The coronavirus is unique, and you may think no one has had to deal with such a pandemic in modern times. But to Whangamata local and retired nurse Jan Wills-Collins, current events feel very familiar: she lived through the polio virus outbreak in the 1950s.
Wills-Collins, now aged 80, caught polio as a child and survived - and therefore has an important message to share: "Please get vaccinated [against Covid-19] because a vaccine was the tool that helped to almost eliminate polio throughout the world."
She wrote her memoirs about her experiences with polio, titled The Hidden Scars of Polio, hoping to help people dealing with Covid today.
Polio is a contagious virus that mostly affects children and can cause nerve injury leading to irreversible paralysis and death. It's transmitted through direct contact with someone infected. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, headache, as well as back and neck pain. Most people who have the virus don't have symptoms but can pass it to others.
Wills-Collins says we can learn from history as it tends to repeat itself. "Covid has sparked so many memories and similarities to the impact polio had on me and many others. The fear and uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic may feel new to many of us, but it is strangely familiar to those who lived through the polio epidemic."
She was living with her parents and younger siblings John and Judith in Feilding when all three kids caught the virus in 1952. "It was pretty scary. I was 11, my brother 6, and my sister 2 when we got it. My sister fell in a coma and I was temporarily paralysed."
When Wills-Collins found out she was sick, her parents were in the ambulance on the way to Palmerston North hospital with her sister.
"They left me at home because they thought I had the flu. I needed to go to the toilet, but when I wanted to go, I couldn't walk." Luckily, another woman was living in their house who called the doctor. "Then I was the next one in an ambulance on the way to the hospital."
Wills-Collins says she believes she was infected with polio at a movie theatre that she and her brother visited and where they shared an ice cream.
"My parents went through hell. They had financial stress because my dad had just lost his job, people were avoiding them, changing the side of the street when they saw them. They weren't allowed to see us kids at the hospital for three months and there was no information out there, no TV, no social media. My parents thought we were going to die."
The hospital ward where Wills-Collins and her sister were held was full of other sick kids. "The nurses were so busy. I was very lonely and terrified for my sister who was in a bed beside me. She had tubes everywhere and I was paralysed on one side, so I often wriggled to my sister's side of the bed to see whether she was still breathing."
Her paralysis was treated with an approach from Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenny: hot compresses to keep the muscles warm. Despite this method being seen as controversial at that time, it helped Wills-Collins who was able to walk again. "But I still had to wear a calliper around my leg for two years."
She says the similarities of Covid and polio are striking. "With polio, we had a lockdown too, we were home schooled, pools and movie theatres were closed. Parents stopped sending their children to playgrounds or birthday parties for fear they would catch polio."
When the first polio vaccine was developed by US scientist Jonas Salk and released in 1955, Wills-Collins says it was a huge relief.
"We lived for decades before that in fear of the disease with no prevention and no cure. I remember the day it was announced that the vaccine was a success, people were cheering and church bells ringing. The vaccine helped the numbers of people infected with polio to decline."
And she hopes that the Covid vaccine will have the same effect on the current pandemic. She says she is not a doctor or scientist and therefore can only speak for herself, but she strongly believes the vaccine helps.
"It did help before. Everything we know, we know from history and if you do the reading, a lot of work has gone into [the Covid vaccine]. It is the only tool we have, it is something that we can do, so let's take advantage of it. Stop looking on Facebook and start looking at the facts."
Wills-Collins - who is double jabbed - says that the Covid vaccine was something she couldn't wait to get. "I am vulnerable, I am old and I don't want my family to catch Covid."
This is different from her experience with the polio vaccine. As a former nurse, she knows what it is like to have a vaccination made mandatory. "When I wanted to start nursing, they told us we had to get the polio vaccine. I told them that I don't need it because I already caught the virus and recovered, but there was no way out."
Like many other polio survivors, Wills-Collins could never fully get rid of the effects of the virus. "I got as normal and good as I could get. I became a good swimmer and I was good at basketball and tennis but I suffer from fatigue, sleeplessness, and muscular problems.
She lost four babies to miscarriage because of muscular weakness, but
went on to raise two sons and also has five grandchildren.
She says despite people saying her symptoms are just old age it is proven that people often feel the long-term effects of polio 30 years later. "We lost my brother at age 38. I am not a doctor and it was never confirmed, but I have the feeling it was because of the long-term effects of polio."
With her memoirs, she hopes to help those still suffering from the effects of polio and inspire others with hope in the time of Covid. "As polio survivors, we bore the scars of this horrific disease, both physically and emotionally, with many of us still dealing with the effects today."