For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 5, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret
The first chapter of this memoir by acclaimed children’s author Peg Kehret ends with a chilling sentence: “When I woke up, I was paralyzed.”
The story begins on a Friday morning at school, in 1949. Twelve-year-old Peg is so eager to attend the Homecoming parade that afternoon, she tries to ignore the odd twitch in her leg during choir class. With terrifying speed, the twitch becomes her leg collapsing, which becomes her sent home with a high fever, which becomes her knees unresponsive to a rubber mallet, which becomes a spinal tap, which becomes a diagnosis: polio. The most terrifying thing of all? These moments happened in a little more than one day.
Over the next year, Peg would be hospitalized and isolated from her family. Her personal belongings were burned—even a favorite teddy bear and her copy of Anne of Green Gables. She suffered high fevers, muscle spasms, and painful rehab sessions; she spent time in an iron lung and, later, a wheelchair. She roomed with other girls stricken during the polio epidemic of the 1940-50s. Some of those girls would die. Some would never walk again. Peg lived. She walked. She fulfilled her childhood dream of being a writer, publishing dozens adventure and animal rescue stories for children, and continues to write. She wrote this memoir so others would understand what it was like to be a normal seventh-grader one morning, and paralyzed and fighting for your life by the next night.
Why is Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio a good read for women? A survivor story is a good read for everyone, and there is humor and many poignant young girl moments. This book also addresses powerlessness–in this case, a child at the mercy of a disease and under the rule of adults–and it is certainly timely. Peg Kehret’s courage in sharing her first-person account of a terrifying time in history benefits all of us who take good health and scientific advancements for granted.