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Living with Polio


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About the Author

Daniel J. Wilson is professor of history at Muhlenberg College. He is the author of four previous books, including Science, Community, and the Transformation of American Philosophy, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


Marking the 50th anniversary of the development of the polio vaccine, this book captures the nightmare of polio and its aftermath through the experiences of its victims. A polio survivor himself, Wilson (history, Muhlenberg Coll.) has drawn on 150 personal narratives, published and unpublished, weaving quotes from those accounts with historical information on polio treatment and rehabilitation. The result is a vivid portrait of a devastating disease and its repercussions, as well as a glimpse into the physical, social, and psychological challenges of being physically disabled in mid-20th century America. For readers who did not experience the polio epidemic firsthand, this book dramatically demonstrates why the polio vaccine is such a significant milestone in modern medical history. Highly recommended for academic, public, and medical libraries and all medical history and disability studies collections. [Jeffrey Kluger's Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio focuses on Salk's research, while David M. Oshinsky's Polio: An American Story recalls the wider search for a vaccine.-Ed.]-Janet A. Crum, Oregon Health & Science Univ. Lib., Portland Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"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"

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 2005 Reed Business Information.

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