LIVING WITH POLIO: The Epidemic and Its Survivors

Daniel J. Wilson, Author . Univ. of Chicago $29 (312p) ISBN 978-0-226-90103-9

If you were an American child in the 1940s and early '50s and contracted a "summer flu," there was real cause for worry—because the initial signs of polio resembled flu symptoms. More than 400,000 American children in those years did get polio, and many of them survived—including Wilson, a professor of history at Muhlenberg College. This volume, unlike others marking the polio vaccine's discovery, tells the survivors' stories: the difficult, painful journey from diagnosis to recovery, including paralysis, hospital isolation wards, grueling physical therapy, living with disability and, most recently, the emergence of postpolio syndrome, the recurrence of symptoms decades after recovery from the disease. Wilson's account, drawn from more than 150 polio narratives, is perhaps most affecting in highlighting the less well-known moments and facts: a doctor's futile attempt to downplay the harshness of the diagnosis; the double burden on African-Americans when hospitals would not admit them; and children being children even in the hospital wards, as they have spitball fights and play pranks. Wilson's account is a fitting testimony to the survivors' suffering and courage. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/14/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
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