Dad contracted polio in the early 1940s—so we believe—a mild case. His left leg developed with smaller muscles and no ligament support in the arch of the foot. Without thick homemade orthotics, he walks with his ankle bone on the floor. Ouch. Still, with resolve and grit, he compensated and persevered, taking up jogging as a health-hobby. He typically ran seven miles during his lunch break at work, and often 20 miles on Saturdays, for two decades. He clocked 13 marathons, and one 50-mile ultra-marathon (“I never got tired!”). For years, his resting heart rate was about 35 bpm. In his eighth decade of life, however, even walking has become nearly impossible. And not just due to the weak leg and foot, or from age, but from post-polio syndrome. No matter his exercise level, he cannot seem to strengthen, but continues to deteriorate. The Mayo Clinic says post-polio syndrome is characterized by progressive muscle and joint weakness and pain (check), general fatigue and exhaustion with minimal activity (check), and muscle atrophy (check). I have to remember, as we go to the gym, to walk the fine line between strengthening and debilitation, between rejuvenation and exhaustion. The last time we left the gym, he clung to my arm and worried, “I don’t know if I can make it to the car, Rog.” But Dad has such determination (“I am a fighter!”), and together we understand his desire to push himself right to the edge, to do all he can do, without tumbling over the cliff.
(This blog, author, and essay have no relationship with, and do not represent the views of, the Mayo Clinic.)