19 fascinating pictures to remind us what polio used to look like.

My dad had weird feet.

He was born in 1942, and when he was just a few years old, he caught polio. He survived the disease, but it affected the way his legs and feet grew — one foot was always a shoe size or two smaller than the other one. I remember being fascinated by them when I was little.

Though polio affected my father, I myself have never been in danger of contracting it.

In fact, the disease has disappeared completely from the United States, and we're incredibly close to eliminating it worldwide.


But as much as we should celebrate its passing, we should also remember what it was like when polio affected people everywhere. And though these photos may be somber, they should also give us hope; they prove that we can overcome the worst obstacles and most pernicious infections. After all, we've done it before.

Check out these photos of what polio looked like when my dad was a kid.

Polio was a scourge. It could affect anyone. But it preyed most heavily on children.

A child paralyzed by polio in 1947. Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images.

A young patient getting fit with a respirator in 1955. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images.

Polio's actually a lot older than my father was. We even have paintings of it from ancient Egypt.

This over-3,300-year-old Egyptian stele is thought to depict a polio victim. Image via Deutsches Grünes Kreuz/Wikimedia Commons.

For most of that time, polio was content to remain quiet.

But in the 19th and 20th centuries, it became a killer. In 1952, an outbreak killed over 3,000 people and paralyzed over 21,000 in the U.S. alone.

Photo from Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images.

Polio is a virus passed mostly through contaminated food and water. And as long as we humans were spread out, it never got the momentum to really become a problem. But as cities grew and, ironically, better sanitation came about and removed some of our natural exposure to it, polio suddenly found a weak spot in our defenses.

Children were most at risk of contracting the virus – hence one of its common names: infantile paralysis.

Photo by Sonnee Gottlieb/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

In most cases, it's either harmless or mild, like a case of the flu. But in some people, polio can cause serious, sometimes permanent paralysis.

A paralyzed kid at London's Queen Mary's Hospital in 1947. Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images.

If the virus ends up in the central nervous system, it interrupts our body's ability to communicate with our muscles, causing paralysis. And if the paralysis lasts for a long time, the muscles themselves can start to waste away, a process known as atrophy.

This is already bad, but there's one more cruel twist to the disease. If a child is the one who gets paralyzed, the muscle atrophy can end up affecting the way their bones grow. That's what happened with my dad and why his feet looked so weird.

If the diaphragm was paralyzed, patients would need respirators to be able to breathe. Some respirators were portable, like this one.

A portable respirator from 1955. Photo by Hans Meyer/BIPs/Getty Images.

For a given value of "portable."

Others, like the iron lung, effectively trapped you inside.

An iron lung in 1938. Photo from London Express/Getty Images.

If you did recover, you may have still needed regular physical therapy to strengthen the atrophied muscles. Aquatic therapy was popular.

Photo by Juliette Lasserre/BIPs/Getty Images.

At its height, polio was one of the great public specters. People were terrified of it. Public pools were closed in a misguided effort to stop the spread. Houses were quarantined.

A board of health warning circa 1910. Image from National Library of Medicine/Wikimedia Commons.

There were public health campaigns and donation drives to help fuel research, like the March of Dimes.

A cartoon from 1943. Image from U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons.

Still, nobody seemed safe. Even President Franklin Roosevelt had it, although he was careful about hiding his paralysis from the outside world.

A rare photograph of FDR in his wheelchair. Image from Margaret Suckley/Wikimedia Commons.

It was one of the great scourges of its time.

Then, in the early 1950s, Jonas Salk invented the first polio vaccine.

Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Salk was a researcher and virologist who joined the fight against polio in the late 1940s. Initially tasked with identifying different strains of the virus, Salk and his team saw an opportunity to try to prevent the disease altogether, and their work paid off.

Manufacturers began to mass produce it.

Workers at England's Glaxo company in 1956. Photo from Fox Photos/Getty Images.

Suddenly, people could save their children from this awful disease.

Photo by Monty Fresco Jnr/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.

As people became immunized against it, the disease had a harder and harder time spreading between populations. Numbers of infections started to fall.

And, slowly, polio transformed from a demonic specter into a manageable disease, then, eventually, into a distant memory.

A woman examines a gigantic model of a single polio virus capsule in 1959. Photo from Fox Photos/Getty Images.

Thanks to the vaccines created by Salk and other researchers, most of the world began to forget this disease.

Today, we're on the cusp of eradicating polio altogether. Its last holdouts are in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

A child afflicted with polio in Afghanistan in 2009. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.

We're really close. In fact, one of polio's three strains has already been eliminated.

Photo by A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images.

Which is why the U.N. switched to a two-strain vaccine in May of 2016.

In 2015, there were only 74 recorded cases of polio in the entire world. Just 74!

A Pakistani child receives the oral polio vaccine in 2016. Photo from Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images.

Polio has no natural reservoir. It has no place to hide. Once it's gone, it's gone.

We might never be able to eliminate the flu because it can hide in so many animals, like birds or pigs. But polio only infects humans. So when all humans are immunized, polio will disappear.

We're so close to eliminating a horrible disease thanks to researchers like Salk and workers dedicated to administering vaccinations. There are occasional setbacks, such as a recent shortage of the new vaccine, but researchers hope to completely eliminate the disease by the end of this decade.

We can overcome the worst demons. We have before. And we can do it again.

In the future, the only place where polio will exist is in picture archives like these. And the memories of my dad's poor feet.

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March of Dimes

Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

Democracy
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The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

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