Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ventilation, Part 5 (fictionalized history)

(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.

Like slipping.


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."

"I'm going!"


Other noises.

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.

Pleeeeease! Mommy!

She retched.

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.

It should.

But it was easy to sleep with the rhythm of the parade.

Back to Part 4.


SzélsőFa said...

Wow, this one's scares me!
All the right ways, though.

Sarah Hina said...

And her arms wouldn't come. This actually made me tear up.

Her mind graced her with some escape--for a time. But the respite is uneasy, and won't last long.

While reading this, I have a very childish desire to plead that it's not fair. No person--and children especially--should have to suffer so. There are no easy answers here, and you're honest about that, Jason...

But it is very hard to face as a reader.

Hoodie said...

wow, the best of the series so far, imo.

anne frasier said...

i'm loving this, jason. fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Szelsofa, thanks. This was a tough one.

Sarah, I actually got teary when I first wrote Julia's thoughts crying for her mother. I guess I'm a softie after all (shhhh, I know it's obvious, you don't have to rub it in). I know this story is harsh, but I'm trying to give the gift of emphathy to people who really endured this disease.

Hoodie, thanks, my friend. Certainly the most action-packed and visceral of the lot.

Anne, maybe I can weave in some funky old medical equipment. You know how I love that stuff! Seriously, thanks for the kind words.

Vesper said...

Very intense and heartbreaking, Jason.
Excellent writing!

paisley said...

this is so tragic.. but you definitely captured the essence of giving in and letting go here.. it is so real it scares me...

Anonymous said...

Vesper, thanks! Writing these serials helps keep the juices flowing.

Paisley, never having experienced anything so dire, I did my best to imagine it. I guess I have seen people in distress though. This is how I believe they felt.

Selma said...

The grim horror of this disease is communicated so well in this piece. How devastating it must have been for the sufferers and those who cared for them.

Anonymous said...

Selma, such an all-emcompassing terror. To have your body slip away....

Ello said...

This was really excellent. Very intense.

JaneyV said...

Hi - sorry I've been away so long. Everything's been a bit topsy-turvy recently - not in a bad way, just disrupted from the norm. I see calm on the horizon now!

I agree with all the above comments, this was so very moving. You've captured with horrifying clarity the nightmare of having a gravely sick child. Wonderful writing Jason.