Legends of Myself 34

Posted on December 1, 2011


Continued from Legends of Myself 33

34.  Polio Shot

When grade two was over, so also was my stay in Vancouver.  I was going north again for awhile, to Prince Rupert and my home territory.

It had not been a particularly successful year for me academically, as I suggested before.  But that was because it had been a particularly fragmented year even by the standards of my childhood.  Yet I got through it.  And sometime near the end of the school year, I made a lucky escape.

I remember bringing home from school a little slip of paper for my father to sign.  It was a permission slip for a polio shot.  I had no idea what it was about until the day arrived when they were giving out those shots.  When I got to school that day, I found everybody lining up in the gym.  Somebody put me in one of the lines of students, and I waited there getting closer to the end of it until I came in sight of the nurses station.  I saw then exactly what was happening.  There was a kid right in front of me, sitting in a chair, and I saw his clenched teeth and his scrunched face as they stuck the hypodermic in his arm.

After which it was my turn.

Maybe they shouldn’t have let me see the kid in front of me.  It could be the expression on his face was as much dismay at having the end of the needle disappearing into his arm as it was pain.  But it looked like pain to me.

I sat down, somebody rubbed a little alcohol on my arm, and the nurse raised the needle in preparation.

That was enough.  Uh-uh.  Nosirreebob.  I was having nothing to do with it.  That needle wasn’t going into my arm as long as I had legs.

I tumbled out of that chair and accelerated towards the exit.

Maybe they chased me.  I have a sense that they did for a little.  But the room was too crowded for an easy chase.  I zigzagged through the lines as if an army of mad doctors was after me, syringes in hand, and I made it out the door to daylight and freedom.

They never did catch me,  I didn’t get that shot, either that day or after.  It was five or six years later in another school that I finally got immunized.  They weren’t using the Salk vaccine then.  It was polio vaccine phase two, administered without needles, a stain on a sugar cube.

Which isn’t to say that a needle in the arm is worse than getting polio.  I was technically being foolish and was fortunate that I didn’t have to face that consequence.


In the late 1990s one of my students approached me.  There had been a problem with contamination of some of the vaccine in 1958.  The SV40 virus, found in the simian hosts used to produce the vaccine, had been associated with cancerous tumors in a significant number of people who had been inoculated.  My student was involved somehow in a class action suit relating to the particular batch of vaccine they were administering in Western Canada 1958.  He asked whether I would like to be involved.

“Not me,” I said.

I told him my story.  My legs had gotten me out of that one.



Continued @ Legends of Myself 35

Posted in: autobiography