As Sally Champion nears the end of her 20-week blog series about the process of setting up a part-time business as a writer, she looks back at her life living with polio since childhood and reveals a longtime passion.
Episode 17: “If you met me, who would you see?’
In the last couple of weeks I’ve decided against pursuing the Enterprise Allowance option and I’m going to stay on the Invalid’s Benefit. I will see how much work I can find, how much work I can do, and once I get more of a grip on that, make further plans.
This week I’ve been happily doing a few hours of work a day but, every so often, I’ve been wondering – if you have been reading this blog, what on earth do you make of me? I thought perhaps I’d tell you more about myself so you could put what I’ve written into some sort of context.
Ok, if you met me, who would you see?
Well, I’ve got a limp and people sometimes tell me not to look at the ground when I walk. They imagine this indicates a lack of self esteem.
If they mention this I’m able to tell them it’s a habit I’ve developed over many years so I can scan the immediate terrain for uneven surfaces. I tell them uneven surfaces and my lack of natural balance aren’t a good combination.
Sometimes I hold my arm at an odd angle. When I was a kid my family used to tell me to put my umbrella down. That must have worked because my mind does sense when my arm is threatening to go up into a position where it could hold an umbrella effectively, and executes a correction.
If you met me you might notice my clothes.
I have always been passionately interested in clothes. When I was younger I often sewed for days on end. Over the years I’ve invested a lot of money in dresses, boots, skirts, jeans, tops, hats, which, of course, need to be updated from season to season.
In my own defense I don’t think this has been vanity as much as disguise, and an attempt to deflect away from the physical form and replace it with juxtapositions of colour, pattern, texture, and shape. I always thought these configurations represented my own aesthetic more truthfully than I did.
Still, that’s only the outside of me.
I know that getting polio has defined my life. It hasn’t been an experience of the body so much as an experience of the mind. And much of that experience happened when I was a child.
I contracted the virus when I was eighteen months old. Before she died my mother told me that between eighteen months and six years of age I spent a total of three years in hospital. During that time I had operations on my leg, physiotherapy and heat treatment. (I’ll tell you more about the heat treatment in my next post. It was considered innovative at the time, but, looking back, I think it was actually completely bonkers.)
I can only remember being in hospital when I was six. I was there for six months and I saw my parents and my brother every two weeks. They drove to Whanganui from Hastings, where we lived.
It was a children’s hospital. There was only one adult patient – a woman who’d had a car accident. She was in bed all the time. I called her Miss Pineapple. All the kids used to crowd around and talk to her. Being so much in demand must have worn her out, or she got worse, because she was moved into a room on her own and the rest of us weren’t allowed in.
Sally talks more about being in hospital next week.