Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ventilation, Part 11 (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.)

Eight Years and Two Months After Hospital Admission
September 1960 (16 years old)

Julia watched the overhead mirror. The nurse wheeled the small child into the room. An IV swung on the pole and painted the walls with rainbows of morning light.

The girl leaned heavily in the chair. She tucked behind the nurse's skirt.

"Hi Maria, how are you?" Julia said.

The child leaned farther.

"I've been waiting to meet you! My name is Julia."

Very bashful.

"I was hoping I could read you a story."

The nurse spoke up. "Maria's feeling a little shy this morning."

Julia smiled. "That's okay. I'm shy too. Is it okay if Nurse Betty Ann stays with us for a few minutes? I might feel a little better."

Dark eyes peered out at Julia. The child eventually nodded.

"Great!" Julia said. "They told me all about your favorite books. I have one here. It's all set up for me. See? I have a stand for the book, and I use this stick to turn the pages."

Julia demonstrated.

The child perked.

"I love reading, don't you?" Julia said. "It always makes me feel better. Even when I'm having a bad day, or I don't feel so good. Can I read Peter Rabbit to you?"

Maria tugged the nurse's skirt. She whispered something when the nurse bent down.

"Ask her yourself," the nurse said, prodding.

The child cringed.

The nurse gave up. "Maria wants to know why you're in that machine."

Julia smiled. "This is called an iron lung. It helps me breathe. Have you seen one before?"

Maria shook her head.

"There aren't many left. People don't need them so much anymore. Do you know what polio is?"

Maria shook her head.

"It's a disease that people don't get so much anymore. When you go to the doctor, they give you medicine to protect you. A vaccine. When I was your age, lots of kids got polio. It stops your legs from working. Your arms too. This machine helps me because my body doesn't work right anymore."

The child wheeled herself forward a few feet. She looked at the machine. "Does it hurt?"

"No," Julia said. "I can't feel a thing."

The nurse eased backwards toward the doorway.

"Can I read to you?" Julia said. "Peter Rabbit is one of my favorites."

"I can help you," Maria said. "If you want."

"Yes! That would be perfect. I think I'll need some help." Julia turned the page and set the stick aside. "Aren't the pictures lovely? I used to dream about having a garden like that. What a wonderful place to live!"

On to Part 12.
Back to Part 10


Sarah Hina said...

This is a deep acceptance now. Helping others accept her, too, and with such grace and generosity.

Still, Julia's I can't feel a thing. stings us with its casualness. We haven't forgotten the beginning, when she could feel, and when her dreams were as verdant as that garden. Maria is a poignant reminder of the full circle.

Beautiful interaction here, Jason. It feels true.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very sweet, but poignant

Aine said...

And life goes on... the experienced sharing with the inexperienced. The therapeutic potential of such meetings is great. I'm glad Julia has been given the chance to feel purpose in this way.

Makes me wonder what's next for her.

Ello said...

Ah, she has reached acceptance. Still it is so sad. I worry for her. I so hope something good happens.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, her impact on the world has increased, yes. In a positive way. But you are right feel the chill underlying it. The vulnerability of her condition brings out the child just as much as her kindess and skill.

Charles, thanks!

Aine, Julia is well suited to be a therapist. The power she can bring to bear with her voice and presence is potent.

Ello, finding good in the midst of the sad.... A challenge, yes. Especially when the sad is poised to flood in again at any moment.

Anonymous said...

It actually feels like you are recounting an actual event. Julia has become a real person. I agree in that she would make a great therapist. She has such empathy for others (as many chronically ill people do). I am worried though about her future. I have grown attached to her.

SzélsőFa said...

Yes, it does rings true with a real character. (as Selma said).
I still feel there might be something bad along the way...Julia's still very young.
But this just makes it more life-like.

Anonymous said...

I like to dream ahead of your story and believe that Julia will recover one day. Wishful thinking perhaps ... or I just like happy endings.

Geraldine said...

This is so sad to read but another excellent installment in your series Jason. I still think there's a book to be written here.

paisley said...

can you imagine knowing that you are the last of a 'dying' breed,, literally... that had you been born a few years later,, or contracted the disease a little later,, you too would be not merely surviving.... but very much alive??? wow.. an inedible piece....

Miladysa said...

Very well written.

"An iron lung" even the words are terrifying. I remember learning about them when I was a child and they remain on my nightmare list to this day.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

My father always told me stories about the children he knew who had polio when he was growing up. Your story reads like it might be about one of them...

wordtryst said...

Jason and Aine, you just won a novel over on my blog. Congratulations! E-mail me a postal address where you can collect it and I'll be right on it.

Thanks for stopping by and joining in the fun!

lianespicer a t gmail etc.

Anonymous said...

Selma, your comments continue to make writing this series meaningful and a true pleasure. Thank you. :)

Szelsofa, the ultimate fate of Julia is based on a true story.

Aggie, that would be a wonderful outcome. :) I wish it could happen.

Paisley, you hit the particular poignance of this piece dead on. You nailed it. There will be no more summers like 1952 when so many were sickened. If Julia had been born a few years later, none of this would have befallen her. The knowledge of that must feel horrendous.

Miladysa, hopefully I'm doing the experience of this disease at least a small bit of justice.

EOH, those must be strang memories for him. To not know who was going to be struck down.

Wordtryst, thank you!! I just stopped over again to express my appreciation. I'll email you. :)