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Shelley Hansen - Lady of Lines

Sister Elizabeth Kenny - Australian Nurse

In the days before vaccination, the scourge of poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis) struck terror into the hearts of parents and children alike. Treatments were varied, primitive and often involved complete immobilization of limbs. Very few polio patients escaped paralysis, and many died.

One woman who had the courage to stand against medical opinion of her time was Australian polio nurse Sister Elizabeth Kenny (1880-1952). She fought to gain recognition of her heat and movement therapy techniques, which flew in the face of the beliefs of many doctors. Her treatments, used throughout the world, were never accepted in Australia. Even today sixty years after her death, opinion on the worth of her treatments is divided.

One thing however, cannot be denied - her passion, dedication and courage of conviction.

Courage of Conviction

Imposing figure, snow-white hair,
with gentleness she voiced her care,
till all at once with flashing eyes
old methods she would criticise.
Upon the Darling Downs, by horse
the young nurse rode a well-worn course,
providing service without fee -
responding to each patient's plea.

Quite suddenly, a new disease
caused young and healthy limbs to freeze.
The doctors did the best they could
with standard treatments ... bad and good.
She questioned teachings of the day
and dared to try another way
with heat and movement therapy
to set imprisoned bodies free.

They scoffed with scorn. What would she know
about the curse of polio?
So medical opinion raged
about the methods she'd engaged.
But passionately she believed
and challenged theories they'd conceived.
She battled on, although she knew
supporters of her cause were few.

With grateful patients' full support
a ticket overseas was bought.
In England and the USA
she put her treatments on display.
Though honoured all around the world,
at home no banners were unfurled
commemorating her return ...
unwilling still, to hear and learn.

The years passed by. She never changed,
as with the doctors she exchanged
opposing views, afraid of none -
her head held high for what she'd done.
It came about as she grew old
that Parkinson's Disease took hold.
How sad that she herself should be
imprisoned by rigidity.

Unorthodox she may have been
but from her work results were seen -
until at last, vaccines made sure
that polio afflicts no more.
In nursing's grand tradition she
engraved a lasting legacy.
Relentlessly she fought the tide ...
and we remember her with pride.

(c) Shelley Hansen 2012

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