Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ventilation, Part 9 (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.)

Eighteen Months After Hospital Admission
December 25, 1953

Julia hummed along with the radio.

She drifted with the continuous Christmas carols and the snowflakes flitting outside the window. From her high-backed chair, she could see the parking lot below and the white gathering on the pine needles.

During We Three Kings, the orange blinker of a station wagon roused her from her daydream. Slushy tire tracks turned in from the street.

She pressed the call button.

Although she liked getting out of the iron lung everyday, breathing still wore on her like a marathon. Talking was out of the question.

As she waited, she listened. Holidays were weird in the hospital. A mixture of silence and bursts of strange laughter and excited voices.

The team arrived, and the nurse combed her hair while the orderlies rolled the chair over to the machine. It cycled air in, air out, even without her. Turning it on and off risked more repairs or a break down.

"That's a pretty blouse you have on today," the nurse said, smoothing it after they tucked Julia inside.

The deep, deep breaths felt wonderful. Julia smiled.

"Your family's right outside."

Julia heard her mother hush her little brother. He whined. Packages crinkled. And bags changed hands.

"Are you ready?"

Julia bent her neck to check herself, then nodded.

Go back to Part 8.


paisley said...

when life has become "an event"...

Sarah Hina said...

Julia's acceptance, and the relative peace that comes with it, feels right here. She is still tightly contained, though. Watching. Listening.

The relief of being back in the iron lung is particularly poignant. It's a prison, but one she requires to survive.

I've always loved We Three Kings. Nice choice, Jason. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Good for those of us who take deep breaths for granted.

Geraldine said...

I really hope you are working towards writing a book based on this series Jason. A subject and time and history that is tragic and intriguing at the same time. I am sure many people would feel the same way.

Did you do a lot of research on polio and this time frame,before you started writing this series? So sad but so interesting to consider what these families went through.

Aine said...

She seems to be humming along with life as it is for her now. No passion, little stimulation, but at least she's coping.

I find myself breathing more evenly with this piece. But that scares me... I'm sure the future is not so content.

JaneyV said...

Is this acceptance? Or is she, by now so institutionalised that change makes her fearful. Imagine the stress of not knowing if you can sustain breathing?

The layers of this series continue to unfold.

Milly said...

One of my very favorite teachers had polio. Reading this brings tears to me. I remember her struggles from the way that it left her body yet how she loved the gift of books and reading them to us. She gave me a gift with her reading and I know that she would have felt that your writing this is a gift to those who had the horror of it.

Anonymous said...

Paisley, that's a great observation. Yes, I think that small things we take for granted would be the huge events of a life like this.

Sarah, the resignation is necessary to survive, and learning to live and go on is vital. But something in me is sad to see the fight fade. It feels like it's really over.

Charles, you know, that breath feels really good now that you mention it.

Geraldine, I would love to do a collection of these stories for a book someday (if someone would publish it). I don't think I could do a single story as a novel though. There is some kind of balance I feel with these shorter glimpses. Somehow it feels truer to the times and situations. Creating a novel would require so much more plot and subplots and such. To me, it would lessen the impact. Thanks for the encouragement!! (I researched a few survivor stories to base some scenes on. Also, later pieces will be based on news stories.)

Aine, that's exactly how I felt! Not sure if I'm ready for this condition to be accepted.

Milly, I'm very humbled by your comment and sentiment. This series seems to have touched on many personal experiences. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! It made my day.

Barbara Martin said...

An interesting step back in combination with different levels of story intertwined. Well done, Jason.

Anonymous said...

You're setting the scene for something traumatic, aren't you? I cannot describe to you the amount of empathy Julia has engendered in me. What must it have been like to live a life so contained? I am with Geraldine in saying I hope you are considering trying to get this published. I would be very surprised if you didn't succeed.

Anonymous said...

Barbara, the evolution and the tides of heartache, coming in and flowing out. I'm trying to capture them.

Selma, you are perceptive. :) The elements coming are based on true stories. The strange plight of polio victims as they outlived the threat of their illness. Thanks so much for your empathy and encouragement!

Ello said...

I always tear up as I read these vignettes. I am really hoping Julia has a happy conclusion. I'm hoping.