Medical History: Unsung Heroes of Polio

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20111206-151758.jpg The year was 1952 and the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, was struggling against her biggest outbreak of Poliomyelitis yet.

Many of their patients’ paralysis was progressing to the extent that respiratory support was needed – their respiratory muscles were being affected. But the treatment known at the time was use of the Iron Lung, pictured here.

Iron Lungs were big, cumbersome and cost about the same as a small family home. They were also in short supply for this outbreak.

Patients were dying.

But then anaesthesist, Doctor Bjørn Ibsen decided that something must be done. And do he did: the tracheotomy. Manual Positive Pressure ventilation was to be used to keep these patients alive.

And who did that? Medical Students. About 1 500 medical students devoted a cumulative 165 000 hours to bagging these patients.

I liked reading about this. Call it what you want, but I know that most (if not all) students at my medical school feel sorely underappreciated by doctors at the hospital. It is no secret that here in South Africa, the free labour provided by us is much-needed. Our doctors would reach even fewer of their patients if not for the students to do their grunt work, take patient histories, and so on.

But this is really cool – medical students who really really saved lives.

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2 thoughts on “Medical History: Unsung Heroes of Polio

  1. Advancements in technology and also in medicine have been drastic! Good luck to your career, future doctor! I hope I will be one soon. Planning to proceed next year. Good luck to the both of us! :D

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