29: Daddy’s Little Girl

29: Daddy’s Little Girl

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Daddy’s Little Girl

A daughter may outgrow your lap,
but she will never outgrow your heart.

~Author Unknown

When I was very small, my father would dance with me, singing a popular song of that era called “Daddy’s Little Girl.” I would stand on the top of his shoes as we glided around the living room floor, pretending we were in a grand ballroom.

How I loved to dance with my father and pretend I was the belle of the ball. But suddenly, one day I could no longer dance. One spring day, in 1955, I awoke to raging fever, pain, and muscle contractions. My father scooped me up into his arms and rushed me into town to our little hospital. The diagnosis was one that struck fear in the hearts of every parent and child at the time. Polio had come to our little ballroom and life would never be the same.

As we lived far from any major city, our hospital was ill equipped to deal with polio patients. I rapidly began to decline. Although I was outwardly unconscious, I can remember hearing the doctor speaking to my parents and telling them I would not live through the night. At that moment, my little eight-year-old mind began to pray. There are four corners on my bed; there are four angels round my head. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the angels my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

The next thing I remembered was my dad sitting beside me and singing to me. “Daddy’s Little Girl” became his fight song — a song to cheer me up, to help me make it through the night. And most of all, a song from his heart that echoed to mine through all of the pain.

Finally, I began to recover from the worst of the illness and was sent home, crippled but alive. We could not afford for me to remain in the hospital, so our little home was quarantined. Through it all, my father never left my side. Hour after hour, day after day, my dad was beside me. He read everything he could find about polio and treatments that might strengthen my ravaged legs. From our small town library, Dad found a book that was to change the course of my life. It was the autobiography of Sister Elizabeth Kenny, entitled And They Shall Walk.

Dad contacted the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute to learn how to do the therapy and doggedly began working with her methods to bring my legs back to life. The therapy consisted of stretching exercises and hot packs, which burned like fire. I can still remember his big strong hands red from the heat. And as I would cry out in pain, Dad would cry with me and promise me it would be better, all the while singing our battle song to keep me strong.

When I could not stand the pain of having even light covers touching my body, Daddy built a special cage from chicken wire which formed a frame around my bed so I could stay warm without the blankets touching me. He slept on the floor beside me and never let me see his exhaustion or his worries. His ever-present laughter was our constant companion throughout that terrible summer.

Finally, his effort began to make a difference. Slowly but surely I could once again stand. Now we began our little ballroom dance in earnest. Balancing me on the top of his feet, he would teach me to walk once again, just as he had taught me how to dance. And of course the song was always the same. “Daddy’s Little Girl.” The day that I stood and walked into his arms unaided, I know that song was in both of our hearts.

By the time school rolled around again, I was able to walk and return to a normal life. My dancing legs would never be quite the same, but the muscles had come back with only minor weakness in one leg.

Polio is still a part of my life, since I later developed post-polio sequelae, but I will keep on dancing and remembering my father’s strength, and unyielding faith. My father will always be my favorite dance partner.

~Christine Trollinger

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