The Medical Community
Throughout most of the 20th century, hospitals operated under strict and orderly patient regimens. Nurses enforced a military-like discipline in the wards. Epidemic conditions, combined with the lack of a cure for polio, heightened everyone’s anxiety.
During a 1934 epidemic in Los Angeles, 5 percent of doctors and 11 percent of nurses who treated polio patients contracted the disease.
Lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, was introduced in 1891 as a way to relieve children with hydrocephalus (pressure on the brain from accumulation of fluid) and quickly began to be used as the primary way to diagnose polio.
With so many unknowns in the course of the disease, doctors and nurses searched for ways to measure and chart the health of patients, using tests for muscle strength, limb mobility, joint movement, and breathing capacity.