I always wondered why my Uncle Lance never took his right hand out of his right trouser pocket. My grandmother used to tell me it was because he had had polio, but I never understood what this meant. One Friday night in 1947 Uncle Lance went to a youth event in town. The next day he played tennis, and the following day became quite ill with the infection. My grandmother called the doctor. He suspected it was polio, and arranged for Uncle Lance to be sent to an infectious diseases hospital. There were no ambulances in the town, so a friend and my grandfather came to the house in the doctor’s Mercury to take Uncle Lance to the hospital. They brought the stretcher up the external stairs into the house. Knowing that her brother would be taken to hospital, my mother slid into the piano seat and started playing his favourite song, The Stock Rider’s Song. Uncle Lance bravely sang along in his rich baritone voice as he was being stretchered down the steps out of the house.
While Uncle Lance was in hospital the family had to be in quarantined in their house. Groceries were delivered to a basket placed inside the fence. Then the doctor offered them the use of his caravan. He towed it to a caravan park, and the family stayed there for two weeks. Staying in the caravan meant that the family didn’t have to face the opprobrium of the townspeople.
His family couldn’t visit him in the infectious diseases hospital, but they were allowed to visit him when he was transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where he and the other polio survivors stayed for a year. Uncle Lance had always loved horses, and so on the first day out of hospital his friend Jim put him on a horse. Jim kept control of the horse with a lead rope. The parts of the body he had exerted playing tennis on the day of the infection were where the polio had settled. Uncle Lance had to learn to perform actions with his non-dominant hand. Letters from hospital were written in his left hand. He sat for an exam writing with his left hand and failed. It was hard to balance on a horse after having polio, so he turned his attention to cars. He learnt to drive with his left hand, and years later even made two speedboats with the help of his daughter, who held the nails while he hammered them. His limp right hand was always placed in his right trouser pocket. He became a teacher and then principal of various primary schools. Many years later, soon after I was born, my mother took me to the town hall where they had their first batch of the Salk vaccine. She was passionate about getting the vaccine. When all of the children were vaccinated it was the end of the outbreak, and people’s hopes of a polio-free future were realized.