Details on the first chapter of Walking Fingers

When my mother gave birth to me, polio had already been eradicated from Canada for almost a decade. I never had to live with the fear of catching this disease, nor did I have to live with the loss of many victims who suffered from it. I did not witness the creation of the polio vaccine, nor do I even remember being vaccinated against polio, as it is now one of the many vaccines we receive when we are young and too carefree to remember. I consider myself very, very lucky to be in a polio-free country.

When I first started working at the Polio Quebec Association, I received a gift of Walking Fingers - The Story of Polio and Those Who Lived With It. I wasn't really aware of the whole history of polio epidemics as we don't really talk about it in school or in history classes. Nevertheless, I found the book really interesting because it is an important part of the history of the whole world. I think everyone should know how polio devastated many families and how it still affects many victims now suffering from post-polio syndrome.I have put together a small list of interesting details that I learned from reading the very first chapter of the book, written by Colette Caron entitled Polio - A History.

  • The disease is also called Heine-Medin disease. In fact, polio was named after Jacob Heine and Oskar Medin. We mention in the book that "Heine was a German orthopedist who observed that polio was related to damage to motor neurons in the cells of the anterior horn of the spinal cord (17). Medin, on the other hand, was a Swedish pediatrician who undertook a major study of polio after the first polio outbreak in Sweden in 1990.
  • The test to confirm polio in the 1940s was the painful lumbar puncture, but by the time it was administered, "it was usually too late."
  • Polio was very confusing for many doctors. Some victims could be carriers of the disease without experiencing any symptoms, while others could be disabled for life after a few days, even hours. Unfortunately, by the 1930s, this method proved to be ineffective.

In 1946, the province of "Quebec experienced its most devastating year with 1612 victims and 115 deaths (23)". Montreal was severely affected, with 625 recorded cases and 25 deaths. "In 1953, [polio] was a more important cause of death in Canada than tuberculosis (23)"

This list summarizes the main points I was surprised to learn about polio. Obviously, I could have written a much longer list of everything that is relevant and interesting in Walking Fingers. I also think it is important to mention that Helen D'Orazio, one of the editors of the book, is a member of our Board. Sally Aitken and Stewart Valin, also editors of the book, were presidents of the Polio Quebec Association from 1993 to 1997 and from 2018 to 2019 respectively.

#76 - Winter 2019