University of Nevada, Reno




Nursing in the polio epidemic

By Jean


MyraI was accepted into Ohio State to get my degree in nursing.  It was a five-year program, so during that time, we went to different hospitals for different areas of learning--Children’s Hospital, a mental hospital in Toledo, Ohio. We had a lot of work there as well as in the classrooms.

I was there the summer of 1945, when they had the polio epidemic, and it was my introduction to that whole thing—a new epidemic. Nobody had ever had polio cases, so they all came to Children’s, and we learned to work with iron lungs, as well as the therapy for them and the medicines. It was a whole new branch of nursing that summer that we were there. They started coming in that summer and kept coming in and coming in.

Of course, I’m a very detailed person, so I probably should include that as young student nurses, we had to live in one end of the Children’s Hospital, so when patients were screaming and yelling, we could hear them in our rooms. It was hard work, and at night, we could hear them scream out and call. We were all grateful to be there, but it was not ideal. I was in that environment almost a year.

You were saying that you had never even seen an iron lung, and you can imagine how we felt as young nurses. The electricity would go out every so often, and we would be called to the rooms and take turns pumping the lungs. It was a back and forth motion that was tiring, so we would do it in shifts.

We went back to Ohio State to cycle through. I worked at the Toledo State Hospital for my psychiatric training and I worked in public health for that experience. These were usually two months. Toledo was three, I think. That was terrible. I had a patient walk up to me and take my glasses off and snap them in two, for no reason. They had to take me downtown to get new glasses, because I couldn’t see without them. I graduated, then went to work for City Public Health in Columbus, Ohio.

I spent every summer with my grandparents in Green Valley, Pa. The summer when I was going to go into Ohio State, my uncle got me a job in a laundry in New York—a plain old laundry, where you do things on hot steam tables. I made enough to pay for my first semester in Ohio State.


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