(In 1952, polio reached its peak in the United States with 21,000 cases of paralytic polio. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. By 1965, the total paralytic cases had fallen to 61. In this fictionalized history series, we will be experiencing the aftermath of polio, before the dramatic triumph of a vaccine. If you're just joining us, go back to Part 1.)
Julia wanted to claw.
To pull everything off of her.
The back hallway glowed with sour light. She heard a curtain close, but couldn't see it. Something propped her head toward the water-stained ceiling.
She fought for air with a thousand pounds on her chest.
Whatever it was, she screamed for them to take the weight off.
But couldn't scream. Each breath fell short.
Slipping down a mountain.
Below, she sensed a black, tingling bottom, and oh God, oh God, oh God, she didn't want to go.
Her mother's voice crashed down the hospital hallway. "I want to see her!"
A quieter voice. "Ma'am, please. You can't."
Something like her father's voice. Sounds tumbling.
"She's in isolation! You can't go!"
Her mother shrieked. "NO!"
Tears flooded Julia's cheeks.
She gurgled mucus.
Tried to curl and bring her hands to her face.
But her view of the ceiling barely quivered.
And her arms wouldn't come.
"What are you going to do! She can't breathe!"
"I told you. The iron lungs are full. They're full."
"But what are you--"
"Listen. Listen. I called up to the ward. One may become available soon."
"One of the patients...." The quiet voice lowered even more. "He's very, very weak."
Her mother wailed. "Oh my God. Oh my God."
"Listen. Julia is a strong little girl. She'll hang on."
But the tide of darkness was rising up.
And the more she slipped, the more the pain turned fuzzy and remote.
She dreamed of closets.
Dirty mops in swamp water.
And butterflies kissing daisies.
The meadow was so nice until the armies came.
They marched in metal boots clanking, clinking, and stomping on her.
It should hurt.
But it was easy to sleep with the rhythm of the parade.
Back to Part 4.