Apr 6, 2016

Neighbors: Dedicated nurses cared for polio patients requiring iron lungs


Dale Stenerson, Fargo, knows about polio. He had it in 1944-1945 when he was 9.
Neighbors has carried several items from people, including Dale, about the polio epidemic. Now he tells a bit more about his experience.

He lived with his family in rural Halstad, Minn., when he came down with it and became a patient in the children's ward of St. Luke's Hospital (now Sanford) in Fargo.
His doctor, whose last name was Swanson, gave him a spinal fusion. Dale was in a body cast from his hips to his neck for six weeks.
He especially remembers the big crib where he slept.
One other patient in the ward was Tommy Monson, also 9, from Valley City, N.D. Polio left Tommy with no muscles in his left arm, causing him to swing it around like an elephant's trunk, Dale writes.
Tommy and Dale became good friends and stayed in contact over the years.
The iron lung
What was it like for polio patients who had to be in iron lungs?
For that, let's turn to Betty Simonson, Fargo.
Betty was a junior in the nursing school at Lutheran Deaconess Hospital, Minneapolis, in the summer of 1953.
"Each student nurse had to take 'contagion and pediatrics' at Minneapolis General Hospital for three months," Betty writes Neighbors. "There were many patients there with bulbar polio needing to be in iron lungs.
"There was a shortage of rooms, so a sunroom/solarium was used for four or five iron lungs. All these needed to be isolated and we all wore head coverings, masks, gowns and gloves.
"They had a shortage of nurses trained for this, so on our day off from regular classes and duty, we could work shifts specifically with this work. We were paid $10 for eight-hour shifts.
"The hospital was not air conditioned. It was very hot that July and August, and polio patients usually ran high fevers, so galvanized wash tubs were set up in rooms and ice blocks were delivered to the tubs, with fans blowing behind the ice to cool the area.
"All care was done through large rubber-cuffed porthole-like openings in the side of the iron lung. The entire person except the head was inside the lung.
"When—and if—they improved, some patients were transferred to a rocking bed. The patient was secured to the bed, and it would swing slowly from a lying down position to a near-standing position. This enabled the diaphragm and lungs to contract and expand for breathing.
"Of course, they all had oxygen for breathing and the huge tanks had to be changed by maintenance men every so many hours. It was not piped into rooms like it is now."
And that's the way it was for polio patients and their caregivers, as reported by Betty.
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 241-5487 or email blind@forumcomm.com.

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