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The American Epidemics, The Medical Community

Spinal Tap!
Lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, was introduced in 1891 as a way to relieve children with hydrocephalus (pressure on the brain from accumulation of fluid) and quickly began to be used as the primary way to diagnose polio.

Left photo. A doctor administers a lumbar puncture to a child
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Right photo. Box containing a lumbar puncture needle
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Left: A child undergoing a lumbar puncture at Hickory Emergency Hospital, North Carolina, 1944 Courtesy of Getty Images, Alfred Eisenstadt, photographer
Right: Lumbar puncture needle

More Tests
With so many unknowns in the course of the disease, doctors and nurses searched for ways to measure and chart the health of patients, using tests for muscle strength, limb mobility, joint movement, and breathing capacity.

Left photo. Doctor and nurse examining a child's muscle strength on a table
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Right photo. Doctor and nurse testing the patient's respirator with woman looking on
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Left: Doctor and nurse examining the muscle strength in a child’s hips, 1917
Right: Testing respiratory capacity of a patient wearing a cuirass (chest) respirator, Rancho Los Amigos, Downey, California, 1950s Courtesy of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center

“Well, it’s like this. This is the only real way we can tell what breathing you have left…. We find the amount of air you can blow into this counterbalanced floating cylinder with the gauge—that’s all.”
—Larry Alexander, 1954

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    Two interns come to take a spinal tap  
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