To Home Page of PHI website to PHI's Secure Shopping Cart
PHI's Education
About PHI Education Advocacy Research Networking to How to Donate to Membership Application

Post-Polio Health

(ISSN 1066-5331)

Vol. 16, No. 4, Fall 2000

Antidotes to Stress

Polio survivor Mary Westbrook, PhD, from Sydney, Australia, author
of "An Antidote to Post-Polio Stress: Pleasure Seeking," Polio Network News, Volume 16, Number 2, shares her personal antidotes. They are followed by the experiences of other survivors.

Pleasure Seeking Ideas

Mary Westbrook, PhD

Friends and interests, including work, have always been major sources of pleasure in my life. As these have been eroded by post-polio, I have tried to preserve what I could, often by modifying activities. When I could no longer garden, I had a small wheelchair-accessible garden with containers and raised beds constructed. But some activities and friendships cannot be preserved.

I have learned to let go and be open to new possibilities. The smartest thing I did when I had to retire was get on the Internet. The support, understanding, sharing of knowledge, and laughter on the Internet polio mailing lists provides one of my lifelines. One of the happy surprises of post-polio is that it has brought me so many new friends, albeit I rarely meet them face-to-face.

When I retired, I rejoined the Post-Polio Network of New South Wales ( We receive numerous queries from our 800 members as well as from survivors all over the world. It is enormously interesting to talk with survivors who live in other countries and rewarding to be able to pass on information.

Frequently, when I am resting or feeling low, I leaf through one of the commonplace books in which I record happy memories and quotations of friends, some I have met only through their publications. One is Nancy Mairs who has MS and has taught me the art of having small adventures. "I have a low adventure threshold," she wrote1, "rather like having a low pain threshold .. The trouble with having a low adventure threshold is that everything that crosses it may be an adventure, and thus you may be inundated and swept away by the events of a life that seems to others as still as a stagnant pond. I'll never make it to Tibet. Maybe not even to Albuquerque. Some days I don't even make it to the back yard .. I refine adventure, make it smaller and smaller."

My three-year-old grandson and I have adventures searching for small lizards in my garden. Little happenings are heightened to moments of joy. Yesterday evening, the sun reached a dark corner of the garden and sent reflections through large leaves creating splotches of living, vibrating, emerald fire such as I had never seen before.

1Mairs, N. (1986) Plaintext. New York: Harper Row.

Nickie as a child seated on the floor in front of a wall filled with her doll collection.


Nickie Lancaster, RN, Hermitage, Tennessee

When I had polio in 1950 at age 81/2, many people gave me dolls. I could not play with them due to total paralysis. My Dad took an entire wall and hung the dolls with elastic so I could see them. Four years later, when my parents divorced, my mother emptied her belongings from her cedar chest and put in my dolls. There they stayed for 40 years. One day I decided I was old enough to play with my dolls. Over 100 dolls were just as they were in 1955. Wow!!! Now they were "collectibles."

Stress relief is a new doll magazine or catalogue. I save all year to attend the big doll collectors' show in Nashville each winter.

I have added many new dolls to my collection, and I also love to give dolls away to friends.

Caroleanne Green, a polio friend, also enjoys collecting dolls. When Caroleanne and I get on the phone, our conversation is 20% polio and 80% dolls.

Contract Bridge

Philippe Galaski, Amherst, Massachusetts

I totally agree with Mary as to the importance of finding something pleasurable to decrease stress. I have done this and found that my stress and fatigue levels have decreased. I decided to join the American Contract Bridge League. I currently go to a club to play bridge once a week, and sometimes I may go to a tournament over a weekend. It gives me pleasure to play bridge. I am pretty good at it, and it improves my self-esteem when the PPS blues creep up. It allows me to have social contact, meet people and enjoy their company.

It also makes my brain work and this type of activity is very important. Finally, it is a hobby that does not involve physical stress, as I sit most of the time.

Save Your Sanity through Poetry

LaVonne Schoneman, Seattle, Washington

Save your sanity through poetry? This may sound strange, but it works for me and my friends.

A friend, who is experiencing the late effects of polio, designed his own advanced college degree program. He called it "Creating Wellness through Poetry." The act of writing out his feelings by focusing on God and His creation helped him achieve better mental health.

Another friend wrote a poem called "Saved by a Gibson" about a discarded guitar later found by a streetperson whose life was restored.

Saving sanity through poetry sounds like a motto from an old 1950s TV program. Nevertheless, I believe it has often saved me. Reading beautiful thoughts of another poet or jotting down my own, even during pain, helps me. Reading about someone else who had the same feelings helps me realize I am not alone.

Others may get this same release through a cherished hobby. Gardening is my husband's choice. Before anyone says, "I can't do that anymore," let me hasten to assure you we all lose bits and pieces of ourselves along the way from youth to age.

Making a hoop shot, dancing 'til dawn, or climbing a mountain may beyond your scope today, but so many other things are not.

I call them my "free fixes."

We can find magic in cobwebs, intricate weavings, more delicate than handmade lace. Hidden in the beauty of growing things – an Amaryllis started from a bulb in winter keeps our spirits up as we watch it push up through the soil day by day. The silly song of a grandchild can sound more lovely than an aria by a world famous tenor. A dandelion can mean more than a dozen hothouse roses when delivered by a loving child. Music really does have the power to charm and soothe. Petting the cat, grooming the dog, feeding the fish ... choose your pleasure. Admire the wrinkles in someone's face, spouse, stranger or yourself.

Look deep into the eyes of your family members or friends as you converse. DO take time daily to really converse. If you live alone, you can still get that connection through telephone or e-mail. The post-polio support group I check in with on the World Wide Web offers a caring group of people with like problems and readily shared solutions twenty-four hours a day.

Concentrating one's flagging energy on uplifting things is so beneficial. In this season of political hammering we need to limit the amount of time we allow such assaults. When you find yourself reading a story or watching a movie that makes your stomach churn or gives you the feeling you need to wash your mind out with Grandma's lye soap and hot water, S-T-O-P! Give yourself permission to do something else – something aesthetically pleasing (uplifting, fun, silly). Read the comics, watch a happy video, appreciate the rain or snow or sunshine ... listen to the wind blow.

A positive attitude is all it takes – and that costs nothing.


Carol Purington, Woodslawn Farm, Massachusetts

Carol writes poetry from her farm where she has slept in an iron lung for the last 41 years. She switched to the smaller Porta-Lung four years ago. Carol has published four books of her poetry.

A stone for birth a stone for death
We hand them to the Maidens –
the women of the People,
who know the weight of birth of death
The Trees Bleed Sweetnes
©1997 Carol Purington

Ramp Safety

Nancy A. Heiskell, Indianapolis, Indiana

I recently bought a lowered floor conversion van. Because the ramp is just a little wider than my chair, it is difficult to judge exactly where I am, causing me to worry about driving over the side of the ramp.

After a couple of days of precariously going in and out of the van, I asked my husband to apply a 1/2" wide strip of red reflective tape in the "center of the traveling path" of the ramp from one end to the other. Next, I had him apply a short piece of tape in the center of my chair's footrest.

Here is how I use it: I visually line up the tape on the footrest with the tape on the ramp and I keep the two aligned as I travel up or down the ramp. I feel it is better and safer than trying to judge where I am on the ramp. We then applied the tape in the center of my portable ramp. Maybe the van conversion companies and ramp manufacturers will incorporate a ramp guideline feature in their future products.