(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.)
Six Months After Hospital Admission
The nurse scrubbed shampoo into Julia's hair. A folded towel darkened under her head. They used as little water as possible to minimize the mess.
Of course, it was easier to wash at the sink. But the girl hated being pulled from the iron lung. She panicked at the struggle to breathe.
"Are feeling okay today, honey?"
The girl didn't answer. Just stared.
"Your mom's coming today. Aren't you happy about that?"
The girl didn't even blink.
"Don't you want to see your family?"
Barely a whisper.
The nurse began carefully rinsing.
"You don't mean that, honey."
Julia's head snapped up off its rest. The nurse jerked back in shock.
"YES! I DO!"
Her head splashed back onto the towel and sprayed suds onto the nurse's lap.
The nurse gaped as tears spilled over the girl's cheeks.
The girl squeezed her eyes shut and tried to control her voice. "I know what today is."
"I know! Don't you think I do? Don't you think I hear things?"
"Julia, what do you think you--"
"Six months. That's what it is." The girl choked out the words. "I haven't gotten any better. You're going to tell my mother I'm not going to get better."
The girl shook her head back and forth, back and forth, but it was weak. The polio even crippled her anger.
"Julia, nobody knows that. You can still get better."
She sobbed harder.
"Julia. You never know. Anything can happen."
The nurse glanced at the clock. How late it was. The kid was getting hysterical.
"I have to finish you hair."
Back and forth, back and forth.
"Julia, I have to finish your hair."
Getting late. The kid sputtering.
Out of time.
"Now you listen!"
The nurse grasped Julia's head in her hands and glared into the upside down eyes.
"Stop it! Right now!" she said.
Flooded blue eyes. Quivering lips.
"Your mother can't see you like this! You have to be strong for her, Julia. You have to be strong!"
The girl sniffled as the nurse mashed the soap from the rest of her hair. The roughness quieted the child.
When the nurse paused at the doorway with her sopping bundle of laundry, she saw Julia's stoic eyes turned upward.
They had gone to stone.
On to Part 9.
Back to Part 7.