Polio and iron lung no match for ‘Butch’ & mom

I recently had to undergo a medical test, commonly called an MRI. The test, which lasts about a half an hour, places you in this long tube structure, tucked in quite tightly. I felt so confined and trapped. It was a very stressful situation, so I thought.

My length of confinement in the “tube” was for just a very short time, however when the infantile paralysis, “polio,”  epidemic hit in the 1950s, many children and adults had to go into a different confining “tube”  called the “iron lung,” to survive.

One such young teenager, we shall call “Butch,” was rushed to Children’s Hospital for possible symptoms of polio. Butch’s symptoms started with a sore throat, stiff neck, and then rapidly progressed to various levels of paralysis.

Butch stopped breathing while under observation. At this moment, his mother reacted and pressed her mouth against his, and began breathing for him.

Ahead of her time
At this time, CPR was not known by medical professionals, let alone a panicking mother trying to help her son. Clacie probably saved her son’s life, blowing her life into him.

After Butch’s lungs could no longer breathe for him, he was placed in that device, technically called a Negative Pressure Ventilator.

Butch’s loving mother would come to Children’s Hospital every day, every hour possible, to be with her ill son. As consequences of the polio epidemic and associated hysteria, no one would baby-sit Butch’s younger sister, for fear of catching the disease.

Clacie had to bring the young daughter to the hospital every day while tending to her son.

Butch was quite lucky, only having to spend a couple weeks in the iron lung. He grew strong enough to breathe without the confining, horizontal machine.

While in the hospital, he was given several types of pills to help get through this illness, but he refused to swallow pills. He hid them in his food or put them in his bed pan.

Through the power of his mother’s love and possibly from above, he improved more rapidly than most children under the same circumstances in the hospital.

Doctors never could figure out how Butch recovered so fast compared to other patients, but they did not have such a determined, loving mother as Clacie, who probably had a lot to do with his improvement.

Following his recovery, the family moved from Carthage to Harrison into a brick home on Washington Street. Butch grew stronger and more active every day, thanks to his mother becoming his physical therapist and exercise machine.

She massaged his long legs and body every day to make him stronger and stronger. Her care and love for him never withered. Being 50 years ahead of her time in such techniques as CPR and physical therapy, Clacie deserves much credit.

Butch progressed so well, he was able to play sports, live a normal life growing up in Harrison and doing all the things us kids did in our great little town.

He never took the polio sugar cube dose or the vaccination. As a matter fact, he’s doing quite well today, and will celebrate his 75th birthday soon.

Graduating from Harrison High School in the class of 1958, he went on to a successful career in government as a health and safety expert. He’s an avid golfer, an active member of the Boy Scouts of America, and a model citizen.    

If you have to have an MRI in the future, you will have to be placed in that confining tube for a few minutes. Just think of the polio victims lying for days, weeks, months, flat on their backs, with that tight seal around their neck sealing the chamber, just staring up at the mirror, listening to the mechanical pump of the iron lung, sissssssss … wishhhhhhh … sisssssssss … wishhhhhh … sissssssss … wishhhhhh.

Terry Viel is an avid Harrison history buff who collects and restores vintage Harrison photographs.

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