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The American Epidemics, Families and Individuals

Quote. Anything you had in this room gets burned. Not my bear! I cried. You canít burn my bear! Iím sorry, said the nurse as she dropped Teddy into the bag. You wouldnít want someone else to get polio just because you kept your teddy bear, would you? Mother said. End Quote. Peg Kehret, 1949

The enforced separation of families during the early, acute phase of the disease contributed to the intense dread and fear that polio aroused. Children and parents were not allowed any contact for ten to fourteen days and then only limited visiting for weeks afterward. When the person returned home weeks or months later, adjustment to changed circumstances brought more stress.

Factoids
bullet Poliovirus produces no, or only minor, symptoms in 95 percent of those infected. In about 5 percent of cases, a mild form results in flu-like symptoms of fever, stiff neck, nausea, and fatigue, or a slight, temporary paralysis. About 1 percent of those with polio symptoms experience a severe form called paralytic polio that has lasting effects. In the worst cases of paralytic polio, 2 to 5 percent of children and 10 to 20 percent of adults die.
bullet Humans are the only reservoir for the poliovirus. The virus does not naturally reproduce in any other species.
Photo of a scrapbook
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Scrapbook with get well cards kept by Ron Maceís mother during his hospitalization, 1950 Courtesy of Joy Weeber

“There was so much not to talk about; for instance: no one in my family had ever talked about my being paralyzed, except regarding practical, immediate concerns such as who would put me to bed or wash me. We never discussed how being paralyzed had affected me emotionally, or how it would affect my future as a student, worker, or a human being.”
—Mark O’Brien, 2003

Left image. Typed postcard to parents
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Right image. Typed letter to parents from doctor
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Left: Postcard to parents stating that they could visit their child for two hours on Thanksgiving, 1948 Courtesy of John Britt
Right: Letter to parents from doctor about their childís hospital stay, 1950 Courtesy of John Britt
Photo of parents sitting outside of a window

Parents outside of a hospital window trying to make contact with child in isolation ward, Des Moines, Iowa, 1949 From LIFE magazine, courtesy of Des Moines Register

Photo of Ron Mace
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Ron Mace in his pajamas, seated in a wheelchair with an arm sling during his convalescence, North Carolina, 1950 Courtesy of Joy Weeber

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    Georgia Gibson in a hospital ward, 1995  
Smithsonian National Museum of American History main site
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