(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."
"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."
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