Pandemia | Polio (1) – Im Sommer kam die Angst

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Als Paul Alexander an einem warmen, regnerischen Nachmittag im Juli 1952 ins Haus gelaufen kam und klagte, er fühle sich nicht wohl, erfasste seine Mutter sofort die Angst: War ihr 6-jähriger Sohn an der Kinderlähmung erkrankt? Tatsächlich hatte ihn das Polio-Virus erwischt. In der ersten Folge einer Serie über diesen Erreger, erzählt der heute 76-Jährige über sein Leben mit der Krankheit. Mit dem Arzt Paul Offit spricht das Team über die Bedeutung die das Virus damals für die Menschen hatte.
One of the Last People to Live in an Iron Lung Is a Longhorn
Paul R. Alexander: Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung
The man in the iron lung
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Die Recherchen für diesen Beitrag wurden von der Riff freie Medien gGmbH aus Mitteln der Klaus Tschira Stiftung gefördert.
Transkript Zitate Paul Alexander
Paul Alexander 1
I was playing outside as a six year old one rainy day. I felt a little bit bad. I ran to the house. I was going to tell mama I didn’t feel good. She was mopping the kitchen and I was playing in the mud barefooted which I usually did. I came in the backdoor to the kitchen where mum was mopping and she turned and looked at me and said what was wrong my son. “I don’t feel very good at all“ and she said, “Oh no, God, please“, because she knew it was polio.
Paul Alexander 2
So mum put me to bed and as each day passed I would loose something. First of all my feet and legs would go, eventually my arms, my hands, I couldn’t move them, and then I couldn’t sit up. I got sicker. Fever shot through the ceiling. I got a high fever. My back hurt. I was in a lot of pain. It took six days for me to loose all my abilities. I couldn’t move at all.
Paul Alexander 3
Some hours passed and again the doctor came through and examined me I guess for his final report. For some reason he picked me up in his arms, ran upstairs with me and put me in the iron lung in which I have been ever since.
Paul Alexander 4
I regained my conciousness. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t swallow. It took everything, absolutely everything. So that was the beginning. I stayed at the hospital over 18 months…. and I couldn’t do anything but lay there which I did very well. ...It was the worst experience you could possibly imagine. There were big wards, big rooms that had dozens of iron lungs all with children and at first I couldn’t see them. I didn’t know where I was, what was going on because I couldn’t move and you know I went from playing in my house to total paralysis, inability to breathe and I was trapped in something I had no idea what it was. So that’s were I lived. It was hell, awful.
Paul Alexander 5
They would take scissors and try and cut my fingernails so they cut my fingers. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t yell. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t do anything. I had to let them cut me and bleed all over. That was horrible, absolute torture.
Paul Alexander 6
I didn’t have really any reason to live in that environment. So it was almost Christmas. Mum came in and said doctor we want to take him home. The doctor said you might as well because he is not going to live more than a couple of days. He won’t see Christmas. They got a generator and they put an iron lung and the generator in a truck and they drove me home. When I got there (laughs) my brother came to my little tent. I was in a plastic tent that covered the front of the iron lung. I couldn’t see out and people couldn’t see in. He came to my tent, unzipped it and said are you hungry. I hadn’t eaten in forever. I just laughed. I laughed so hard I couldn’t talk. I said, yeah. He said what do you want. I told him and he went to the kitchen and fixed it. He came back and fed it to me.
Paul Alexander 7
I always wanted a pet and I never got one. I still wanted a pet. This lady came from one of the social agencies called March of Dimes. She wanted to exercise me and I said I can’t do that. I can’t come out. I can’t open the respirator. She said, well ok but I still want to exercise you. I said, sorry I can’t. Anyway we became friends and I found out that she raised dogs and I was of course real fascinated. “I want pictures, I want to see them. Do you take them to shows?“ So she had this brilliant idea which completely changed my life.
Paul Alexander 8
I got myself a little office and I put my sign up. I put my ad in the paper and guess what I got clients. They kept coming. They come to my office. They walk in and said what are you doing? Are you getting a sun tan or what. No, not quite and I tell them what the deal was and they were like that’s incredible. You fought to get here. You must be a great lawyer.
Paul Alexander 9
People say it must be horrible being locked in that machine all day. Well, no. It is not the world I would choose if I were picking but it breathes for me, I can talk, I can write, I can paint pictures with a brush in my mouth, I can sit down and play with electronics with a little plastic stick and I can do a lot of things. It’s not what I can’t that worries me it’s what I can do and please get out of my way because it’s not me that stops my world from expanding.
Paul Alexander 10
Give life a chance. You got it. What gift to have life. Life is so incredible. Take it and do something, feel something you have never felt before. It is kind of fun. I think it is.

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