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Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors [Paperback]

Daniel J. Wilson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 15, 2007 0226901041 978-0226901046 1

Polio was the most dreaded disease of twentieth-century America. Whenever and wherever it struck, hospitals filled with victims of the virus. Many experienced only temporary paralysis, but others faced a lifetime of disability. Living with Polio is the first book to focus primarily on the personal stories of the men and women who had acute polio and lived with its crippling consequences.

Writing from his own experience as a polio survivor, Daniel J. Wilson shapes this impassioned book with the testimonials of more than one hundred polio victims, focusing on the years between 1930 and 1960. He traces entire life experiences of the survivors—from their alarming diagnoses all the way to the recent development of post-polio syndrome, a condition in which the symptoms of the disease may return two or three decades after they originally surfaced.

Living with Polio also details each physical and emotional stage of the disease: the loneliness of long separations from family suffered by hospitalized victims; the painful rehabilitation as survivors tried to regain the use of their paralyzed muscles; and the return home and readjustment to school or work with the aid of braces, crutches, or wheelchairs.

Poignant and gripping, Living with Polio is a compelling history of the enduring physical and psychological experience of polio straight from the rarely heard voices of its survivors.

 

"[Daniel J. Wilson] has done an admirable job of assembling more than 150 first-person accounts into a coherent narrative. . . . In the America of 2005, new cases of polio are extraordinarily rare; the World Health Organization hopes to eradicate it completely by 2008. But Mr. Wilson reminds us that more than half a million Americans are still living with its consequences."—Gordon Haber, New York Sun

 

"For readers who . . . did not live during the prevaccine period, Living with Polio provides an excellent survey of the stories of those who had the misfortune of being struck by the disease."—Mark Pallansch, Science


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Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors + Polio: An American Story
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If you were an American child in the 1940s and early '50s and contracted a "summer flu," there was real cause for worry—because the initial signs of polio resembled flu symptoms. More than 400,000 American children in those years did get polio, and many of them survived—including Wilson, a professor of history at Muhlenberg College. This volume, unlike others marking the polio vaccine's discovery, tells the survivors' stories: the difficult, painful journey from diagnosis to recovery, including paralysis, hospital isolation wards, grueling physical therapy, living with disability and, most recently, the emergence of postpolio syndrome, the recurrence of symptoms decades after recovery from the disease. Wilson's account, drawn from more than 150 polio narratives, is perhaps most affecting in highlighting the less well-known moments and facts: a doctor's futile attempt to downplay the harshness of the diagnosis; the double burden on African-Americans when hospitals would not admit them; and children being children even in the hospital wards, as they have spitball fights and play pranks. Wilson's account is a fitting testimony to the survivors' suffering and courage. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Wilson succeeds admirably on his own terms - taking ownership of the disease from medics (and from the academics and theoreticians) and giving it back to the patients who actually experienced it.... Daniel Wilson's book is a sobering indictment of the treatment of disabled people in mid-century America that can be read with profit, and, it is to be hoped, without complacency, by any practitioner today." - Seamus Sweeney, Times Literary Supplement "[Daniel J. Wilson] has done an admirable job of assembling more than 150 first-person accounts into a coherent narrative.... In the America of 2005, new cases of polio are extraordinarily rare; the World Health Organization hopes to eradicate it completely by 2008. But Mr. Wilson reminds us that more than half a million Americans are still living with its consequences." - Gordon Haber, New York Sun "For readers who... did not live during the prevaccine period, Living with Polio provides an excellent survey of the stories of those who had the misfortune of being struck by the disease." - Mark Pallansch, Science"

Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (August 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226901041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226901046
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
(7)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living with Polio June 28, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is well written, as you would expect from a professor of medical history. The author's experience with polio makes this more than a historical exercise, it is a very personal journey. It brought back my memories of cold, itchy "hot packs", the love-hate relationship with our P/Ts. This book brought a tear to my eyes. It brought back memories of pain but also of victories. Every relative of a polio survivor should read this, to understand where we came from and where we are.

Tom
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With tears and laughter April 1, 2005
Format:Hardcover
Dr. Wilson has written an illuminating history of American attitudes towards polio, and how over the years it has been the polio victims themselves who have made strides on behalf of disabled people everywhere. They did not depend on others, they went ahead and did it themselves. Wilson's book is both depressing and inspiring, but it is never dull and it is one of the best books of the season.

I guess "victims" is the wrong word; that dates me back to the time when polio was the scariest thing in a Cold War childhood, and the scares were everywhere: "don't got swimming," "don't go to the movies," "avoid that crippled boy for he might have the virus." Then in the mid-50s Dr. Salk's vaccine put polio in the past for most of us, for the lucky ones who were spared, but huge numbers of children all around the world had been affected and have been "living with polio" for the past fifty years. Ironically, a large percentage of these have been stricken with so called "post polio syndrome," a further debilitation that might ensue twenty, thirty, or forty years after the original outbreak, and these poor souls are faced with trying to convince young doctors that they are sick all over again, and it is the case with many doctors that you might be a neurologist and very sharp in your field but you might not ever have faced an active case of polio, so you're going to be 100 per cent useless in the case of PPS. Many patients report having to talk themselves blue in the face trying to convince the mindless MDs that their symptoms were not "all in their heads."

Wilson gathers the testimony of dozens of survivors. They are the bravest bunch of people you'll read about all year.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living, Not Dying, With Disease May 3, 2005
Format:Hardcover
As a person born after the invention of the polio vaccines, polio was not the scourge of my childhood, in fact, I knew practically nothing about the disease until reading this book.

"Living with Polio" tell relates the stories of people who contacted polio and their struggles with infection and polio treatments, their triumphs in life and love, and their experiences with PPS (Post-Polio Syndrome). No detail of these experiences is spared and a true and clear picture emerges of what it must have been like to live with this disease.

Of particular interest to me, a student of human sexuality education, was the inclusion by the author of the survivors sexuality. Although stricken with polio, these people did not loose their sexuality when paralysis set in and it was very refreshing to see that aspect of the experience included.

"Living with polio" was not only an informative read, it was a well written and engaging one. Highly Recommended!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overly Academic But Still Interesting February 5, 2008
Format:Paperback
As a polio survivor, I was interested in reading this book which pulls together accounts from over 100 other polio survivors. While it was interesting to reading these accounts, I found the book to be over "academic", which hurt its readability quite a bit. It was thoroughly footnoted and scholarly, but was quite a slog to get through. There were also a number of places where the same points seemed to be made over and over again, sometimes separated by several pages; closer editing would have helped. Still, it is an important pull-together of narratives from these survivors, and the author's efforts are to be applauded.
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