Friday, May 15, 2009


My friend, Jackie and me.

I made a model of an iron lung for use when I speak to schools. Students are fascinated with it and often ask how a person could go to the bathroom in an iron lung. I have assumed that a bedpan could be placed inside. But I hadn't thought through the logistics and figured maybe I should double-check.

So recently, I consulted one of my experts. Jackie is a friend I met unexpectedly while on a trip to Florida. She had polio in the 50’s while pregnant with her twin sons. And yes, this pregnant woman spent time in an iron lung. (Fortunately she was able to breathe without the aid of the lung before the babies were due!)

I decided to ask Jackie a few questions about the logistics of using the bathroom and getting clean sheets in an iron lung.

Here’s what she had to say.

The front part of the iron lung where the patient’s head comes out, attaches to the “tin can” and can be unbuckled and pulled out, thus exposing the patient’s body on the bed. He is lifted up by a nurse and a bed pan is slid under him. The iron lung is then closed where it resumes breathing. Procedure is repeated to remove the pan.

Changing sheets is done in the same manner. The patient is rolled to the side and held there while a nurse removes one side of the dirty sheet and replaces it with a clean one. The patient is rolled back onto the clean sheet, the dirty sheet is removed, and the clean one is tucked under the mattress.

So there you have it, straight from an expert's mouth. I don't know what I'd do without my experts. They become friends that I can call on anytime!

Jackie shared more info about the iron lung but I'll save it for another day.

Thanks for your help, Jackie!


  1. How did you eat while in iron lung? I was only 2 and do not know how it was done and my parents are both deceased and have noone else to ask.

  2. Allie, your story is important and I am sorry that you cannot ask your parents about it. As I understand it, those in iron lungs were spoon fed by caretakers. If you get a chance, take a look at Martha in Lattimore. It's a documentary about a woman who spent 62 years in an iron lung. You can see at least some parts of it on YouTube.

    1. Are spoon fed. There are 10 people in the world, according to an article I just read, who still use iron lungs, including a 60 something year old man in Texas who got polio back in the 50s, just before the vaccine came out.

    2. That’s bad math.

  3. Paul Alexander is the man in Texas, still living.

  4. I've enjoyed reading several inspiring stories about Paul Alexander. Thanks for sharing!