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The Autumn Ghost: How the Battle Against a Polio Epidemic Revolutionized Modern Medical Care (Hardback)Hannah Wunsch (author)
"A perfectly pitched medical mystery that will captivate you from page one."—Wes Ely, MD, MPH, author of Every Deep-Drawn Breath, winner of the 2022 Christopher Award for Literature.
A suspenseful, authoritative account of how the battle against a mid-century polio epidemic sparked a revolution in medical care.
Americans knew polio as the "summer plague." In countries further North, however, the virus arrived later in the year, slipping into the homes of healthy children as the summer waned and the equinox approached. It was described by one writer as "the autumn ghost."
Intensive care units and mechanical ventilation are the crucial foundation of modern medical care: without them, the appalling death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic would be even higher. In The Autumn Ghost, Dr. Hannah Wunsch traces the origins of these two innovations back to a polio epidemic in the autumn of 1952. Drawing together compelling testimony from doctors, nurses, medical students, and patients, Wunsch relates a gripping tale of an epidemic that changed the world.
In vivid, captivating chapters, Wunsch tells the dramatic true story of how insiders and iconoclasts came together in one overwhelmed hospital in Copenhagen to save the lives of many polio patients dying of respiratory failure. Their radical advances in care marked a turning point in the treatment of patients around the world—from the rise of life support and the creation of intensive care units to the evolution of rehabilitation medicine.
Moving and informative, The Autumn Ghost will leave readers in awe of the courage of those who battled the polio epidemic, and grateful for the modern medical care they pioneered.
Publisher: Greystone Books,Canada
Number of pages: 360
Dimensions: 229 x 152 mm
"[A] superb account of the ghastly 1952 polio outbreak in Copenhagen...[A] story of heroism and medical advancement, beautifully told by Wunsch...[She] writes...'Most people have no idea what they owe to this remarkable doctor and his colleagues in Copenhagen.' They will soon enough—if The Autumn Ghost receives the attention it deserves."
—David Oshinsky, PhD, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, JAMA review
"Informative and clearly written...[The Autumn Ghost's] lessons should inform our attitudes toward medicine and societal norms going forward."
—Winnipeg Free Press
"An extraordinary story beautifully told...Hannah Wunsch recounts this gripping and emotional tale with clarity and compassion from every perspective. An instant classic of medical history, I loved it."
—Dr. Jim Down, consultant in critical care and author of Life Support and Life in the Balance
"A perfectly pitched medical mystery that will captivate you from page one."
—Wes Ely, MD, MPH, author of Every Deep-Drawn Breath, winner of the 2022 Christopher Award for Literature.
"A tale told with tremendous compassion and precision. [Wunsch] brings a critical chapter in medical history alive with style, wit, and an impeccable eye for detail."
—Siobhan Roberts, author of Genius at Play, The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway
"The Autumn Ghost, in equal parts harrowing and inspiring, brings us back in time into the great twentieth-century polio epidemic, showing how science painfully but amazingly swiftly went from deadly ignorance to mastering the disease. A must-read for anyone who wants to know how medical knowledge actually develops."
—Jordan Ellenberg, New York Times bestselling author of Shape and How Not to Be Wrong
"In medical science, the path to breakthroughs is paved with wrong turns and dead ends. Wunsch invites us along on one such medical odyssey as doctors and researchers scramble to understand the etiology and transmission of polio. The result is a deeply researched, utterly compelling story. . . at once heartbreaking and inspiring. Never has a book made me so aware of my breathing and so thankful for the ability to do so with ease."
—Olivia Campbell, New York Times bestselling author of Women in White Coats
"A fabulous, fascinating book—a sweeping history of a disease (polio), of two medical specialties (anesthesia and intensive care), and of several technologies (for ventilation and vaccine) through the lens of the 1952 Danish epidemic. Wunsch's meticulous research and graceful prose clearly explain the science behind the achievements and animate poignant stories of illness, disability, courage, imagination, and professional jealousy."
—Jacalyn Duffin, former president, American Association for the History of Medicine, Member of the Order of Canada, and author of History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction
"The Autumn Ghost delivers a riveting account of how polio was controlled, including the neglected story of how people survived, recovered and adapted to continued disabilities. This history has intruded into our present. In July 2022, New York State announced the diagnosis of polio acquired in the state, after several polio-free decades. This excellent book relays the dramatic story of how earlier generations learned to respond, still relevant today."
—Mary T Bassett, MD, FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health and former New York State Health Commissioner
"A beautiful and absorbing book about the history of polio. . . Wunsch tells the pressing story of the race to develop effective new technologies to ventilate patients amid a deathly global pandemic. It is also a beautiful story of accompaniment and of doing whatever it takes to keep thousands of patients alive—one person at a time."
—Ophelia Dahl, global health advocate and co-founder of Partners in Health
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