and what kind of research is going on to help guys like me
and he was honest and he said not very much and he said well you will all be dead one day and you will not need it. >> host: is there polio in the world today? in the u.s.? >> guest: yes, it is in the world. it is in pakistan, afghanistan, and some in nigeria. and the gates foundation and the service clubs have provided millions of dollars, rotary international, have provided millions of dollars for free vaccines and unfortunately some of the folks in those countries see that as a cia problem and refuse the vaccine. that is another reason why vaccines are important here because we all travel around these days. like ebola. just because we don't have it
here doesn't mean it can't come here. same thing with polio. >> host: are children in the u.s. -- i remember as a kid, getting a sugar cube -- >> guest: that is another way of doing it. >> host: with the polio vaccine. are kids today getting the vaccine for polio? is that one of the required? >> guest: exactly right. unfortunately it is a minority group but there is a group of folks that refuse it. that in my bias opinion is a mistake. a terrible mistake. >> host: those first few days with polio what was the pain like? >> guest: like one i never had before. we didn't have asprin. it was unbearable. you could not sleep or do anything. it was a throbbing pain in the knee, plus the headache, plus the sore