Paul Alexander, a tenacious 76-year-old man who has spent the bulk of his life confined to an iron lung, is an excellent example of how we are the ones who define our potential.
Paul vividly recalls the day he returned home as a six-year-old child and conveyed his concern to his mother. Paul had lived a normal childhood up until that time, full of energy and enjoying the company of other children.
When he recalled the incident, he vividly remembered his mother’s disbelief, “Oh my God, not my son.” Paul couldn’t understand what was wrong or comprehend the gravity of the issue since he was too young to know that he had gotten polio.
This infectious viral illness causes nerve damage, paralysis, respiratory difficulties, and death in the most severe cases.
Unfortunately, individuals thought to have recovered entirely as children can experience a return of muscle discomfort, weakness, or paralysis as adults, a condition known as post-polio syndrome, which can emerge 15 to 40 years later.
Paul’s condition progressively deteriorated over a few days. Due to his fever and muscle aches, his worried parents rushed him to the hospital, where he found himself among numerous other children infected with the virus, all awaiting treatment despite the lack of a known cure.
After being declared dead, Paul was given a ray of hope when another doctor intervened and performed an emergency tracheotomy. He was placed inside an iron lung, a device designed in the early 1920s and originally known as the “Drinker respirator.”
This mechanical device envelops a large area of the body, regulating air pressure within its enclosure to aid breathing.
“I had no idea what had happened,” Paul clearly expressed his uncertainty during those early minutes. I had a lot of fantasies about dying. I kept asking myself, “Is this what death feels like?” “Is this the inside of a coffin, or have I been cast into a cruel empire?”
“I endeavored to sense something, anything, to make sense of my surroundings, but alas, it eluded me,” Paul revealed his failed attempts to rise and his inability even to twitch a finger. It was a truly bizarre experience.”
Following an 18-month imprisonment in the iron lung, Paul began therapy with a committed expert named Mrs. Sullivan, who skillfully taught him how to breathe again using the “frog breath” technique.
This breakthrough allowed Paul to spend more time outside the iron lung than he had ever done previously.