The summer of '55: Boston
During the polio epidemics, hospitals had to mobilize to cope with a sudden onslaught of patients. A case in point: the very year the Salk vaccine was announced, Massachusetts suffered the worst polio epidemic in its history. The epicenter was Children's Hospital Boston, which took in adults and children alike and dedicated all but one ward to polio care. Hospitals around the city loaned cribs, and staff of all descriptions, as well as volunteers, toiled overtime in record heat (at one point hitting 104) to keep up. Panicked families overwhelmed hospital emergency admission facilities, forcing doctors to triage people in their cars. If a child seemed to have polio, the family could bypass the line of autos, which stretched for blocks. Patients and beds sometimes had to wait outside until space opened up on the wards. Several staff members were stricken with polio, and two patients had babies while at Children's, one needing help with breathing throughout the birth.
Sadly, mass vaccination had begun in Massachusetts that May in first- and second-graders. But a CDC investigation by Dr. Alex Langmuir concluded some of the vaccine in distribution contained live polio virus and had caused some cases of polio. So the state of Massachusetts suspended its immunization program until the following January.
Inside the iron lung
The so-called iron lung was the first effective treatment for patients so severely paralyzed they couldn't breathe. First used in 1928 in an 8-year-old girl with polio at Children's Hospital Boston, it consisted of a tank made by a local tinsmith and a pair of vacuum cleaner blowers. As the machine breathed for her, the girl revived and later asked for ice cream. Later, as demand grew, hospitals moved to room-sized respirators. "I had space for four patients all sticking their heads out from this room with their bodies inside," wrote Ch
Contact: Nancy Fliesler
Children's Hospital Boston