Living with Polio

Living with Polio:  The Epidemic and Its Survivors by Daniel J. Wilson

Living with PolioIn Living with Polio the author, Daniel Wilson, looks at the personal stories of those men and women who had acute polio and then lived with its crippling consequences, including treatment, rehabilitation and re-entering the world after treatment.  Wilson himself is a polio survivor.  He uses over 100 polio narratives to show every physical and emotional stage of the disease. These narratives focus on the epidemics that happened between 1930 and 1960, and trace the entire life experience of many survivors--from the moment of diagnosis to the recent development of post-polio syndrome as well as living with a diagnosis of such a feared disease.

Polio, or Poliomyelitis,was probably the most dreaded childhood disease in America during the twentieth century.  Around ninety percent of polio infections cause no symptoms, but affected individuals can exhibit a range of symptoms if the virus enters the blood stream. In about one percent of cases the virus enters Iron Lungthe central nervous system leading to muscle weakness and acute paralysis.

Every summer during the 1940s and 1950s, parents and children were terrorized by thoughts of the crippling disease.  Whenever and wherever polio struck hospitals filled with people who had the virus. Different types of paralysis may occur, depending on the nerves that are affected.  Spinal polio is the most common form, characterized by an asymmetric paralysis that most often involves the legs. Polio epidemics have cripple thousands of people, mostly young children, causing paralysis and death through much of history.

A book that is both poignant and gripping, Wilson has written a compelling history of the physical and psychological experience of polio through its survivors.  David Wilson is currently at the University of Chicago, where he is a post-doctoral research scholar in the Department of Human Genetics.  His research focuses on using population genetic tools to try to solve problems involving human infectious disease.