Non-Fiction – Memoir
Date Published: November, 2016
Publisher: Different Drummer Press
Polio and Me provides a view of the past, present, and future—the saga of one boy’s pain, fear, and loneliness—the long struggle to develop a vaccine and effective treatments—the world-wide goal to eradicate the polio virus, and in some twenty-first century cancer research trials, the polio virus eliminated cancerous tumors.
Today, seventy-two years later, as a father of three, a grandfather, and great-grandfather, the idea that an ambulance team could walk into my doctor’s office and rip my son or daughter from my arms is an appalling notion. But this was 1943, decades ago, when polio epidemics killed and paralyzed an average of 12,000 children and adults each year.
I understand that having your child taken from your arms sounds draconian, but in Los Angeles, during the summer months of the annual polio epidemics, as many as one hundred patients a day were admitted to Los Angeles County Hospital. Once the patient’s illness was confirmed as polio, those patients were moved to the Communicable Disease Building where they would remain isolated until all possibility of passing on the polio virus to a non-infected person had ended.
And Los Angeles was not alone. Public health professionals throughout the country had learned to act swiftly because when it came to a polio pandemic, the end justified the means. So the abrupt actions of the Los Angeles ambulance crew may have seemed cruel, but the fear of polio, both real and exaggerated, caused even rational professionals to overreact. The moment any patient’s illness was thought to be polio, that patient would be rushed to an isolation facility where he or she would remain for weeks if not months.
One of the major reasons a diagnosis of polio was so frightening for my parents and the medical professionals alike, was that no one could predict the eventual outcome of a polio infection for an agonizingly long period of time. While I was in the Communicable Disease Building at the Los Angeles County Hospital, my parents struggled with a list of frightening questions without a way to learn the answers.
Would their son lose his ability to breathe and die in isolation?
Would their son spend the rest of his days living in an iron lung?
Would their son remain paralyzed?
Would their son recover some use of his limbs?
Looking back, those weeks apart were among the most traumatic days of my life. But during that summer of 1943, as the summers before, and the summers that followed, children with polio, and their parents, learned to endure.
Ken Dalton was born in Los Angeles in 1938. In 1943 he contracted polio and spent the next eleven years of his childhood in and out of hospitals.
Fifty-nine years ago he married his childhood sweetheart and is a father of three, a grandfather of four, and the great-grandfather of nine.
After a thirty-eight year management career with Pacific Telephone Company, Ken retired to write golf and travel articles for Golf Digest, Golf Illustrated, Fairways and Greens, and Golf.com.
During two NBC-TV Celebrity Golf Tournaments at Lake Tahoe, he interviewed Olympic Decathlon Champion, Bruce Jenner when he was Bruce, not Caitlyn, the mischievous Chicago Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon, the iconic Vice-President Dan Quail, and NBC Today show anchor, Matt Lauer.
Ken has published six mystery novels. Polio and Me marks his initial foray into the world of non-fiction.
Presently, Ken is working on his seventh mystery, The Heretics Hymnal, and a comedy of manners novel, Casper Potts and the Ladies Casserole club.
Facebook: KenDalton MysteryWriter
Polio and Me: Ken Dalton
Take a trip back in time to 1943 and a young five year old boy named Kenneth Dalton whose life changed when he woke up one morning and could not move his limbs in order to walk, hold an object in his hand like an apple and is rushed to a hospital and taken out of his mother’s loving arms and placed in a room where no one but hospital staff was allowed to see him. Imagine being diagnosed with polio as your family doctor insists you remain in the hospital and in quarantine until you are no longer contagious. The story is told in a timeline fashion flashing back and forth from the past to the present as Kenneth relates his numerous surgeries, physical therapy sessions and the hope for a miracle to walk without his leg brace. Imagine being isolated from your family during Christmas holiday. Imagine a disease with no cure that paralyzes your limbs and killed hundreds if not thousand of children and adults well into the late 1950’s until a vaccine was finally perfected to stop it from spreading.
The disease is polio also labeled as poliomyelitis and infantile paralysis and it is a seriously highly contagious viral infection that can lead some to death, others to having problems breathing and winding up in a iron lung and paralysis. The author relates all of the false hopes that many had as different vaccines were created and failed and many methods of helping children and adults deal with the disease were tried, experimented and not until 1953 when Jonas Salk created and developed the first polio vaccine which finally led to the widespread prevention of poliomyelitis. Let’s take the journey back in time to understand the many different levels of treatment, the various attempts at perfecting many different vaccines and one woman who created her own miracle cure for children enabling them to walk again.
With his father in the army leaving his mother to face life with a son in braces and two other small children the sacrifices she made were more than commendable.
The research that the author relates about the numerous vaccines was quite revealing but nothing like the disputes between Jonas Salk and Sabin. The Salk vaccine came first and was delivered by injection whereas the Sabin vaccine was on a sugar cube. I researched the Salk vaccine and learned that it was given in two test groups one receiving the real vaccine and the other the placebo. At the end of the trial or experiment those receiving the real vaccine were inoculated against polio where those receiving the placebo had to be reinnoculated with the real vaccine. Polio mainly affects children under five years of age and there is no cure but can only be prevented. The author brings out that parents that do not vaccinate their children are leaving them wide open for possibly getting this illness whereas parents that do have their children vaccinated with the vaccine that is given multiple times can protect their children for life. This is important and vital.
As you learn more about his childhood you will also learn that much of what he experienced was funded by the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis or NFIP who from 1938 through the approval of the Salk vaccine in 1955, the NFIP spent 233 million on polio patient care, providing significant foundation aid to more than 80 percent of America’s polio patients. That is amazing. The NFIP and Basil O’Connor ran into a problem once the Salk and Sabin vaccines were introduced. By 1958, the NFIP reached the point where their raison d’être was no longer valid and Basil O’Connor stated that the new mission of the Foundation was to prevent birth defects and in 1976 the NFIP became as we know it today the March of Dimes for Birth Defects. There are several chapters where the author allows us to hear his voice as child before and after each surgery and his fears about what will happen each time. Learning how to deal with a brace and after the fourth operation not needing one allow him to play Dodge ball and other fames but running fast was still not in the picture but first he had to deal with a huge cast on his leg and Dr. Lowman told his mother that the way he slept although odd was okay.
In conclusion this well researched and documented book would make a great documentary of his life and how this disease impacted his life and changed his childhood. But, the author is strong and he became quite successful in his own right. The battle lines between the two vaccines were drawn and the Salk was administered through injections and the Sabin on a sugar cube. The Salk was produced from a life from a attenuated virus and required booster shots. The Sabin single sugar cube of vaccine provided a life time of immunity therefore this vaccine was produced at a lower cost and the ease of administering it allowed it to become the vaccine of choice in the United States and other countries. More information about the controversies between the two vaccines are highlighted within chapter 17.
This vaccine is also used to eliminate cancerous tumors. He flashes to his family in Chapter 18 where the author explains that when writing this memoir he thought he knew what he was going to share but as you write you include more. Children develop their family expectations from he states their daily experiences through the “process of gradual or unconscious assimilations of ideas and knowledge, the same way a child learns the native language of his or her parents.” He gives examples of children learning from fathers that are drunk and mothers that are crazy but his life was not his own. He did not have a television set, computer or any of the modern things were have today. Dishes were washed and dried and families in the living room with listen to programs on the radio shows that many kids watched on television even today as reruns. He continues with why his parents get divorced and the story about his father’s socks that you will have to read in this chapter.
Finally in the epilogue we learn about his connection with the swim coach Mr. Pollack and how he aced algebra. His mother did not allow him to try out for basketball so he was smart and became the manager of the team. Believe it or not which is remarkable at 40 he played basketball on a team comprised up of phone company employees and quickly accept what he already knew that he was too short to get many rebounds but quicker than the taller guys. There is much more that he relates that you need to read for yourself to understand the courage, the persistence and the journey that he recaps in the epilogue as well as focusing in this section on the leading cancer researchers like Dr. Henry Friedman, reported that an injection of the polio virus directly into a brain tumor either shrunk or in a few cases completely eliminated the glioblastoma. Remarkable and astounding but the word cure was not used but it was a strong turning point to say the least. There is much more that he shares that the reader will learn when taking this journey, meeting his hospital friends, nurses and learning other polio survivors listed on page 244 and in conclusions about his wonderful life with his wife and family. This is a book that everyone needs to read because of the gravity of the subject and why parents need to be vigilant and make sure their children receive all of their immunizations.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine/MJ network