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Hannah Wunsch, the author of the recently published book titled The Autumn Ghost: How the Battle Against a Polio Epidemic Revolutionized Modern Medical Care, will speak at the Woods Hole Public Library on Monday, July 17, at 6:30 pm. In addition to being a summer resident of Woods Hole, Dr. Wunsch is a critical care physician and researcher at  Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. She is a professor of  anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Toronto as well as a Canada Research Chair. 

The Autumn Ghost is 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. 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. Though the history of polio has been told before, there is still much to learn from tracing the story of its origin and treatment. Dr. Wunsch says, “Going in, I knew the story of the vaccine, and also that polio had played a crucial role in the development of critical care. But I wasn’t aware, until I started the research for this book, how important polio was for the development of rehabilitation centers, and also that it was often polio survivors who became influential advocates for disability rights.”

Dr. Wunsch will speak on Monday, July 17, at 6:30 PM in the Woods Hole Public Library’s lower level meeting room. The talk is free and open to the public. Copies of The Autumn Ghost will be available for purchase at the talk.