by Dwight S. Ives
Life was fairly normal for me in the tiny tobacco town of Hemmingway; at least until the ripe old age of four when my life turned upside down.
One day in mid-October I grew sleepy and was soon unable to wake up. My temperature began to climb steadily and the doctors at the tiny hospital gave my parents the horrifying diagnosis of polio, one of the most feared diseases of the day. The common symptoms were all there: a high fever, paralysis, and coma.
My parents rushed me to Roper Hospital in Charleston for specialized care. My father carried me down the stairs, running so quickly that he woke me out of my fever-induced sleep. Waiting outside was the fastest car in town, made available by a local resident who neglected to tell my parents about the secret in the trunk.
Upon arrival, I was sent to the isolation unit. I was kept in a bed with glass sides. My temperature was nearing an unheard of 104 degrees, so I was packed in ice. I was now totally paralyzed on my left side.
My pediatrician, Dr. B. Owen Ravenel, Sr., decided to call in a specialist for a second opinion. Enter Dr. Luther Martin, neurologist and brain surgeon. Dr. Martin quickly recognized, as did Dr. Ravenel, that I did not have polio. I had a cyst buried deep within my brain that caused the paralysis and fever which mimicked polio. I was now comatose – probably due to the increasing pressure.
Dr. Martin skillfully maneuvered his probes and scalpel during an intense four hour surgery. Outside in the stairwell, Hemmingway’s only in-town Methodist minister (from my Mom’s church) prayed for my recovery. He was so loud that the nurses vowed to shut him up, but the doctor’s ordered them to leave him alone. The Baptist minister from my Dad’s church came, too, but he was more subdued.
Following a successful operation, it was time for me to fight my internal battle. My grandmother use to make quilts, as many women did in her day, using rags cut into squares of cloth that were sewn together and attached to “ticking” (or backing). Her quilts were always very large and heavy. Once she covered you at night, the quilt would completely envelop you, much like an errant fly stuck in honey. My feeling of near death was like that quilt. As I lay comatose, I fought to be awake again.
Within a day or so the paralysis disappeared, much to the doctors’ surprise. I did keep a slight limp for a couple of weeks, but this also disappeared. The doctors’ attributed my recovery to a strong constitution. (Some of the doctors’ close relatives live on the islands and have seen firsthand the results of their fine work.)
Life has now come full circle. The secret in the trunk was as stash of $5000 cash. My Dad was shocked and humbled that he was so entrusted. He had never opened the trunk. From then on, my Dad was a staunch supporter and leader for the March of Dimes.