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By Lou Washington

First off, I apologize to all of my readers who have checked in on my site only to find I’ve not taken the time to post anything new. I have heard about, read about and even laughed about writer’s block, but until now, I’ve never experienced it.

Unlike many folks who suffer from this, I actually know why I’m coming up empty when I sit down at the key board. In my case there is a task I’ve been avoiding, a piece unwritten if you will. Actually, an article that I would rather not write at all.

On May 19th of this year my father passed away. It was not a huge surprise, he was suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s, he was 91 years old and had an array of medical challenges that would finally conspire to end his life. My mother was by his side when he went and I was lucky enough to see him for a few minutes before he passed away.

My brother Bill had put together a draft obituary. This was an extremely thoughtful act and he generously asked me to take a look at it and make any changes I felt were necessary. I was glad I had the chance to make a small contribution to our celebration of my father’s life.

But, in the end, it was an obit and as such was just a kind of inventory of significant events in Dad’s life.

Somewhere in my mind I knew I had to write something more evolved than an obit. I had to come to terms about how I felt about this man and what he meant to me. I am not going to turn this piece into a syrupy tribute or provide stories about what a nice guy he was. I would like to share one quick story, which to me, sort of puts things into perspective as far as my feelings about my dad.

When I was a very young person, I mean pre-school age, there was a monster at large. The monster seemed to be particularly fond of children. While adults were not spared, the beast did seem to prefer to target kids.

I have very clear memories of a long hot summer, staying inside, staying away from groups of other kids and of the TV announcements. They were, for me, quite disturbing because they showed the end result of what this monster was capable of.

These ads would feature pictures of large hospital wards with row after row of “Iron Lung” breathing assist devices, each holding a little child who could no longer breath for themselves. I could not imagine a more horrible fate then finding myself confined to one of these machines.

Of course the monster I’m talking about here is Polio. Year after year, summer after summer Polio would visit families and in it’s wake leave a child unable to walk, unable to breath or with minimal use of their legs.

Finally, it came to pass that a vaccine was developed. My father was a pediatrician so I know he was well aware of the developments in this area. I can well imagine how he must have been heartened by each story of progress and frustrated by each set back.

And then, I can clearly remember him coming home one evening with his medical kit and a small package. I can remember him giving me the shot and telling me I didn’t need to worry anymore about iron lungs, braces or the other artifacts of a life with polio.

My dad slew this monster and he saved my life. From that day on, my dad was my hero.

By the way, he was a really nice guy too!

Postscript: If you would like to read more about the story of Polio in the early fifties, I would recommend Polio –  an American Story by David Oshinsky.

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