15 June 2016

JIMISON Connection to Southern Renegade

Seldom does one see their family history on the big screen, but The Free State of Jones opens this month, exposing an intricate saga from the Knight family of Jones County, Mississippi. Smithsonian Magazine wrote a lengthy piece about this historical series from the Civil War, so you might want to check it out. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-free-state-jones-180958111/
Jimisons, this is our family. Oscar's mother was Marry Matilda Knight, daughter of two Knights: John A. Knight & Cassandra A. Knight. Their fathers were brothers -- Wm Henry Knight and Benjamin Franklin Knight  respectively-- sons of John Carter "Jackie" Knight. Other sons of Jackie Knight were Albert Knight (father of Newton Knight) and Jesse Jefferson Davis Knight.  Now, Jackie owned a slave named Rachel who came to him at age 16 with two children. When Jackie died in 1861, he left Rachel to his son Jesse. Jesse died in 1863 while serving in the Civil War during the siege of Atlanta. Rachel gave birth to his son the next year.   (Many books on the life of the Knight family been written where this name appears. One such book is "THE ECHO OF THE BLACKHORN" by Ethel Knight).
Newton Knight survived the Civil War and returned home to his wife Serena and their several children. With no husband, and no more slavery, Rachel became the common-law wife of Newton Knight, with whom she had more children. The two families of Newt Knight lived side-by-side in Jones County for decades. Because the mixed-race children in this family were included in neither white nor black society in Jones County, many of them left and resettled in Little Rock, Arkansas, among other places.
Today the Knight family remains a conspicuous presence in Jones County, MS, as well as Little Rock. For more info on this singular family line, read "Why I wrote The Free State of Jones" by Vickie Bynum (https://renegadesouth.wordpress.com/about/why-i-wrote-the-free-state-of-jones/) and a series of well-researched articles by Yvonne Bivins

29 May 2016

Chapter 2: A Spoonful of Sugar

“A Spoonful of Sugar makes the medicine go down in a most delightful way!”
- Robert Sherman, Mary Poppins.

The girls in my family today – daughters-in-law, granddaughters, nieces, step-daughter – love French braids. That is to say, if they aren’t braiding each other’s hair, they are watching YouTube for new braiding techniques. The other day, my niece was bemoaning her inability to braid her daughter’s hair. In an effort to reassure her that it's easy to get started, I reached up to my mop and began to demonstrate on myself. The rest of the girls looked on in amazement. “Grandma, how did you learn to do that?” Once again I answered, “Polio. My mom couldn’t do my hair, so I had to learn early on how to do my own. And I did my mom’s hair for her when I was a little girl.” Even in 2016, polio continues to be a presence in my family. We three kids had two sets of grandparents. Dad’s parents, Oscar and Fannie Jimison, lived in West Monroe, Louisiana and were self-employed. They didn’t like my mother much, because was a city girl. (Think of the Beverly Hillbillies and Miss Jane.) Their only son had married outside his caste, and no one would have been good enough for their boy. But it wasn't quite that simplistic. When Jim took Olive to Louisiana to meet his parents, an unfortunate situation arose. Oscar had had to give up the family grocery business, due to a lingering illness. But when he family doctor arrived at the house to give Oscar his "medicine," Olive pointed out that the morphine being given regularly by this country doctor was, in fact, causing the illness, not treating it. She pointed out that Oscar's had become addicted to the prescribed morphine. This candid revelation did not make her popular among the proud, Southern family. About this same time, Dad's only sister moved home with her two-year old to escape an abusive husband, whom she later divorced.
Our maternal grandparents, Everett and Hazel Hiday, lived in Crockett, California–a tiny hamlet whose residents all survived the Great Depression of the 1930s by working at the newly-built C&H Sugar Refinery in town. Both Everett and Hazel worked at the refinery. Olive remembered having the house to herself after school; but when the whistle blew at 4:30 each afternoon, she knew her parents would be home in 30 minutes. That's when she did her most productive piano practicing! Everett and Hazel had only one child, Olive May, whom they raised to play the piano so well that she was hired to teach for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music when she turned eighteen. She was raised, also, to go to college on a scholarship and to marry a doctor. According to Jim, when he was introduced to her parents for the first time, Hazel snorted and walked away. Simply put, he would never be good enough for their little Olive May. It was inconceivable to her parents that this graduate of Stanford University could consider marrying a high school dropout from Arkansas. One could hardly blame the Hidays.
Neither set of grandparents came to the rescue during the highly-dramatic days of our mother’s physical limitations and Dad's exhausting, nightmarish reality. Going on behind the scenes were two separate family crises. In the Bay Area, Hazel was caring for Everett who became confined to a wheelchair after two major strokes, leaving Hazel to care for his many needs and his depression. She continued to work full-time throughout his declining health. Everett became very emotional about his physical state when his family members traveled from Indiana to California to see him one last time. According to Olive, her dad had yearned to see his parents and siblings, but the few who visited waited until he was no longer able to play the role of host in his own home. Meanwhile, our dad's family (in Louisiana) were dealing with two dramatic situations that consumed their resources: Oscar had been treated with morphine for a prolonged time by a country doctor, which left him addicted. He was in the middle of recovering from this addiction when the polio hit in California. Needless to say, these families' resources were stretched to the limits, preventing them from helping one another, to say nothing of the geographic distances that prohibited regular visits.With three small children in the Jimison house, the polio virus posed an ongoing threat. By 1952 the demographics for polio victims had changed, proving to be a greater threat to teens and young adults, especially pregnant women. The virus continued to strike each summer in highly-populated areas, like Sacramento where Jim and Olive bought their first home. Luckily, none of their three children caught the virus before the sugar cubes came to the rescue!

17 May 2016

Before Sugar Cubes: Introduction

Polio was a plague. One day you had a headache and an hour later you were paralyzed. How far the virus crept up your spine determined whether you could walk afterward or even breathe. Parents waited fearfully every summer to see if it would strike. One case turned up and then another. The count began to climb. The city closed the swimming pools and we all stayed home, cooped indoors, shunning other children. Summer seemed like winter then. (excerpt from A Hole in the World by Richard Rhodes)

        In 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported only 74 cases of poliomyelitis worldwide. The virus that once struck the lives of hundreds of thousands each year has been all but eradicated today. Polio has been around since the beginning of recorded history, but by the 1800s polio epidemics began to appear regularly across Europe.  By 1910, these epidemics became frequent in cities with large populations, especially during the summer months when the polio virus thrived in the warm weather. Children were at greatest risk in the early years; later the virus would target older children and adolescents. Some individuals were at greater risk for contracting polio, and especially the paralytic Type I polio. For example, pregnancy heightened a woman's risk of contracting Type I polio.  The polio virus entered its victim through the mouth and flourished in the throat, before passing into the intestines and bloodstream. Because viruses can be carried to the spinal cord, they can "kill or transiently injure motor nerve cells that control skeletal muscles, causing paralysis (https://www.questia.com/article/1G1-10942759/a-new-challenge-for-former-polio-patients). The host became ill within days of exposure to the virus, beginning with high fevers, muscle stiffness and pain, followed by one of three outcomes: quick recovery (and a lifelong immunity to the virus), paralysis in the extremities (lower, or upper, or all four), or death. It is easy to see why parents were terrified of allowing their children outdoors during localized outbreaks. As children were kept isolated, the average age of polio victims rose. By 1952, one third of those affected by polio Type I were over age 15.
        Take a look at polio's growth in the United States during the first half of the 20th century:
  • 1894   Vermont epidemic    132 cases in children and adults (18 deaths from Type I polio)
  • 1907   New York City         2700 cases
  • 1916   New York City        2,000 deaths from Type I polio
  • 1916   United States           27,000 cases nationwide (6000 deaths)
  • 1949   United States           nationwide epidemic (2720 deaths)
  • 1952   United States           57,628 cases nationwide (3145 deaths & 21,269 disabled by Type I)
        The polio epidemic reached its peak between 1940 and 1952, paralyzing or killing over 500,000 people worldwide every single year. Do the math: six million victims in a twelve-year span, while science and medicine struggled to identify the cause and to develop a preventive vaccine. It would be the first philanthropic effort to find a vaccine, with millions of dollars given the the March of Dimes by millions of people in the rush to develop a vaccine against polio.

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        In 1950, my mother (Olive) graduated from Stanford University with a BS in Nursing. She married my father (Jim) that year, gave birth to my brother Paul in 1951, and bade Jim farewell as he departed for Korea where he served until May 1952. A few months after he returned from the war, my mother became pregnant with me, all the while working as a hospital nurse. Olive loved her career was extremely proud of being independent and competent.
        One weekend in August, my parents took Paul on a camping trip into the nearby mountains. On that getaway, something portentous occurred that would change the lives of everyone in our family from that day forward. "My neck hurts -- I can't turn my head," Mom said aloud. "You need to take me to the emergency room right now." She already knew the symptoms of polio, and feared the worst not only for her but for my 18-month-old brother whose age put him at great risk. Ironically, it was not Paul who contracted the virus, but Mom and me.
        For weeks Olive lay paralyzed in a San Francisco hospital, unable to move her arms. She was given prolonged doses of opiates for pain, and at one point contracted Bell's palsy in her face when a window was left open all night. Luckily, the Bell's palsy was only temporary, but it sent her into a tailspin of sorrow and self-pity.  She lay in the hospital fretting over the child she was carrying, afraid that the virus had attacked and paralyzed the baby, or that the drugs she was being given would cause permanent damage to the child's brain. She agonized over Paul. Who was watching him? Would he remember his mommy? How would she be able to ever care for him again? And the man she married, the sweet innocent country bumpkin who had gone to war at age 21, had come back a changed man. They were almost strangers now. To say nothing of her piano-playing skills that she had developed since age seven. At one point in college, she had taught piano lesson at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Unable to move her shoulders, arms, and fingers, her musicianship was gone, too. She had plenty of reasons to feel sadness and despair.  Meanwhile, no one brushed  her teeth regularly or thoroughly while she was in the hospital, and she couldn't brush them herself. So, her teeth became decayed. Some time in the year after she left the hospital, her upper teeth were pulled and she wore dentures for the rest of her life.
        Olive was 26 years old, with a two-year-old and a newborn that she was unable to hold. Her piano sat silent in the living room, while her toddler ran wild. Luckily, she was blessed with a wonderful husband! Jim would get up in the mornings, change the diapers, help Olive with her toilet duties, fix breakfast and feed the babies, then leave for work. Mom must have been terrified to be left alone with us until lunchtime, when Dad would rush home to repeat his tasks and rush back to work. At 4:30pm when the dayshift ended at the air base, Dad would return home and repeat once more the meals/diapers/housekeeping duties that no one else could. I marvel at his devotion to us all. His love must have driven his determination to make it all better. It would be decades before he would have the luxury of processing the horrors of his wartime experiences.
        Mom recovered. I don't know how, but she began to play the piano again. She gave birth to her third (and last) baby in 1955. I was two when John was born. By the time I was four, she was working as a nurse once more. Grit, obstreperousness, and desperation drove her to regain the use of her arms. I don't remember the process, because I was too young, but I remember that every single day of my childhood gave me a close-up view of the residual effects of polio on my mother.  Not just on her, but on Dad, Paul, me, and John. Each of us was affected by the disease. What follows is the story of how polio shaped our lives, individually and as a family.

02 April 2016

What I Know: Living with Chronic Illness

After living with the various symptoms and ever-changing treatments for autoimmune disorders, I have become an expert of sorts. Future posts to this blog will be dedicated to my friends who also juggle their energies, meds, and coping skills to managing their own chronic illnesses.

Fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic fatigue, MS, post-polio, Chrone's, psoriasis, and other autoimmune disorders have many symptoms in common: fatigue, brain fog, digestive disorders, weakness, sleep disorders, and relentless pain that migrates throughout the body and resists management. We also deal with abundant medications, advice from well-meaning friends and family, difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, and the plethora of health-related articles on what we should be doing -- advice that changes with the seasons! To say the least, it's a tight rope we walk daily. So, we tend to stick together on social media and elsewhere. Each autoimmune disorder has a variety of online support groups, including Facebook pages. I encourage everyone to respond openly to these posts and let us know which support groups have provided you with the best advice.

My husband gave me a paperback book (among other gifts) for my birthday. It's more like a magazine, entitled "Solutions for Living with Chronic Pain" (2016) from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. I'll be referring to it in future blog posts. My intention is to include a few quotes from each of its eleven chapters, with quotes by people who have posted online. I hope this venture will benefit as many as those who read it and pass it along to others.