Between the wars
During 1940, when I was a boy of 16-years, I caught a bad cold.
At that time, there was no free doctor waiting to help poor farm boys. There was no hospital at the edge of town with a stock of penicillin to dispense. There was not even a trained nurse living in Jaunpiebalga, our closest village. All there was was mother and so if Mother said I had a cold and, then I had a cold. There was no one around to contradict her.
Crawling into my blankets on the cabin floor, I prepared to sweat it out. Mother maintained confidence in her cold diagnosis, even though I felt I was suffering with something much worse. Unfortunately for me, it was back in the days before iPhone’s or Wi-Fi. There was no opportunity for me to research my symptoms online. Self-diagnosis via Wikipedia simply was not an option. Jaunpiebalga did not even have a public library with a medical book section.
For one entire week, I lay on my patch of wooden floor with only a slim layer of animal furs to cushion my body against the hard boards. I did not move. I could not move. My life strength was trickling out from my body and yet I felt helpless to dam its flow. It could only have been my mothers devoted care that kept me anchored to this world because I was defenceless against whichever micro virus had laid siege to my adolescent body. Later, much later when I was up and about once again, mother admitted that as the week had progressed, she had feared I would die on my bedroll on the floor.
My parents prayed daily for my recovery, both mother and father prayed for the return to good health of their eldest son. According to them, their devout prayers fought off the fever and not my own robust immune system.
If it was God who forced opened my eyes in answer to my parents pleading prayers, he must have had an off day because God neglected to cure me completely. He left me cramped and curled up as if I was back inside my mother’s womb. I went from being a straight, robust young man of the land, to a shrivelled newborn baby. All trace of the fever may have disappeared but I remained fixed to my spot of floor. If I had been alone in the cabin, I would have shrivelled away to dust but luckily, I had my family around me.
My father spent most of his adult life as a Lutheran preacher. He helped others by teaching them how to lead better lives and yet he still went off to war to fight against Russian troops during WWI. His time as a soldier did not last long though; he was captured early on and spent much of that war as a POW. My father, Kārlis, lived through the deprivation of a Russian gulag until his release in 1922. He survived brutal punishments, endured harsh daily labour in extreme eastern european landscapes, whilst suffering starvation but he survived. He lived to become a healthy husband and father. And because he outlasted his misfortune, and because I am my father’s son, I know that I will be okay.
At that time in my life, my parent’s faith was all that I needed to carry me forward to become a fit man once again. They believed I would recover in full and therefore I believed it. My father promised me I would walk tall again. So long as I did not give up, so long as I moved a little further each day, one foot in front of the other striding out with faith, God would walk beside me.
Each and every day my family made me stretch my body, pulling and tugging at my weak limbs, encouraging them to straighten. My parents pulled and pulled at me day after day, never giving up until, eventually, I got up from the floor. I was not instantly active. I could not walk on both legs right away but I was up. At first, the best I could manage was to swing myself about the cabin using the furniture for support. But in spite of all of our effort, my left leg stubbornly remained crippled. There did not appear to be anything we could do to untwist it. That was something I had to accept.
During my prolonged stay on the floor, contact pressure impeded the blood flow in my left thigh. By the time I woke up, my entire leg was covered in ugly ulcers. The ulcers were not just in one place, they were everywhere. I had to spend quite some time hopping about on my right leg before I was able to put even a small amount of weight on my left. In fact, it took an entire year before I was fully straight and walking unaided. Sadly, during the autumn of that same year, I caught another cold and the ulcers erupted once again. My left leg was destined to remain inactive.