Survey of Medical Conditions at Poston July-September 1943

Medical Survey at Poston July-September 1943


From July to September 15, 1943, Sally Lucas Jean documented different medical conditions existing within Poston. Her report gives the statistics of her patients, their respective illnesses, and a summary of what is being done to treat some of them. Although she reports on several patients and their illnesses, there are a few points of interest throughout the document.

The first point of interest is the number of patients “[crippled] by apparent mental deficiency”. (Poston) The fact that these patients “with apparent mental deficiency” are being treated within this camp is quite surprising. The protocol for people with mental illnesses within the camps was neither desirable nor appropriate. “Retarded children who could have been cared for by their families at home had to be institutionalized. Serious illnesses, such as mental breakdowns, meant removal to state hospitals.” (PJD 164) One can only imagine the terror of Japanese American parents having to leave their children in the hands of complete strangers for an unknown length of time.

The testimony of Kima Konatsu, who was incarcerated at Poston, not only provides an example of the typical treatment of mentally ill persons during the incarceration, but also an example of the vacillating protocol towards the mentally ill and the absolute worst case scenario of the implementation of this protocol. Her husband was not permitted to enter Poston and “during that four years we were separated, my children and I were allowed to see him only once….[M]y husband became ill and was hospitalized. He was left alone, naked, by a nurse after having given him a sponge bath. It was a cold winter and he caught pneumonia. After two days and two nights, he passed away. Later on, the head nurse at the hospital told us that this nurse had lost her two children in the war and that she hated Japanese.” Several people before, during, and after the war, refused to make the distinction between Japanese Americans and the actual Japanese citizens of Japan. (Achieving, p. 107)

A second point of interest within Jean’s survey is the number of patients “having exercises at home under clinic supervision,” who she later writes “includes three convalescent polio patients…who received the Kenny treatment.” (Poston) She also writes some patients that have suffered “infantile paralysis…can be improved with exercises or the assistance of braces.” Poliomyelitis and “infantile paralysis” are different terminologies for the same disease. Better known as polio, it is a viral disease that can affect nerves and lead to partial or full paralysis. Because there is a vaccine now, polio tends to be overlooked as a disease to fear in developed countries (sadly, it is still a threat in some countries) but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, polio tended to be a fatal, and very real, threat. The common medical practice that some underwent was to strap braces to the person’s legs; once the polio had done enough damage, that person, like the very popular President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would be confined to a wheelchair.

The Kenny Treatment

Elizabeth Kenny (1880 –1952) was an Australian nurse who promoted a new approach to the treatment of poliomyelitis in the era before mass vaccination eradicated the disease in most countries. Her findings ran counter to conventional medical wisdom and caused much controversy. The Queensland Government Royal Commission evaluated Kenny’s work and concluded, “[t]he abandonment of immobilization is a grievous error and fraught with grave danger, especially in very young patients who cannot cooperate in re-education.”(Treatment) The Commission was recommending that the very young children stricken with polio be strapped down with braces because they were too young to go through what would today be considered physical therapy. Kenny believed there was a need to exercise muscles affected by polio and was adamantly opposed to immobilizing them with plaster casts and brace splints. In 1929, her methods were requested to assist a young woman, aged twenty-one, who had been disabled by polio at fourteen. After two years under Kenny’s care, the young woman was able to walk, work, and provide for herself (Kenny, p. 85). This was and is remarkable for a disease everyone thought to be terminal.  In 1940, Kenny came to the U.S. and stayed for the next eleven years, teaching doctors across the country the Kenny treatment (Kenny, p. 203). Kenny’s principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physical therapy.

In light of the the fact that the Kenny treatment came to the U.S. in 1940, it seems the physicians that Jean is writing about in 1943 are, in some sense, keeping up to date with medical protocol and technique. This observation cannot necessarily be applied to all other internment camps during this time: many memoirs about life within the camps regard the medical care to be insufficient. This tended to be due to a lack of medical tools, resources, and medical professionals within the camps, but there were incidents like that of Tule Lake and even Konatsu’s husband, where physicians consciously chose to do nothing when they could have. According to this report, the physicians within Poston applied and utilized as much medical knowledge as was available considering the time period, wartime shortages, and the limited funds that were allotted the camps by the government.

-Jazzmine Willis



Maki, Mitchell T., Kitano, Harry H. L., Berthold, S. Megan. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois, 1999.

Poston Hospital Nursing Activities – July 15 – September 15, 1943 Survey on Crippling, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sister Kenny. And They Shall Walk. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Company, 1949.

“Treatment of Infantile Paralysis by Sister Kenny’s Method: Report of Queensland Commission.” The British Medical Journal.1. 4023 (1938 February 12): 350. PubMed Central.Web. 28 March 2012. <>