PEI

As P.E.I. deals with COVID-19, one Island woman reflects on growing up during polio epidemic

Janet Gaudet was seven years old when her school closed in the early 1940s because of the polio epidemic. She's now 84, but said reminiscing on that time in her life brings back vivid memories.

'Those events have never left my mind. It's like they happened yesterday because they changed our whole lives'

Poliomyelitis - aka 'the crippler' -- targetted youth and children in waves of epidemics through the 1950s. (University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections)

Janet Gaudet was seven years old when her school closed in the early 1940s because of the polio epidemic.

She's now 84, but said reminiscing on that time in her life brings back vivid memories.

"School was extremely important to me," she said.

"Those events have never left my mind, it's like they happened yesterday because they changed our whole lives."

Polio is an infectious disease that causes paralysis, deformed limbs and in the most severe cases, death by asphyxiation.

From 1927 to 1962, 50,000 Canadians were infected with the polio virus and 4,700 died.

'Something I've never forgotten'

Gaudet was born in Charlottetown, but lived in Moncton for 14 years because of her father's job with the Canadian National Railway.

Her family was no stranger to hard times. When her mother was 18, she contracted the Spanish flu.

Janet Gaudet now lives in St. Catherines, P.E.I. (Submitted by Dawn Nowak)

"And amazingly, she recovered … she talked about that quite a bit."

Gaudet's father served in World War One and she said the family frequently welcomed young men from the Royal Air Force, who were stationed in Moncton, to their home. 

"Dad understood what it was like for them to be so far away from home," she said. "And that's something I've never forgotten." 

Gaudet said at the time, the family was having to ration their food, but she said her mother continued to feed these young men.

She said neighbours would frequently check-in to see how the family was doing and if anyone needed help.

That's one thing that got us through World War Two, was helping each other and giving each other reassurance.​​​​​​— Janet Gaudet

Gaudet said even with schools closed, her parents kept her busy with piano lessons and listening to the radio news.

"I think because of the way mom and dad were — the way they handled everything — they kept our lives as normal as they could."

Gaudet said it makes her feel anxious to see what's happening in the world now, but she said it's more important than ever to "think about all the blessings that we have."

"All that really matters during these times are friends and family members. That's the most important thing," she said.

Her advice to parents is to reassure their children that they'll get through this.

"That's one thing that got us through World War Two, was helping each other and giving each other reassurance."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabella Zavarise is a video journalist with CBC in P.E.I. You can contact her at isabella.zavarise@cbc.ca

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