Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ventilation, Part 6 (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.)

Fifteen Days After Hospital Admission
July 1952

The iron lung sucked and clanged.

Julia couldn't feel it wringing the air out of her, ballooning her open, but she felt the air flooding past her lips. She obsessed about it. Each cycle. Terrified it would stop.

They took her out for the first time last night to breathe on her own.

She closed her eyes and meekly shook her head, shook her head, until she made them put her back in.

"Hi sweetie."

Julia looked up into the mirror angled back into the room. Flat on her back, she could see a flip-flopped version of the room in reflection.

The nurse in the purple surgical gown smiled with her eyes.

That's all Julia could see.

"Do you want anything?"

"I want to see my mom."

The word mom quivered in her throat. She didn't think it would happen again, but it did.

"I know, honey. But not again until next Monday. I know you don't want to risk making them sick."

"But you're not sick, are you?"

"It's my job, sweetie. I can read to you a little later. And Sister Therese will be coming by."

Julia listened to the valves in the machine.

Open. Closed.

Rough and inhuman.

"I want to see my mom," she whispered.

With no mask. No surgical gown.

Not behind a tape line eight feet away.

"Lunch in an hour," the nurse said.

Julia closed her eyes.

She should enjoy another person being in the room, but it was far too much effort to say another word.

On to Part 7.
Go back to Part 5


Anonymous said...

It must have been terrifying and hugely boring for them. How cruel to keep family away as well. My sis was in an iron lung for awhile after she contracted Polio, but our parents were allowed regular visits each day.

Sarah Hina said...

And I thought the last part was hard to bear.

What a terrifying prison for a child to endure. And no mom smiling with reassurance in that mirror. Her frailty and fear are so palpable and heartbreaking here, Jason.

What her parents' agony must be can only be imagined.

Selma said...

Do you know someone who experienced this? I ask because it is such a realistic account. The anguish of it is startling.

SzélsőFa said...

It is painful, too.
Poor kid - you describe her feelings so well.
Were I in a more emotional phase now, I'd be crying. So painful.

Meghan said...

You do such a great job of conveying how lonely and scary it would be. This was a painful passage to read because it's so emotional.

Anonymous said...

Aggie, I'm glad that your sister was allowed visitors. This piece is based on the story of a person who was denied visits for months. It must have been awful.

Sarah, I'm truly sorry that this piece is painful. The only thing I can say is that I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of people who suffered with this disease and to channel their feelings. If I'm capturing even a piece of that, I think is a valuable experience.

Selma, I am basing it on a composite of descriptions and events in various survivor accounts. I don't actually know anyone who went through it. The emotional angle is my best attempt at channeling their feelings.

Szelsofa, there is not much which is more painful than seeing a child suffering from sickness.

Meghan, thank you, my friend. It's something so hard to imagine that I find myself compelled to imagine it and give some emotion to the cold clinical stories.

Ello said...

Jason, I think it was great for me that I missed your posts and got to read two back to back but now I am back to waiting for the next installment. I really can't wait to see what happens next. I want to pick Julia up and hug her tight.

paisley said...

i cannot even begin to imagine such an experience.. you on the other hand are really bringing it to life...

anne frasier said...

fantastic job, jason.

Anonymous said...

Ello, she could use a hug. She really could.

Paisley, I was about to say I can't imagine it either, but that's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm using real stories as a situational prompt. The emotions are as I imagine them.

Anne, thanks! :)

JaneyV said...

I know from my own sister's experience of being denied visitors when she had TB, that the loneliness is soul destroying. Your ability to tap into the emotions of everyone in this series is amazing. The sickness of a child affects everyone involved so deeply.

I was just thinking of the emotions of Julia's Mom, desperately waiting for someone to die so her daughter could have a chance to live. Nobody should face such horrendous moral dilemmas.

Geraldine said...

I have often pondered what it would be like to live most of one's life in an iron lung. Terrifying to say the least.

You have conveyed that emptiness and horror,so well Jason. The feelings of being detached from the world and relying on a huge,forbidding machine, for life. Well done.