Polio in Saskatchewan

"It was a terrible epidemic everywhere. And they really didn't know what caused polio. They didn't know how it was transmitted, and they, therefore, didn't know how to protect people" (Interview: Lucy Willis)

In the early 1950s, Saskatchewan experienced a polio epidemic. Polio patients were kept in isolation units in hospitals across the province, sometimes having to be flown there from smaller centres. Nurses, primary caregivers for polio patients, were putting themselves in danger as there was no immunity or vaccinations for the disease at the time.

Polio was not a disease that struck one segment of the population - everyone was susceptible. Georgiana Chartier, a nurse in training in St. Paul's Hospital at the time of the epidemic remembers going home at the end of the day with an ache or a pain in the leg and wondering if she had caught the disease.

She also recounts a heart-wrenching story of one of the deaths from polio in the isolation unit: "That was very sad. It was weird because it was just a young girl. She must have been six or seven. And before we were going off for supper, she wanted -- she was in the lung, and she was talking to somebody, and she had -- I don't know if it was a doll or a toy, and she wanted to give it away. And it was kind of weird because we went for supper and there were other people on, and we came back and she had died in the -- at that -- I think before we got back. And it was sad because you had to, you know, have her parents come in to see her type thing and it was tough, you know. But we didn't -- I don't remember a lot of deaths, like when we were there. I think the main epidemic may have been over at that time, to tell the truth" (Interview: Georgiana Chartier)

Chartier does not remember many deaths from the disease; many of the patients she met in the isolation ward recovered and went on to live productive lives. But there were a few who didn't make it, like the little girl she will never forget.
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