Caregiving in the Time of CoVid-19, #25: Remember Polio?

Epidemics cause disruption. We know this now as we watch our Co-Vid 19 summer inch along ever so slowly. Few open pools, limits on playing with other people, very little socializing with friends and extended family, etc., etc. Outdoor is better than indoor, but how much better? And whether to have or open schools? Who knows?

Today the challenges are not too different from summers in the early and mid 1950s. Back then, polio was frightening. People you knew went to hospitals, some died, and others emerged from the disease severely disabled. No cure or vaccine was available, only therapies, and I remember my parents continually worrying and talking about the polio epidemic for years after. It was worst (scariest) in the spring, summer and fall where I lived, and there was so much misinformation.

I recall the time, I was four years old, when we did not go swimming at the local university pool all year long and stayed away from the swimming pool during the summer months. In fact we did not even have any water play in the back yard that summer. My family was lucky because we could go to the ocean (or at least we thought that was safe). But other wise, no outside water play.

An iron lung — epiPhoto Credit: Rana X. Flickr via Compfight cc

My husband, who is several years older than I am, remembers far more. He recounts summers of not going to the nearby lake to swim, limits to playing outside, especially if it had rained, and wearing clothes that were far too warm in the summer as an attempt to prevent mosquito bites. No one really knew how to cope and there was lots of fear and diagreement about how to live lives normally.

Interestingly my memories come from the year when a vaccine for polio, the first one, was literally just around the corner. Tests were being conducted on two million children. My mom told me that just abour every day news reports about vaccine development appeared somewhere, and eventually, in a nationwide broadcast on radio and television, we heard an announcement about the successes of those vaccine trials.

Within two years I had stood in a long line with my school classmates to receive my first polio vaccination, a vaccine that had been through a rigorous testing process.

Now, as we attempt to protect ourselves from the coronavirus and wait for a vaccine, people often refer back to the Spanish Influenza way back in 1918-19. Actually we have been in a somewhat similar situation more recently with polio — just about 75 years ago.

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