“Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from indomitable will.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
She was 12 years old when she got polio. She was admitted to the Fever Hospital in Dublin, housed in a cavernous Victorian building which would become her home for the next year. The ward had 40 beds. She laid in hers for six months, only able to open her eyes. For the first while, family visits were more viewings through a window. Zero physical contact.
When they brought her home to ‘Rosetta’, the family home, she was carried from the car to the living room. She couldn’t walk. The polio had permanently damaged her leg. Physiotherapy was rare and expensive, but her mother took her once a month, and worried about what would become of her daughter’s life.
Fast forward to a spring day a few months later. The young girl was sitting on the couch and spotted her sister’s bicycle propped up against the house. Her mother was out getting groceries. Her siblings were occupied. And then she had an idea. Mercifully, the front door was open...one less obstacle. With great effort, she maneuvered herself outside, down the three steps and somehow hoisted herself onto the bicycle. Using the shorter stone wall that lined the houses on the street, she steadied herself and started slowly and painfully peddling down Adelaide Road. Returning from her shopping, her mother was shocked to see her not only out of the house but on a bicycle. She threw her groceries bags aside and frantically ran to her, as the cans and fruit rolled down the street.
“What do you think you are doing?
“Mammy, I got this. Leave me alone. I don’t need help. Go pick up your groceries.”
As her mother tried to argue and reason, the 12-year-old dug in. “I have to do this.”
She persisted with the bicycle. Every day she got steadier. Her withered leg grew stronger. She was able to cycle places, do things and feel normal. For her this courageous act wasn’t about the bicycle, it was about her freedom, independence and the life she wanted to live. Grit, perseverance and optimism got her through and it characterized how she lived her life. While she was confined to a leg caliper for the future, and these days in a wheelchair, she never let the impact of Polio limit her. If anything, it strengthened her.
This article was sparked in a recent conversation with my 86-year-old Auntie Sheila, the 12-year-old in this story. She shared the parallels between COVID and the Polio virus in the 40’s and 50’s. Back then, she experienced the fear, the unknowns, the need for physical distance, the wait for the vaccine and, sadly, the casualties. She also experienced the hope, the medical advances and the lessons. It shaped her life and nurtured a passion for the nursing profession.
So why am I sharing this story?
It’s been a year of disruption, uncertainty, massive change and loss. We are….name your emotion…weary, sad, frustrated, impatient, depressed, stressed, exhausted. We want this to be over. And yet, here we are. To stay safe we need to persevere, stay the course, adapt our plans and embrace what is. And we need to dial in our optimism and believe we will get on the other side of this together.
The conversation with my Auntie was the inspiration I needed. She’s done this before. And that grounds her unwavering belief that we’ll get through this and will be stronger for it.
Dig deep, persevere.
It’s going to be okay.
Just ask Auntie Sheila.
When has perseverance gotten you through tough times before?
What has this year taught you about yourself and your resiliency?
What have you discovered this year that you wouldn’t want to ever let go?