World Polio Day

Dad always described it as the most terrifying day of his life.  Mom almost never spoke of it.

June 1949.

“We had a toddler — Beth was just beginning to walk.  Mom was expecting another baby in December.  It should have been time to celebrate.  Instead, suddenly, I was rushing my wife to the hospital.  I didn’t know what would happen.  I feared the worst.”

Dad had every reason to fear the worst.  Polio can cause death or total paralysis in a matter of hours.

In the U.S. in 1949, more than 40,000 cases of polio were reported, and nearly 3,000 deaths occurred from the horribly contagious, devastating disease.

My mother spent the end of her first trimester and much of the second in the hospital, encapsulated in an iron lung.  An iron lung enables the patient to breathe by using vacuums to force air into and out of the lungs.

Wikipedia Image

Wikipedia Image

Poor mom also received constant electric shock therapy, up and down her body to stimulate the muscles and keep them from atrophy.  Thankfully, the treatments worked.  Not only did my Mom survive, but the combination of treatments she received enabled her to live a normal life — without the paralysis that impacted so many of the disease’s victims..  In fact, to look at Mom, you couldn’t tell that she was a polio survivor.

It was only in photographs that anything appeared amiss.  Mom had always been a beautiful woman — but she was unwilling to have photos taken of her right side — because the camera picked up the remnants of polio’s paralysis.

Mom at my wedding.

Mom at my wedding.

You can bet that as soon as the Salk Polio vaccine was available, Mom and Dad lined up the five of us kids, including my brother Bob, who was in that iron lung with Mom, for those shots.  Because the old adage is true:  An ounce of prevention IS worth a pound of cure.

Saturday, October 24 is World Polio Day.  It is a day that celebrates the incredible progress scientists have made against this horrible, debilitating, deadly disease.

In recent years, many folks have forgotten the devastating effects of these diseases.  Forgotten just what the costs of these disease are — to the individuals infected with them, and to society.

Vaccines are developed to prevent — TO PREVENT! — devastating diseases.  Polio.  Rubella.  Mumps.  Measles.  The safety profiles of the vaccines is excellent.  Far better in fact, than the safety profiles of the most common OTC meds we all pop at the drop of a hat, or the hint of a headache.


Filed under Adult Traumas, Crazy family members, GET VACCINATED, Health, Mom, Mom Stories, Vaccines

64 responses to “World Polio Day

  1. I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying that must’ve been.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. I’m sure that’s why my mom never talked about it (except as a reference point — before polio, after polio).

      Not that there are all that many “nice” diseases, but the speed at which polio strikes is pretty terrifying, especially given the possible life changing results.


  2. Great post, Elise. On a scale of certainty to uncertainty, vaccination would rank right up there with death, taxes and the sun rising in the East. And yet, the anti-vaxers persist, claiming their “freedom” to be ignorant. I wish there were a vaccine for such thinking. Nuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. People really do need to realize that once a certain number of people in a given area don’t have vaccines, then it becomes ground zero for a possible outbreak

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s exactly what happened with last year’s measles outbreak. And it impacts folks with other health issues — they are the most at risk from the dangers of the diseases (I’m one of this crowd). The folks who choose not to vaccine are by and large the parents of healthy children (although there are some who have illnesses and cannot be vaccinated and who depend on the “herd” to not have the disease. These are the selfish ones who don’t care about the folks they don’t see.


  4. Such an amazing and personal anecdote of vaccine’s effectiveness. People get caught up in a weird feedback loop: We don’t need to vaccinate for polio because nobody gets it anymore. But nobody gets polio anymore because we are all vaccinated against it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s like an anomaly in Star Trek … a health anomaly.

      There are still some cases in the world — Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are also clusters in the developing world where vaccines are mistrusted. But the polio vaccine has resulted in it being one of those diseases that in most places, nobody worries about any more.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. NotAPunkRocker

    I put M on a delayed vaccine schedule. There was never any question on if he would get them, I just preferred the idea of not getting so many in one sitting. But damn right I was going to make sure he got them!

    I just want to send this post to the next anti-vax foamers I run into online…thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When my son was little, this wasn’t an issue at all. I didn’t think about it for a second. OF COURSE I was going to get him vaccinated. DUH!

      We’ve just forgotten what these diseases are like, and how dangerous they can be. Which is scary.


  6. How did vaccines become the enemy? Where did all that nonsense start? It’s like how teachers are now the enemy. The world is on its head. It gives me the serious blue blues if I think about it for too long. Best to numb-out and watch football, which is what I’ll go do right now instead of spiral down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Can’t you get concussions and Alzheimer’s from watching football? Through the TV screen?

      There have always been folks opposed to vaccines. Wikipedia ( ;0 ) gives a pretty good summary of the various movements throughout the last few hundred years.

      The current movement, though, is based on fraudulent research published in the UK by Andrew Wakefield, claiming that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It turned out that he manufactured the evidence as he had a serious conflict of interest (working for plaintiff attorneys suing vaccine manufacturers). He lost his medical license in the UK and a complete retraction was published in the Lancet, the original journal. But the damage was significant. According to Wikipedia, Wakefield is now in the US … working in autism research. Oh joy.

      One of the things I find most strange about this movement today is that the folks who believe this nonsense are not generally science-deniers. They believe climate change is man-made AND that vaccines cause autism. Go figure.


  7. Hi Elyse–Came here from Victo Dolore’s blog, Behind the White Coat. You might find this post I wrote back in 2010 about Richard Daggett, our neighbor across the street who was struck with polio at age 13, interesting. The post includes a video he created about his experience. He’s in his 70’s now and is in a motorized wheelchair and on oxygen support because of the effects of post-polio syndrome. Still maintains an extremely positive attitude, though. I usually don’t “horn in” on other people’s blogs like this, but I think Richards’ story is an important one, like your family’s. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent post! It’s amazing that your mom did so well–and your brother, too. It must have been so terrifying to her to not only be fighting for her life, but also for her unborn child. She’s beautiful in the photo you posted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is amazing that she not only survived, but that she was not paralyzed. And the fact that my brother lived, too — he’s now 66! The whole disease — the speed with which it happens and the devastating effects — is truly terrifying. People just don’t know how much better life is for us now that we have truly life saving preventive medicine — vaccines!

      She was beautiful. That picture really captures her impish nature, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes people forget. Others though are simply stupid, subscribe to ignorance. Thank you for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it just terrifying to realize that there are so many people in our country who really do just embrace the ignorance? I will never understand that. Never.

      I have ZERO interest in the science of space exploration, but I still see that there are advantages here on earth for the things we learn from it. So I support it.
      Why, Val, why, isn’t everybody as bright as me? And you. And the rest of the folks who GET it? 😉


  10. A friend of ours died when he was 15 years old because his lungs collapsed and they couldn’t re-inflate them because they were so damaged by Polio and it was just devastating. His family was totally destroyed and split – they still don’t speak 40 years later. Another friend’s hip was destroyed by Polio and lost any chance of his wish to be a professional footballer when he was in his teens. He never got over it. He had constant jibes from people about his disability and thought of as stupid because of his lurching walk. He also died prematurely. Destroyed lives which now could be saved by proper healthcare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sad stories, Kate. I can see how the death of a child could tear apart a family. You would wish that it brought folks together, but there is no way to know how any of us would deal with such a tragedy.

      I imagine you are slightly older than I am (I’m 58) — as you have first hand experience with the disease. It was eradicated in the US in 1979, but there were fewer and fewer cases once the vaccine was developed.

      And your last line, “Destroyed lives which now could be saved by proper healthcare” hits to the heart of why I wrote this. Prevention is the key, and many people are just throwing it away for junk science. It makes me, the daughter of a polio survivor and one with chronic health issues herself, go crazy at the willful ignorance of some folks.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post. Polio infected my husband’s family. His aunt and two cousins had it. There was residual issues after they recovered. One had a limp and I think there have been other “later in life” issues. My husband was fortunate. At the time, (late 40s-early50s) the thinking was that it was either mosquito or water driven. My husband was not allowed to swim for a few years. I was in the first group that got the vaccine locally, then I had the sugar cubes. Hopefully I’m good. Got my flu shot this week. Firm believer in prevention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment led me to look up latent effects of polio — my mom was never a terribly strong woman, and I now wonder how much of that is because of the polio. Symptoms I read include breathing and swallowing difficulties (which she had late in life) and decreased ability to deal with cold (she was never without a sweater).

      Keeping your husband from swimming may not have been such a bad thing. The disease is transmitted through feces and sanitation back then was anything but good … In fact, isn’t that how they think FDR got it? Swimming, I mean.

      And thanks for the reminder about the flu shot. I am usually in line for it early, but I haven’t gotten it yet!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow! What a fabulous story of survival. And of the marvels of modern science and vaccines. ♡

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, my mom was very lucky. Science really does create so many benefits — science deniers drive me crazy!

      Welcome to my blog~


      • I’m so glad she beat polio – people forget how awful that disease truly was (still is, sadly)… Science is a beautiful (beautiful!) thing. But as a ‘pawn’ of the ‘medico-scientific empire’ (I’m a physician scientist), what else could I say? 😉 Loving it here so far, thanks! Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I saw some of the effects of that with clients I cared for as a Care Aid. I can’t imagine and don’t really want too. It would have been horrible for your mother to both have it and during pregnancy and in the lung. Man that’s awful.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a powerful story! Thanks for sharing, and Happy (?) World Polio Day! May it soon be completely eradicated!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we can celebrate World Polio Day, at least in most countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries where it hasn’t been pretty much stopped. This is what the World Health Organization says:

      “Polio does still exist, although polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated more than 350 000 cases to 359 reported cases in 2014. This reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease. Today, only 2 countries in the world have never stopped transmission of polio (Pakistan and Afghanistan).

      Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with poliovirus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.

      There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. Polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life. ” (The emphasis is mine)

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: Polio | Behind the White Coat

  16. I knew that I knew almost nothing about polio. I am still astounded to discover that I know so little about polio that I can read a story about a survivor — pregnant! in an iron lung! survived without debilitating paralysis! — and still be astounded at the depth of my ignorance.

    Thank you for the education today. I had no idea any of these things were possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a devastating disease — and not yet eradicated world wide. But we’re getting closer. I was scared to read just now in answering the comment above, that, since it is so easily transmissible, that even our country where it’s been gone since 1979, it can be reintroduced. That is the frightening thing about the anti-vaccination campaigns. Terrifying.

      The other scary thing is that doctors are no longer familiar with these preventable illnesses, so they don’t recognize them immediately. That lack of familiarity actually helped fuel the measles outbreak last year.

      My mom was one of the lucky ones!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Wait…. are you saying we shouldn’t trust Jenny McCarthy to make health decisions for our children???

    Liked by 1 person

  18. A gripping reminder of the value of vaccines. You mom looks like an amazing lady!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Paul

    That is an amazing story Elyse. Thank you so very much for sharing it with us. My original formal education was in science with a minor in math. It blows me away how we take so much for granted – the human emotional model we use as individuals to frame our existence is so very often at loggerheads with reality. This environment we inhabit is chock full of pathogens – many of which can be fatal – and yet we will ignore that and choose a course of action that increases our risk enormously , like refusing a vaccine with a tiny risk and instead choosing an option with a risk orders of magnitude greater. How and why we make those decisions is fascinating to me. You must see a lot of that in your job.

    I needed this post as a reminder of how good we have it now compared to even just 50 years ago. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny how things work out, isn’t it? MY formal education involved steering as clear away from science as possible (and look where THAT landed me!)

      I’m with you in the head shaking department. The risks of vaccines are much lower than things we do every day. Riding in a car, for example. And the FALSE vaccine-autism link has been disproven not only scientifically, but when it was exposed that former Doctor Andrew Wakefield was being paid as an expert in litigation involving vaccines and he fabricated data to support claims. Still, when I just looked up the subject because I couldn’t recall his last name, Google led me to more articles saying there IS a connection. Not scientific, peer-reviewed articles, natch.

      IMHO, early education needs a stronger (MUCH stronger) emphasis on science and the art of figuring stuff out!

      Without the advances in the last 50 years, who knows what sort of shape you or I would be in!

      Hey — my reply was as long as your original comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Glazed

    Jonas Salk could have made a fortune off the polio vaccine. But he wanted everyone to receive it, and campaigned to make it mandatory. When he was asked who owned the patent to it, he said, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” My family was acquainted with his brother, Herman, who was a veterinarian. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times. He had a humanitarian heart, too. When I was 15 he treated a sick dog of mine. I was very poor, and the vet bill was out of my reach. But he waived the bill, and didn’t charge me anything.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Hear hear. Thank you for posting this. And you raise a good point about vaccines being safer than OTC meds. I’ve seen more reactions to cough and cold meds (which kids shouldn’t be given, anyway) than to vaccines.

    How horrible your mother had to go through that while pregnant. Glad both mom and baby did okay.

    Liked by 1 person

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