Inside The Crystal Dome

By Monty McDannald

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polio vaccine2


The air was musty and stale and breathing was difficult. There were several other kids also under the dome. I had spent a few minutes down there splashing around, spitting water at the other kids and having a grand time. I looked up through the top of the plastic dome and could see people swimming on the surface above and the blue sky and clouds above that. 

The dome had been secured at the bottom of the deep end of the Crystal Pool in Houston. Oxygen was pumped into the dome through a rubber hose creating an air pocket that allowed us to breathe underwater. It was a thrilling experience for a boy of eight years in 1952.

I swam out from under the dome to return to the surface for some fresh air. A line of kids was waiting their turn to go down. The experience was a little scary, but I got back in line to go again. We spent hours doing this over and over.

Dangerous, you ask? Sure, but this was before people worried about things like liability issues. 

I don’t think my parents knew what I was doing at the pool or they might have objected. My friends and I spent many days there during the summer months. 

Unfortunately, there was an especially virulent and mysterious disease that occurred mostly in the summer months. No one knew what caused the disease or how it was transmitted. There was no cure at that time.  

I remember the devastation and horror rendered by this disease on those that were unlucky enough to be stricken. Children were especially susceptible. Many were left with paralyzed limbs or other physical deformities like shrunken arms and legs. I saw a newspaper article showing chilling pictures of a facility on Montrose Boulevard that had breathing machines called Iron Lungs for those not able to breathe on their own due to damaged lungs. Also, some people who got the disease and recovered had a recurrence in later life. This disease had a name: polio.

All parents were worried about their children at that time. Since there were no other remedies available, my parents and other parents figured that getting plenty of rest was essential in fighting off the disease. Therefore, my parents required me to take a one-hour nap every day. I hated that.

A little later that summer, authorities closed all of the public pools in Houston, as they had decided that the disease was transmitted in swimming pools. That ended this fun feature of my summer activities until 1955 when Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine that eradicated the threat of polio. Dr. Salk’s vaccine was replaced by a more effective oral one in 1962 developed by Dr. Albert Sabin.

Lately, I’ve read about anti-vaxxers who didn’t believe in vaccinations for various reasons and are refusing to vaccinate their children for polio and other diseases. Polio, as well as other diseases are beginning to make a comeback in the world which is a real threat to everyone. If today’s anti-vaxxers had lived through the polio epidemic and seen what horrors it caused, I doubt that they would feel like they do.


April 2022 Issue

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