It's 1955, and let's say the young boy pictured below made the mistake of drinking out of an unclean glass, or shook the hand of another boy who did not wash after using the toilet. Unknowingly, he exposed himself to poliomyelitis, the virus that causes polio.
National Museum of Health and MedicineAt its peak in 1952, more than 21,000 Americans contracted a paralyzing form of polio, and 3,000 died from it. Once infected, there was no treatment besides time and tending to the symptoms.
A metal chamber, with a sliding base upon which the patient is place, an electrically operated pump, a gauge and a valve are the chief parts of the outfit. The patient is placed on the sliding bed, shoved into the cabinet and the shield tightly locked. A rubber collar, which fits so snugly that almost no air can pass, is adjusted about the patient's neck. A switch is turned, and the cabinet begins its work.Despite this highly restrictive environment -- and only being able to speak when the machine exhales for him -- the boy maintains his cheer, smiling for the camera man via the machine's mirror. And he's hardly alone. Herman Kiefer Hospital in Detroit holds dozens of children, all convalescencing in the iron lung.
National Museum of Health and Medicine
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