The Virus and our Daughter Gaby

Peter and I had a daughter who caught the poliomyelitis virus in 1961, that is she became sick on her 4th birthday. She was soon totally paralysed, was given artificial respiration and was unconscious for many months. The doctors did not expect her to stay alive. So, when she woke up with her brain still functioning intact, it was like a miracle!

She had no memory of her previous life. However, when we were visiting her, she was soon able to communicate in German again. Also being in hospital, she learned English quickly. It turned out, she was able as a paraplegic with breathing difficulties to lead a productive life. She died just a few months before she would have turned 55. Initially, she stayed in the hospital’s respiratory ward and slept in an iron lung. She was tutored at the nearby hospital school and made many friends.

When she was ten and a half she was sent to our place, and we took care of her until she was 17. Despite some respite care, that was given to her at the hospital from time to time, we just could not cope with her care anymore by the time she was 17.

So, from age 17 till age 30 she had to cope with institutionalised care. Then she made friends with a man who was willing to be her carer. They lived in a three bedroom low rent housing commission home. Apart from David, her carer, quite a few extra people became her carers for her personal needs. Her fulltime carer, who lived in the house with her, eventually became utterly sick and could not be her carer anymore. But Gaby, our daughter, did not want to make him leave for he had nowhere else to go, and she felt, she needed to look after him. But he stayed alive and died one year after Gaby had died.

Towards the end of her life, Gaby became pretty desperate for she had no permanent carer anymore who would stay with her in the house to be there with her in an emergency. She could not depend on David that he would be of any help in an emergency. So, she was very afraid that she might end up in a hospital or some kind of institution.

We felt for her. When she died we thought that it probably had been lucky for her, that she had died in her own home surrounded by some lovely carers for she had liked to be as independent as possible. With 15 hours help per day she could manage her life adequately. She needed help three times daily! For lifting her in and out of her wheelchair and onto a commode or the bed there always had to be two people available. And someone had to do her cooking, cleaning and washing as well as reloading the battery for her electric wheelchair that enabled her to go around Sydney by using public transport such as trains and busses! But sometimes she also went out in taxis. Peter and I usually met her once a fortnight in a shopping centre to help her with her shopping of groceries.

And Gaby always enjoyed to meet our extended family on special occasions such as birthdays or Christmas or Easter. Some family members would also visit her from time to time at her home. Gaby also enjoyed very much to select little gifts for everyone. I have still a few gifts of her that remind me of her! Also, sometimes the family would meet Gaby in a beautiful park or a restaurant.

Gaby was a very good speaker despite her breathing difficulties. And she was very sociable. We were always amazed that Gaby had such a fantastic memory for names and faces of people. It is also memorable, that she collected quite a bit of money for a charity. Without doubt, she was able to make many, many friends. Even some Labor politicians and other people well known in public life were her good friends!

So, Gaby had died in 2012. Every day I am reminded of her how wonderfully she managed her life. During the day she was nearly always up and about. But during the last years of her life she had to spend most evenings on her own, that is until her carers would arrive to get her ready for bed. She often may have felt very lonely at this time of the day, for she liked to be with people. But she had her pets: A companion dog and a cat! Also, she was used to spend a lot of time at the computer when she was by herself in the evening.

More and more I contemplate, how much my life seems to resemble Gaby’s life now. Only, of course, Gaby’s life was much more difficult compared to mine. Strangely enough, there seem to be some similarities. Maybe, I should tell myself over and over again, that so far I am not so bad off really. Gaby’s carer, David, used to say to me: “Mama, you should not worry so much!” Dear David, he was at heart a very good bloke, but he had his weaknesses, like smoking and a lot of beer drinking and not looking after his health, not at all.

Here you can read something about David:

4 thoughts on “The Virus and our Daughter Gaby

  1. I do remember when you shared a little bit of Gaby’s life and upon her passing, also talked about David. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to see your healthy 4-year old contract such a dread disease as polio. What a terrible loss to you all, and yet, you always show a resilience and strength I admire, Uta. I do hope you have people in your life you can call upon when you need encouragement these days following Peter’s death. I send a big hug and hope you know how much I, and many others who have only met you through this blogging friendship, really do care about you.

    1. I am overwhelmed, dear Debra. Thank you, thank you so much for your very encouraging words. 🙂
      I think I am always pretty good at finding some kind of help when I am getting really desperate!
      Basically I am probably more an optimist than a pessimist. I believe in the kindness of people . . .
      Virtual Hugs from Australia, yours Uta 🙂

  2. I love hearing about Gaby. I’m so sorry for her health struggles. 😦
    I know her struggles became your struggles. It’s impossible NOT to feel our children’s pain and life challenges.
    I know she was not just your daughter, but your friend and heroine, too!
    We have a friend who got polio when he was a child. He survived, but had leg and lung issues the rest of his life. 😦
    (((HUGS))) ❤

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