(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.