Dancing in My Dreams

Confronting the Spectre of Polio

By Kerry Highley

Across most of the world, an entire generation has lived free from the specter of polio, but, for 50 years during the 20th century, that fear was overwhelming. Polio rapidly became every parent's worst nightmare. Epidemics arrived silently, often with symptoms that could easily be mistaken for a common cold, and dreadful suddenness. Those who were fortunate enough to survive infection often faced an unfriendly and unhelpful world. Appropriate treatments for polio survivors were fiercely debated. In pre-World War II Australia, two women symbolized a dramatic rift between the medical community's orthodoxy and those who advocated alternative therapy. In Victoria, Dr. Jean Macnamara used splints, plaster casts, and braces for treatments. Sister Elizabeth Kenny - in her clinic in Townsville and later in the US - championed and practiced an alternative approach of little or no form of constraint for the paralyzed body, advocating gentle exercise of muscles in the early acute stage of the disease, along with hot packs to relieve pain, spasms, and muscle tightness. By the 1950s, most Western countries had abandoned the orthodoxy of immobilizing polio survivors in plaster casts for months on end. In Australia, where the medical establishment was largely unquestioned, this treatment was to remain dominant until the 1960s. Dancing in My Dreams investigates the disease of polio and its treatment over a long period, the scientific endeavor that led to the discovery of the polio virus, and the early studies in virology and immunology that culminated in the production of a polio vaccine. As the frequency of polio epidemics have declined, so has the collective memory of the experience of the disease. But, there is no cure. The growth of anti-vaccine sentiment in many societies is a complicated issue, but, as this book ends by noting, the success of a vaccination program depends on the cooperation of individuals. As long as a single child remains infected with polio, all unvaccinated children throughout the world will be at risk. *** "Kerry Highley's often harrowing account is thoroughly researched and well-written. Part medical history part social history, this book should find a broad readership among those who enjoy quality Australian nonfiction. Dancing in My Dreams should be required reading for the anti-vaccination crowd." -- Dave Martus, Books+Publishing (Series: Australian History) [Subject: Medical History, Australian Studies, Virology]

Publication Date: 1/1/2016
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781922235848

Available in other formats