At first, the young girl thought she heard a small kitten mewing. Then, the sound grew in intensity to more like a meowing. Was she dreaming or having a nightmare? No, it was the small voice of a child in the hospital bed just across from her bed. The crying was coming from a child, who was among the many patients, in the Elk City Hospital’s polio ward in 1953. Being one of the oldest in the ward, the young girl was given a device to signal a nurse. She quickly pushed the button and several nurses hurried into the ward. They pulled the curtains around the crying child and the girl turned over and went back to sleep. The next morning, the child’s bed was empty.
Yes, I was the 12-year-old girl in this story, and in the following days we learned that the child had died. He was one of four patients in the ward from Reydon, Oklahoma. To my knowledge, there were 11 cases reported from the Reydon school in 1953. Only four were hospitalized, as far as I know.
Although there had been many years of research, study and trials conducted by the 1950’s, there still was a vaccine for polio available. After complaining to my mother that my right leg was really hurting and I had a fever, my mother acted quickly and took me to the nearest hospital that was treating polio victims. I was given the only treatment for polio at that time. Dr. Featherson rolled my body into a ball formation and put the biggest needle I’ve ever seen into my spine. The test confirmed that I had the polio virus. I was rushed to the third floor of the Community Hospital in Elk City where the nurses started the hot blanket therapy on me to sweat the poison out of my system. For a month in the summer of this year, the treatments were given three times a day.
Because of the influence of our 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt and others, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was formed and this led to the March of Dimes. People from all over America sent in dimes to purchase equipment and supplies to help in the fight against polio. One of these machines would be wheeled along the hospital bed three times a day. Woolen blanket sheets were folded and placed inside the round kettles. When they were very hot, the nurse would take one out with surgical scissors – give it one flap in the air and slap it on our back. Then, we were wrapped in a rubber sheet. Knowing that someone had died in the hospital bed across from me was pretty bad, but hearing the screams of my own and all of the others in the Ward was something I hope other children will never experience.
Two noted scientists, Jonas Salk and Albert Bruce Sabin, developed vaccines after years of intense work and collaboration with many other micro-scientists to first isolate what a virus was and how it was completely different from bacteria. The acute need for eradicating polio led to those with lots of money donating vast amounts of financial backing for research development. Many decades went by before much progress was made. In 1952, there were 58,000 new cases of polio reported in the U.S. and more than 3,000 deaths. Another element that made polio stand out even more than the deaths was the visualization of hundreds of children and some adults in wheelchairs and crutches showing up in every socioeconomic setting. This frightening crisis of the nervous system which struck the rich and poor alike would not be hidden away in a hospital or a graveyard. I was one of the thousands of polio survivors that was left with only minimal outward scars of the disease. A curvature of the spine, which later caused by right side to be lower, has contributed to many other physical conditions. Water therapy has been my saving grace to keep going even now at the age of 80 years.
Now the time has come to answer the question in the title of this article. “Why now?” What does this story have to do with today’s world, and most importantly, the coronavirus disease? The Delta strain of this disease is targeting our children. As of this writing, Aug. 31, there isn’t an approved vaccine for children under the age of 12. Since there are no books or journals on how this disease is spread, we go to where the virus has been spread. It was reported recently by NBC News that a teacher was reading to her young students. The next day she was diagnosed with the Delta variant of the virus. In a few days, most of the children in the first two rows came down with the virus. This event will help document that the virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. I recently read that singing can project thousands of droplet’s from one’s mouth.
From talking to some of the people who will not get vaccinated because of what they have heard or read about vaccines, I’m pretty sure they will not change their minds. UNLESS they see children around them suffering and many dying. Please, think about how many men, women and children came down with small pox, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and other diseases before there was a vaccine for them. Epidemic crises have long been a part of our history. Many learn-ed scientists believed and worked tirelessly over decades of time to find the right combination to eradicate these deadly diseases. When there was at least a certain percent of a population of people receiving a vaccine, referred to as herd immunity, the disease was eradicated. This happened with the Salk vaccine for polio. Although the vaccine had problems in its make-up, the millions who were already vaccinated saw few major health problems, and polio was brought under control. Albert Savin and other noted specialists continue to fine-tune Salk’s vaccine. Today, almost six decades later, polio is no longer crippling children.
Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that infections of COVID-19 and particularly the Delta strain of the virus have been steadily rising since early July of this year. The Delta strain has been reported by health officials to be 50 percent more contagious than the original strain. So, WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? Do we just wait around and think this terrible disease will soon go away or at least not harm any children we know? Not me! I have 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Of this bunch of precious ones, eight are under the age of 12 and can’t get a vaccine at this time. I was just able to get my third dose of the Pfizer vaccine a few days ago.
When my daddy went to serve his country during WWII, one of my uncles taught me to sing a little song when I was only 3 years of age. The title of the song was “Lord Have I Done My Part.” I missed my daddy so much and Uncle Sam thought learning this song would help me feel like I was helping Daddy every time I sang it. It’s time for all of us to do our part now so others might not have to get sick or maybe even die.
Linda Shreve is a Stillwater resident.