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