Sawbones: Polio


This week on Sawbones, Dr. Sydnee and Justin explore the light and dark side of swimming pools as they present the thrilling tale of humanity's triumph over polio.

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Music: "Medicines" by The Taxpayers


Polio in the family

My Grandfather had Polio as a child around 1923 he was 6, and his grandmother took him in because he had a large family. It is amazing now looking back that none of his siblings got Polio, but his grandmother took him in, she lived on a farm and actually did 'physical therapy' with him. She would set chairs, tables, stools, ect around the house and since his legs were effected she would encourage him to move around the house on his own. My Popie got stronger and stronger and did very well for the majority of his life, he even served in WWII

What is truly strange is that my Aunt Sara also had Polio. She was 9 I believe when she was diagnosed around 1953. It was strange for a father who survived polio to have a child also afflicted, and it was because of this that my Mom who was around two at the time was one of the first people to ever receive a polio vaccine!

What is sad now is that My Popie and my Aunt both suffer/suffered from Post-Polio Syndrome which is almost unknown anymore. That is where the body was taught to continue on and other muscles would cover for the muscles that were affected by Polio, and now those muscles are wearing out. My Popie had foot dropsie really bad, and my Aunt Sara had a lot of back and abdominal muscles affected and how she is going through multiple spinal surgeries. What is sad is that so many doctors and nurses don't know what Polio was or that the after effects are still affecting people today.

My mother and grandmother

My grandmother graduated from nursing school in Canada in 1924 and I assume had learned about sister Kinney polio treatment in her training. When her daughter (my mother) contracted polio in the 1930's she used performed this treatment. My mother who just turned 90 remembers waking up one morning and not being able to move who whole left side. She says it was kind of like having a stroke and being paralyzed on one whole side. The treatments of heat compresses and massage were very painful. Today there are still residuals effects for her. She walks a bit pigeoned toed and knocked kneed. Also, osteoarthritis seems to have affected the left sided joints more than the right side.
I personally remember taking the polio vaccine in 1965-66 with a sugar cube in a little paper cup so I am guessing it was the live vaccine. I remember wanting a second dose because the sugar cube tasted so good...but what four year old would want a sugar cube.

My Great Grandfather Yitzhak

My great grandpa Yitzhak got polio a bit later in his life. He grew up in a Jewish village in Lithuania but his family managed to sneak him into a university in France when he was only 15. While in France, he ended up getting polio. Luckily, Yitzhak survived but was left with a crippled leg, so he had to walk with a cane for the rest if his life. He ended up moving to South Africa during WW2 when the Nazis began to occupy France. Despite being somewhat of a prodigy (he entered university at 15, come on guys) he was unable to find a job because antisemitism was also abundant in South Africa. He ended up opening his own pharmacy because of this. I think it was really noble of him to use his medical education to help treat people with terrible illnesses, just like his polio.

My Aunt Pat

She was the first person to sit me on a horse; she also gave me a prize colt some 8 years later. She was amazing at groundwork; I learned genetics from her stud book.

But she never rode. I never even saw her in the saddle, except in old black and white pictures. The sound of her gait announced her, the pause as she swung the heavy leather and steel brace, the click as it bore her weight. I don't ever remember her talking about it, it was just part of who she was.

Also...I discovered bamboo fiber underwear last year. Too bad I bought a bunch before trying Me Undies. I will be replacing all my underwear with Me's over the next year. They are all you advertise, and more.

polio and family

I was so excited to see your polio podcast come up on my ipod!!! You said one million people signed up for the trials for their children for the polio vaccine.. My paternal grandmother signed up my father and his sister (my aunt) for the first round of trial vaccination. They lived in Massachusetts at the time. Coincidentally, when we moved to California, I attended Jonas Salk Elementary School in Anaheim for a short time, and that's where I learned who Jonas Salk was. Thank goodness for doctors like him. And I suppose, not so coincidentally, when we lived in Mass. I was inoculated for small pox, which was the last round of this vaccine.
I find all your topics fascinating, funny, a little gross, and just so interesting, I share them when I get home!! thanks for making my days enjoyable at work. :) Lisa Potts Washington, IN


Can't tell you any grandparent stories because mine were all born in the late 19th century. I am a grandparent myself (we actually can figure out how to listen to podcasts and stuff). Just wanted to say that I remember well the fear we felt about polio in the 40s and 50s and the great relief when a vacine appears and folks came to our schools to vaccinate. I lived in a small town outside of Chicago. The biggest excitement was that we could go to the public swimming pool again - what a treat!

To your question about trust in science. As I recall, we trusted science implicitly, no question. If the doctor said it, it was true. We thought science could solve anything and we were on the threshold of a whole new scientific age. This whole mistrust of science BS is, I believe a pretty recent phenomenon. One guy I heard recently (I think it was over at the Skeptics With a K podcast) said he thinks it is Hollywood's fault because you never see a scientist portrayed positively; it's always some scientist messing around and creating problems ala Jurassic Park. That's certainly part of it.

Love the show.

Oral Polio Vaccine

Hey guys, just a tiny correction: The oral polio vaccine was given in the US until 1999, as the 3rd dose. I was a peds resident when it was stopped. The thought in those days was that the live, oral vaccine was more effective, so at least one dose of it should be given. However, as polio was eradicated in the US, it became clear that the risk of vaccine-induced polio (which occurs when the attenuated live virus in the live vaccine back-mutates and becomes infectious) was higher than the risk of catching wild-type polio. Sydnee said that her and Justin's parents probably got the oral vaccine, which is true; but she and Justin almost certainly got one dose as well.

Polio in Spain

Great show, as usual. I live in Madrid, Spain, where you can still see people as young as late 40's and 50's who had polio as children. They say that Spain was very isolated by the UN after its civil war (1936-39)and for having also collaborated with the Axis powers, although officially neutral, during WWII. As a result there was lots of hunger and poverty and meds like polio vaccines and antibiotics didn't get to Spain until much later than the rest of the world. There is a substantial amount of blind people as well, due to mothers having had syphilis when they gave birth, way later than it was happening in the rest of the world, because penicillin still had not gotten here. Keep up the good work, guys, really love your show.
Lena Santillana

Polio Addendum

As fellow West Virginians, I feel compelled to tell you that FDR also visited my West Virginia hometown of Berkeley Springs in those other Warm Springs visits you mentioned. He visited in 1932, at a children's polio clinic just up the hill from my office on the Pines estate. Though arguably not a child, he tried the famed mineral baths himself and was quite impressed. This is all much more verifiable than the outdoor bathtub in our local park that George Washington allegedly dipped his naked body into.

I have to suggest the book Way out in West Virginia, which talks briefly about this trip. The author is a Berkeley Springs local (and frequent source).

Jazz Clark
The Morgan Messenger

Talking with people who lived in polio times

Richard Saunders have made a fantastic documentary, interviewing people who remember what it was like to live when polio and other illnesses where rampant.