Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Polio Boulevard: A Memoir

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Polio Boulevard: A Memoir

Article excerpt

Polio Boulevard: A Memoir By Karen Chase (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2014) (100 pages plus 16 b/w photographs; $19.95 paper)

The poet Karen Chase's polio memoir is shaped by the author's artistic sensibility. Focused on both the acute illness and her later years spent in a fullbody plaster cast preparing for and recovering from a spinal fusion, Chase's memoir moves back and forth from the 1950s of her polio-haunted childhood to the present when "everything leads me back to my polio days" (p. 1). Rather than providing a detailed linear narrative, Chase gives us vignettes that enable us to follow her memories back six decades and give us a sense of what polio and the surgical aftermath felt like to a young girl becoming an adolescent.

Chase's memoir seeks to recreate her younger self's feelings, dreams, and anxieties when polio paralyzed her body and when she spent years encased in plaster in connection with the spinal fusion to correct her scoliosis. Although we learn some of the details of her illness, surgery, and recovery, Chase more typically tries to convey her feelings as she went through these experiences. She also allows others to speak, particularly her father, her brother, and her best friend, all of whom recount their reactions to Chase's polio and recovery. A particularly remarkable aspect of Chase's account is her poetic imagery. For example, she gives us a brief physical description of an iron lung, but more striking is her recalled image: "The iron lung is my magic boat, a boat for one. A rhythm boat, in out, in out, in out. The portholes suggest foreign places. My body is inside the iron lung, but my mind is outside. I'm traveling" (p. 8). Whether confined to an iron lung or trapped in a full-body cast, Chase's imagination floated free, and in writing about her experience, she seeks to recapture some of the excitement she associated with allowing her mind to travel freely.

One aspect of the memoir that sets it apart from most polio memoirs written by women is its acknowledgement of Chase's increasing sexual feelings as she grew from a young girl into adolescence and womanhood. She notes several episodes in the hospital that had sexual overtones, including hydrotherapy and the process of being casted. …

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