The man with "iron lungs": the story of one of the last victims of polio

Paul Alexander is one of the last people in the United States to recover from polio as a child. The disease overtook him several years before the invention of the American version of the vaccine. Due to poliovirus, at the age of 6, Paul was almost completely paralyzed and tied to an iron lung machine. Despite this, he studied at the university and became a lawyer. We tell his story.

Deadly Heat-th

In the summer of 1952 in the state of Texas in the southern United States, there was a rare heat for weeks even for these latitudes. The thermometer rose above 38 degrees during the day, and the night did not bring coolness either. But it was not the heat that bothered the Texans, who had been sitting at home for the second month, locked their doors and windows. Residents of the United States experienced the largest polio outbreak in the country's history this summer, claiming hundreds of lives every day. And mostly children died.

All cinemas, swimming pools and almost all shops were closed, churches canceled services. Government agencies disinfected the streets every day, covering them with insecticides to kill mosquitoes. By that time, it was already known that insects practically do not tolerate polio (it is transmitted with contaminated water or food, from dirty hands, less often - by airborne droplets), but local the authorities tried to do at least something to stop the epidemic.

During this outbreak, 58,000 people were infected with the virus in the United States, more than 21,000 were disabled, 3145 died

Paul Alexander was 6 years old in 1952. Due to the epidemic, he had to spend the summer in the backyard of his parents' house. Despite all the precautions, one July day he felt strange: his neck hurt badly, his head was buzzing. As soon as Paul told his mother about this, she immediately put him to bed and called the doctor. The doctor diagnosed polio and prescribed the strictest bed rest.

In the early days, everything was more or less in order: Paul was fevering, but not too much, there were strength to draw and play. The doctor monitored his condition and did not recommend that parents take their son to the hospital: it was overcrowded with children in much more serious conditions.

After a week, Paul's health deteriorated sharply. The body ceased to obey him: he could no longer hold the pencil, stopped talking, and breathed with difficulty. His parents took him to the hospital, and there they had to wait in a long line, consisting of the same frightened adults with sick children. When the doctor finally examined the boy, he left Paul no chance of recovery.

Paul's Iron Lung

Paul says he doesn't remember how he got to the hospital. He woke up a few days later and found himself immobilized and imprisoned in a huge iron cocoon that wheezed and sighed incessantly. There were dozens of children around him in similar devices. It was an "iron lung" - a device designed specifically for people with severe polio.

The Iron Lung is a machine that was prototyped in the 19th century and significantly improved in the 1950s, amid massive outbreaks of polio. The apparatus is a sealed pressure chamber the size of a human being, inside of which a pressure is generated that is different from atmospheric pressure. By alternately lowering and increasing pressure, the "iron lung" allows you to pump and pump out air from the lungs of a person who cannot control muscles and breathe on their own.

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