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Fighting Polio One Step at a Time
Doctors, nurses and physical therapists attacked polio on every possible front. The first step was strict isolation until the patient's fever went down. At Children's, physical therapists went into the isolation units in masks to systematically assess patients' muscles, determining which muscle groups were affected by polio and which were intact and able to compensate. If breathing muscles threatened to be affected, patients would get a trial on the respirator.
Patients with less severe breathing problems used rocking beds, whose up-and-down motion put pressure on the diaphragm, helping them inhale and exhale. Hot packs -- hot steamed blankets -- were used to ease muscle pain; they were pleasant for some, but torture for others. Recovering patients received rehabilitation in Hubbard tubs and hydrotherapy pools, where the lack of gravity allowed them to move their limbs and develop muscle strength. Several orthopedic operations, still used today, were pioneered or perfected at Children's and prevented growing children from developing permanent limb deformities or from having to wear braces. In occupational therapy sessions, patients in braces and crutches practiced getting on and off a bus and crossing the street while a traffic light was still green.