I must either quit cleaning my craft room, or clean it more often. Actually I was not cleaning, but looking for a pattern in one of my many bookcases last evening when I came across a binder I had not looked in for over 20 years. In fact it might have even been longer, but the minute I opened it I was transported to another time, and another place.
Back to 1977 to be exact. Back to the first position of my nursing career when I accepted a job as a general duty RN at the King George Hospital here in Winnipeg.
The King George Hospital was one hospital of three, that was then known as the Municipal Hospitals. The George was built in 1914 and at the time it was built it was considered the most modern hospital in the world for the care of people with communicable diseases such as typhoid fever, diphtheria, small pox and TB.
It became internationally renowned during the poliomyelitis epidemic outbreak in 1953, and when I started working there in 1977 there still remained 30 some patients from that polio outbreak still living permanently in the King George Hospital.
It was an eye opener for a newly graduated nurse to venture into such a facility, especially on the post-polio ward where I was to work. Yes, we learned all about polio in nursing school - but not about iron lungs, rocking beds and chest pieces.
Our younger generation might not even have ever heard of such equipment - I hadn't really either - but I learned quickly.. and I grew to love these very special patients that were actually more like a family than anything.
All of the patients who lived on the ward in 1977 had entered the George in and around 1953 as young adults. Some, were husbands and fathers, some were wives and young mothers... some were in love and intended to marry, some were single. They came from all over the province and from all walks of life. None of them ever returned home.
Polio - now pretty much eradicated thanks to inoculations received routinely as children, is more often known for it's paralysis of limbs, especially legs... but in extreme cases as the ones from 1953, everything from the neck down, including the lungs were paralysed. Without the iron lungs, these people would not have survived.
One of the first things we were asked to do as new employees on this floor was to get in the iron lung, pop our head through the tight rubber collar so it was outside of the lung and have the lung closed. Of course it was not turned on, but really it did not need to be. Imagine that all of the world you can see is what is reflected from a little 8 X10 mirror suspended over your face.
For my patients -this was everyday life. They were completely dependent on nursing staff for every normal function of life we so take for granted. If you opened the lung - they were deprived of lung activity, so everything we did for our patients had do be done in 2 minute intervals. Most of the patients had learned how to frog - breathe( a technique of swallowing air, but it was a technique that could only be used for a couple of minutes at most . Some were better at it than others.
Some patients were able to be removed from the lungs in the day time and placed on to a rocking bed. They tipped back and forth all day long moving the diaphragm up and down - like breathing. We gave bed baths, bedpans and fed patients all the while the beds were rocking. I had a terrific waistline when I worked here because one had to move with the bed - so it was 8 hrs of stretching at the waist.
All of this - and much much more was in the binder I uncovered last evening.
Next - you will meet the special people that changed my life in such a positive way, so many years ago.