Image via WikipediaBy KIRK JOHNSON
The polio virus, and its reign of terror in the American psyche, is faded history now. After a vaccine was introduced in the mid-1950s, millions of people sighed, turned the page and moved on. Many polio victims, often struck in childhood, tried to leave the story behind and forget, too.
So when Becky Lloyd, a researcher at the American West Center of the University of Utah, started an oral history project on polio last fall, she imagined weaving a tapestry of memory — a filling in of details about quarantines and rehabilitation units and hospital wards, with their rows of iron-lung breathing machines that became the most chilling symbols of the disease’s attack. Polio cases peaked in the United States in 1952.
But Ms. Lloyd soon found that polio’s past was not dead and gone. It was not even past. In all the early interviews, people talked about an after-echo legacy of the disease called post-polio syndrome that had come back to hit them in their 60s and 70s. Survivors who had battled through braces and operations decades ago wanted to talk about the present, Ms. Lloyd said, and the new battlefield they faced.
“Thirty, 40 or 50 years later, it’s like they’re getting the disease again,” Ms. Lloyd said.