A Season of Everyday Blessings

Iron Lung

This is dedicated to my friend and stepfather, Richard.

It was 1942, and families all over the world were dealing with hardship and devastation due to war. In August of that year, the Chinnery family was hit by tragedy of another kind.

Seven-year-old Bill was the first to be diagnosed with polio and within days, his older brother George became ill. At first it looked like tonsillitis, but it soon became obvious that he also had polio. Parents George and Ardice were told that he was dying and when they arrived at the hospital, George was already gone.

The devastated parents returned home to find that their three other sons were also ill. When five-year-old Richard’s condition quickly deteriorated, he was rushed to the hospital and put in an iron lung – a blessing because there were only a few in the entire city. Richard spent several months in the iron lung, paralyzed on one side and unable to move.   But at least his chance of survival was improved.

When Richard needed a transfusion, radio stations across the city put out an urgent call for blood donations. A young man volunteered, and the family never knew the name of the donor.

As Richard and his brothers recovered and were no longer contagious, family members, friends and neighbors helped with physical therapy treatments, taking turns moving his arms and legs. Both friends and strangers donated ration cards for food and gas so that nurses could visit the Chinnery home.

A friend of the family and his wife had a unique idea. Every week they delivered a bag of seven individually wrapped gifts – one for each day. They were small packages and Richard couldn’t even open them himself because he was unable to move his fingers. But he knew that each day he had something to look forward to.

More than 72 years later, Richard remembers the brown paper bag delivered faithfully each week. “They were little things, but they meant so much.”  Richard credits his survival and remarkable recovery to caring friends, family and community and he will never forget all of the people that gave so much.  He gets emotional when he talks about his parents and his older brother, George.  “I only lived because my brother died.  Otherwise they wouldn’t have given me an iron lung – there weren’t enough.”  It’s hard to imagine what his parents went through and even with all of the difficulty that he and his family faced, he says, “We were lucky. We were very lucky.”

In this season of giving, joy and gratitude, remember that love, caring and creativity are precious. And sometimes your time and your presence are the best gifts of all.

Find ways to be a blessing.