The Red Brick BirdCage
Michael's Polio Story
Ever since I was a young man I have felt a persistent urge to tell my polio story. The subject of my polio or disability has never been addressed until now because I would never engage in such a conversation. Finally during the year 2001, I decided that it was time to tell my story. I went back in time to my childhood when I spent years growing up in hospitals, my youthful years in school and significant parts of my adult life right up to the present date, 2004.
Travelling back in time to my hospital days was such an emotionally painful experience that I had to put the project aside for two years. Slowly my interest returned and this book is the result. Parts one and two are about a period of history when I, like many children in Canada and the United States, were hospitalized for elective surgery to correct deformed limbs. The second half of the book is about my adult experiences living with polio and post polio. There must be thousands of stories that should be told.
Remembering and reliving my time when hospitalized while writing this book has been both a cleansing and healing process. I try to remember the good times when we laughed and played, and not to focus too much on the physical pain that I endured. I can now recall my experiences in hospital with emotional detachment, feeling less pain for the child who was there.
Self-exploration was an important part of a counselling course that I was enrolled in. During my studies I learned that both the happy and the sad experiences while hospitalized were important to the development of my personality. By exploring my past I have been able to discover some of my behavioral patterns, why I react or behave in certain ways to certain situations. Why have I always pushed myself so hard? Since I was a young boy physiotherapists encouraged me to try hard, they would always say, “you can do one more.” They were motivating patients to exercise hard to rebuild muscles that may have been inactive for months due to surgery. I put this motivational message into everything that I did. “I can do more.” I would tell myself. Often I felt as if I had not done enough even when I was exhausted and had done more than what was asked or expected. Observing one’s past can expose many interesting behavioural traits.
Since being forced back into the world of the disabled, writing has given me a sense of purpose. This book has become an obsession for me to complete. I lie awake at night thinking of past events and how to get them down on paper in a chronological and meaningful way.
After recovering from being sick and left disabled from the polio virus, like so many others I went on to compete and perform well in the world of the able-bodied, only to be forced back into the world of the physically disabled because of a malady called post polio syndrome. This story will give you some insight into the world of one polio survivor.
Michael Creurer is a polio survivor and the new editor of “PPASS News,” the newsletter of the Post-Polio Awareness and Support Society of British Columbia. He has written a forceful new book about his experiences with polio. Of great interest is the fact that when he was age two in 1953, both he and his mother contracted polio.
Creurer describes in a good degree of detail his many corrective surgeries which many people who had polio will surely identify with. “Back into the depths of disability” is a chapter which narrates the process of polio drawing Michael back into the confines of disability because of a condition that we are all-too familiar with called post-polio syndrome.
The Red Brick Birdcage is a real page-turner and will have you eager to read the story of a boy and man who just wanted to live a normal life but found that polio led him onto an unexpected path of powerful life experiences.
Linda Wheeler Donahue
We were unaware of our son’s experiences in the hospital until we read THE RED BRICK BIRDCAGE. The book has given us a look into his childhood, a time in his life that we could not share with him.
Alice & Adrian Creurer
I have really enjoyed reading this book. I am about 3/4 through the book and I feel that I have gotten to know you much better. You have my greatest respect and admiration for way you handled your life. Even though I thought I knew you, your book has given my a whole new outlook on your life as well as my own life.
Del Reimer – former work associate
The “cage” in the title is an apt metaphor for the author’s perception of a young boy’s life imprisoned within the Alberta Children’s Hospital coping with the struggle to repair the effects of childhood polio. More than that it is a metaphor which gives the reader a real sense of what it is to live inside a body ravaged by polio … the steady, implacable effects on the body and on the spirit of life-long disability.
Michael tells his own story of the pain, despair and emotional trauma of his battle with the effects of polio and his successful struggle to rebuild a near- normal life with marriage, family, and a career only to be struck down years later by the onset of Post Polio Syndrome (PPS). In spite of the accumulated obstacles of his condition, this, in the end is a success story. By overcoming the usual denial of his condition, common to almost all PPS sufferers, he tells how he was able to re-direct his life into the “slow lane’. There, he has managed step by step, to rebuild his life into one of fulfillment with many friends, a new loving relationship, and a continued striving to make his life worthwhile.
In his introduction he says, “there must be thousands of (polio) stories that need to be told”. Indeed there is a need. This is a story that both enlightens those not familiar with the polio story and encourages those of us who have faced many of the same tribulations of a life-long disability. It is a story of acceptance, determination, and above all, a story of hope.
All of this makes for a good read, full of humour, insight, and intelligence. Well worth the modest cost. It should be read by everyone, disabled or not.
Jack Tait, (former school teacher and polio survivor)