A Heritage of Loving Service: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Tucson
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Heritage: The Story of St. Mary's Hospital, 1880-1980
By Leo G. Bryne and Sister Alberta Cammack, C.S.J

Chapter II Modern Medical Complex
Polio

The polio epidemics, which swept the United States during the late summer and early fall of each year, reached their peak between 1942 and 1956. To those stricken, treatment was made available through funds provided by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The local chapter of the Polio Foundation, which was started in 1935, handled polio cases on an individual basis until 1948, when Tucson Medical Center was designated as a diagnostic and treatment facility. Tucson Medical Center handled 166 cases from 1948 to 1952, when the facility was moved to St. Mary's. In that year the number of cases had almost doubled, and continued to be high until the advent of Salk vaccine in 1955.

As a polio treatment center for southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, St. Mary's had custody of seven iron lungs. Additional ones were available through the exchange program of the National Foundation.

Young pre-school children contracted the disease in the early 1940's but later it also spread to adults. Some recovered without residual damage; however, in severe cases, paralysis affected legs, back, neck and the chest muscles used in respiration. Iron lungs were the only means of saving those with severe respiratory paralysis. Enclosing the patient's entire body, except for the head, the respirators were tank-like structures with rhythmic alterations in air pressure causing the lungs to expand and contract. A foam collar prevented air from entering the tank from the outside. The patient was practically immobile, and a small tilted mirror mounted on the tank enabled him/her to see those who stood beside the respirator. Improving patients were placed outside the iron lung for varying periods of time. Struggling to breathe, they were gradually weaned from the machine.

There was no definite medication for polio. In the earlier stages of the disease, a modified version of Sister Kenny's heat treatment was in regular use. Moistened and heated blankets were applied to the legs and backs, relieving the pain of muscle spasms characteristic of the disease. Proper positioning of the patient prevented joint contractures. Rest was essential, but there was also need to exercise the weakened muscles once pain had subsided. The whirlpool and immersion tank in Physical Therapy were of great value in selected cases. Nursing students, who had lost several of their own to polio, took over fund-raising projects to help pay for the new polio tank equipment.

In 1953 when Sister Anne Lucy's term as hospital Administrator came to an end, she was assigned as Administrator to the new Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood, California. Sister's association with St. Mary's Hospital included over 23 years of service as Chief Accountant, Assistant Administrator, and finally as Administrator. During her administrative term at St. Mary's, she was granted membership in the American College of Hospital Administrators. Qualifications for this national honor included a comprehensive understanding of hospital problems as a result of personal experience, the authorship of a certain number of articles related to hospital administration based on actual experience, and the passing of both written and oral examinations. Finally, five letters of recommendation from competent judges of hospital administration were required. As far as St. Mary's was concerned, Sister had demonstrated her abilities in the planning and erection of the Central Service Wing. She left just before the completion of Marian Hall, a new addition to the nurses' home. This lone building, now surrounded by the parking lots, was to have been the initial unit of a much larger complex which would serve as a nurses' training center. For the time being, however, it furnished much needed living space for the overcrowded student nurses.

Because of lack of finances and the trend to transfer nurses' training to an educational campus, the new unit failed to expand, and the cost of maintaining the School of Nursing became more and more of a liability; however, St. Mary's not only continued its training of nurses for its own school but also sponsored various workshops and institutes for other Arizona nurses.

Succeeding Sister Anne Lucy Zieroff, Sister Elizabeth Joseph Scherer (Sr. Marguerite) took over the duties of Administrator (1953-1959). At the beginning of her term, it was decided to separate the office of Administrator from that of Superior of the Sisters, and Sister Agnes Claire Gubser was appointed Superior. Both Sisters had been part of St. Mary's staff -- Sister Elizabeth Joseph serving as Chief Pharmacist and Sister Agnes Claire as X-ray Technologist. In 1954, when Arizona was faced with a shortage of professional nurses with special polio training, a five-day training institute on polio care was held at St. Mary's, sponsored by the National Foundation and the Arizona State Nurses' Association, District Number Two. A year later Operating Room nurses from Tucson and surrounding communities conferred at St. Mary's in a two-day surgical institute.

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