Monday, February 9, 2009

52 hours

It was killed before I was born. The giants of science got ahold of it, and a vaccine was discovered. Still, I've seen a few individuals the monster touched on its way out of American life. Polio was an intensely democratic disease, not caring about class or wealth. One summer in the waning days of World War II, while the monster was still strong, it visited rural North Carolina with a vengeance, and decided to stay a while.

Seemingly overnight, dozens of cases overwhelmed the nearest hospitals. It primarily hit children. Health care professionals in the city had to turn away infants, and look into their parents' eyes. That could be the end of the story, to place oneself in the shoes of a Physician who'd worked so hard, so long to save lives, standing on that waxed floor in North Carolina on a summer day, telling fearful parents there was no more room.

Polio is mostly thought as a disease that crippled the limbs, but there is much more to it than that. Sometimes it attacked the muscles controlling the lungs, and that meant death.

A strange thing happened in Hickory, North Carolina, around which most of the Polio outbreaks were centered.

The townspeople of Hickory galvanized. That is the only acceptable word for it. With aid from the March of Dimes, in 52 hours a fully functional hospital was up and running in Hickory.

Somehow they did it. 52 hours. A building was found and donated. Townspeople attacked it with bleach and mops. Beds were found. An iron lung was donated. Everyone pitched in and did what had to be done. 52 hours.

It was national news when it happened, but memories fade, other stories come along. We shouldn't let some things go though? History is a fight, where differing groups try to shape the future through what is told of the past. There will never be a time when it's acceptable to let go of the heritage of those 52 hours.

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