(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
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.
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.
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