Describe what you remember about the fear surrounding polio epidemics:
In the summer of August, 1952 before school started we went to Dodge
Center, MN to visit my
husband's parents. They lived on a farm, raising grains and livestock. This was
a 10 day vacation to visit other relatives in the area. The vacation was
centered visiting families in their homes, no public places.
After the vacation we returned home to Atlantic,
IA. Our neighbors greeted us with the
question of “Why did you return home?” Our reply was to come home and get ready
for our oldest girl to go to school. We wondered why they asked us this
question. They said, “Didn't you hear about the polio outbreak?” They said a
29-year-old man who worked at the court house and 2 male 6-year-olds had all
passed away and were buried during our absence. We were shocked as we hadn't
heard about it. We were very afraid as all of these victims were within a block
of our home.
The mother of one of the six-year-olds used to baby sit for me. This was so
frightening and sad as she lost her son. It made the situation more intense as
I knew her and her child on a very personal basis.
Our insurance lady asked me about a policy covering the 10 most dreaded
diseases. I gave her $10.00 for this coverage. I had exactly 21 days before I
After returning home, we went to Logan, IA.
to my mother's to dress chickens for my family to put in the locker. This may
have tired my children out.
After a few days home, I noticed that our daughter, Janette, 4 years and our
son Larry, 16 months had unusual bowel movements. It was dark, slimy not
typical. This lasted 2 days. On this second day, I noticed my son was not able
to use his right side. I put his favorite toys in front of him and he used his
left side only. His right side was totally limp.
I called the doctor and he told me to bring him right in. This was early
afternoon. I brought Larry in and the doctor diagnosed it as polio. He advised
us to go directly to the children's hospital in Omaha,
to by pass the Cass County
They checked him over and “Yes” he did have polio. They gave Larry a spinal
tap, they gave him no pain medication. I could hear him scream from the pain of
the spinal tap, even though they had removed him far away from the examination
room. This was the last time I saw my son. The staff handed me his clothes and
we had to leave.
As we left the hospital we could look through windows and see children in iron
lungs. I didn't want to think of Larry being in an iron lung. These children
suffered from polio affecting their breathing, Larry's was one that paralyzed
I stayed with relatives in Omaha
and my husband returned back to Atlantic. We assumed I
could visit Larry in the morning. I arrived at 3:00
AM to my uncle's home. I couldn't sleep. My uncle offered to take
me back to the hospital to see my son. In the morning I called the polio ward
to check on Larry. I was informed I couldn't visit. Nobody was allowed to come
in. They were afraid someone would bring something else in and make the
children worse, or that the disease might be passed to someone else.
They told me I could call at 11:00 AM
to check on his status after the doctors had seen him. The insurance I had
taken 3 week earlier paid for the long distance phone calls.
There wasn't anything else to do but get on the next bus to go back home and
take care of my two children at home. The babysitter that stayed with my two
daughters is the one who had just buried her son. She wasn't afraid to stay and
care for our daughters. Her husband was a police officer.
When I got home I found out about the 5th victim in our block. It was our
neighbor, Carol Farson, the same age as our oldest daughter. She went to the Des
Moines hospital because her relation lived there. Her
polio affected the right side of her face.
When I got home, our insurance lady came to check on us. She stayed in the
street and yelled questions and answers. She was afraid of polio, herself.
School started, but I was requested to keep our oldest daughter home for a week
and observe her. Which I did. She was told not to run and get hot. When she did
go to school she was chased home by kids who were afraid of her. People refused
to wait on her in stores because of the fear of polio.
No one wanted to come around us. They were afraid of other people who had
polio. Our area in Atlantic was the only area with that
many cases in one block.
The fear was so intense, dogs were killed, they sprayed for mosquitoes, play
grounds and swimming pools were empty. Some thought spiders from bananas, or
the fuzz from peaches caused polio. Any large group gatherings were almost
I watched the clock to call at 11:00
each day to check on his progress. The conversation lasted just a few minutes.
How is he doing? After about six weeks in the hospital, the doctor called and
said Larry's fever was gone. If it stayed that way for 48 hours we could come
and see him. He would be able to come home, and to bring his clothes.
Harlan and I went to Omaha to see
and hopefully bring Larry home. I brought a sailor outfit and sailor cap. When
Larry saw the cap, he knew it meant "Bye-Bye". He took that cap, put
it on his head and was ready to leave without putting on the rest of his
I promised the doctors Larry would see a doctor in Atlantic
to keep track of him. We did that.
Tell us what you remember of the impact of polio:
The therapy included 2 baths a day. Larry was so scared of the water. I got
into the tub with him and slowly increased the temperature of the water until
his body was pink. Then to wrap him in wool blankets and until his body cooled
down. When I took Larry for his check up the doctor warned me that if I
continued doing this, I would miscarry the baby I was carrying. With this in
mind, I contacted an osteopath. He used duratherm therapy. It was a light that
had heat for the strap muscles. It also included massage and exercise. After
treatments he would sleep better that night. I took him every other day.
He learned to walk again. And could slowly walk short distances. He would be
pushed down by other children and they would hit him.
Describe the reaction of your family and others you knew to the development
of the vaccine:
Before the vaccine, there was a shot available. The cost was $84.00 per shot
per child. We could not afford the shot. Our neighbors across the street had 2
girls and they received the shot. When I went to Omaha
hospital, I was so be side myself for not spending the $84.00 for our 3
children. They doctor said, “Mrs. Mickey come here. This child had the shot,
and this child and this child. You see it didn't do any good.” I didn't feel so
It seemed like forever for a vaccine for public use. We were one of the
first to get in line for it. It seemed to me, the dosage was on a sugar cube.
We were so happy.
General Comments :
Later on I noticed Larry was having great
difficulty going up the stairs. So I took him back to his polio doctor in Omaha.
After checking him over, real good, he told me with a very sad face, "This
boy has every sign of ALS." I had just seen a movie about Lou Gehrig, who
had ALS, so I knew something about his diagnosis. The only thing he said I
could do was to take Larry home and make him happy. We found out Larry had
Duchese muscular dystrophy. So again we began to research about what treatments
would be available to give him. And Larry began the next phase of his life.
He lived to be 22 years old.