4/07/2012

Kenny Healing Cult

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Geri Lee Lee


Sociology


April , 00


Ed Davis


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Mid Term


In his article titled “The Kenny Healing Cult Preliminary Analysis of Leadership and Patterns of Interaction,” sociologist J. E. Hulett, Jr. discusses the roles of the leader, followers, and the opposition of a cult associated with Sister Elisabeth Kenny. He also points out some of the behavior associated with these roles. He begins by discussing the difficulty in conducting any objective research on cults because of their early history. Most often than not many people have already formed opinions of these cults. This is the case with the Kenny Healing Cult.


The Kenny Healing Cult was a medical movement in the treatment of childhood paralysis. Elisabeth Kenny, the leader of this cult, was believed by her followers to be a saint of some sort. Many believed that she possessed special mental powers and had a special calling for the work that she performed. At a time when Polio outbreak was at its worse it’s no wonder those who were suffering from, or those who had loved ones suffering from this terrible disease were searching for a miracle. They flocked to her for guidance and healing from this terrible disease. Elisabeth Kenny also believed herself to be somewhat of a heroin. She was always sure to over emphasize the hardships she endured in trying to gain acceptance of her method of healing or treatment for childhood paralysis. In her autobiography Sister Kenny draws a romantic picture of her life of sacrifice, and her struggle against the scientists and doctors who were against her. She also made sure others knew of her sacrifices and commitment to the way of life she chose.


According to Hulett‘s article, Sister Kenny did have great success with her treatment, however, there was still opposition. Some doctors disagreed with her methods of treatment. They claimed that her methods were harsh and dangerous. Her procedures included “vibratory massage” which required a forcible grip along with hot wet compresses. Doctors were concerned that this could cause fractures or broken bones. Although she didn’t claim to have a cure for the disease, and some tried to trick her into claiming this, Elisabeth Kenny did believe that she had discovered an entirely new concept of the disease. She changed her role, from someone who performed a duty for fellow humans to someone who had discovered something great, in her mind she was a super woman. One view of hers that tended to get her into trouble with many in the medical community was her strong opinion that polio was a muscle disease and was not a disease of the central nervous system. She claims that this new concept is the complete opposite than that of the doctors. Many doctors confirm that she was using some new techniques, but overall she really hadn’t discovered a new concept.


Many scientists disliked Sister Elisabeth Kenny. At least they disliked the fact that she was so easily capable of persuading the public to be more open to her ideas about the treatment and concepts of childhood paralysis. The scientists were concerned about how she would make them look. They had been given a sizable amount of money to fund their research and did not seem to get as far as Sister Kenny did with treatment. They were very unhappy about her research methods and they disagreed with her findings. The scientists believed that in order to make the claims she was making, Kenny needed to conduct her research in the proper manner. Some research was done and determined that her method of treatment, although successful in many cases, also had some bad side affects that weren’t made known to the public as readily as her successful cases. She believed her results were enough to be noted and accepted by the scientists and the medical world. All in all, the scientists were worried about their public image and popularity.


Others concerned about their public image and popularity included newspapers, magazines, the American Medical Association, the National Foundation, and the politicians. Hullet Jr. brings up a point involving most of these groups. The American Medical Association and the National Foundation both depend upon the general public for the funds needed to operate. Hullet believes that, in an effort for the AMA and the National Foundation to keep their funding, the demand by the public for a conclusion, either in favor of or against Sister Elisabeth Kenny’s treatment methods, may have affected the outcome of the results given. The newspapers and magazines along with the politicians used or exploited this movement for their own advantage. Politicians used it for a vote. They knew what the public wanted and gave it to them. The newspapers printed what the public wanted to here, as did the magazines. Unless research was conducted on the subject of exploitation of this particular movement, it is hard to know whether or not the findings of the scientists and doctors are accurate.


Sister Elisabeth Kenny was a nurse who had developed a new treatment for childhood paralysis, she was thought of very highly by the public and by those she treated and made well. Although there was opposition she continued to try and gain acceptance from science and from the medical world. She achieved a success of some sort, but the possibility of this success being legitimate is questionable. It is unknown as to what extent her success can be contributed to the use of persuasion of public demand, or by the treatment that she had discovered. Until research is conducted, however, we will never know. There were many different groups involved in this cult and we can now see the many different roles they played. In an effort to further understand this movement we will look at present day facts.


The author of this article mentioned above, J E Hullet Jr. gathered much of his information from newspaper articles, namely the Times-Harrald. He also received much of his information and data from medical encyclopedias, and medical books based on Polio and childhood paralysis.


Todays information on Sister Elizabeth Kenny is gathered in much the same way. Many of the articles I reviewed for this information were basically the same.


Today, Sister Elizabeth Kenny is still looked upon as a heroin. The term used to describe her now is “polio pioneer.” Before she died Sister Kenny had an institute named after her which was dedicated to the treatment of childhood paralysis. This institute is still used today. Two years after Sister Kenny died a polio vaccine was invented which was used to stop the spread of the disease.


Sister Elizabeth Kenny is admired by so many today. All those who read her autobiography and watch the movie which was made according to her book, seem to walk away with a sense of sadness. They all seem to feel as though Sister Kenny was mistreated. A doctor of Gastroenterology and Hepatology named Mark W. Swain wrote an essay about Sister Kenny. In his essay he describes her as “polio Pioneer” as did many others. She is described in much the same way as the first article by Hullet Jr. As I see it , The Kenny healing Cult is still, to some degree, on going.


A second article from the internet titled, “ And They Shall Walk,” describes Sister Kenny in about the same way. The article, author unknown, claims that Sister Kenny’s legacy is a mixed one. On one hand there is a woman who had a very hard time accepting any opinion other than her own, on the other hand a woman who changed history forever. She added new light on the concepts and treatment of a very debilitating disease. She helped the doctors to look past the blinders and see new ideas.


In reviewing this and other articles I have found nothing has changed. Any literature about Sister Elizabeth Kenny is worded and written in basically the same form. She was viewed as a great woman who did great things and loved children. She helped her fellow man sacrificed a lot in order to help others get through this terrible disease, but not without letting others know of her terrible sacrifices. She always made sure her work wasn’t done in vain. Her followers, those who believed in the cause, couldn’t see past the wonderful discoveries and the success she had. They were blinded by the wonder of her work. Those who were opposed to her could not see past their own conceded minds. They were so worried about their image that they didn’t take the time to look at the information Sister Elizabeth Kenny was practically throwing in their faces. The newspaper magazines didn’t care about any of the information they were putting out into public view. They wanted the story , just like today, no matter what the cost. The politicians did the same thing, exploitation. They used the situation to their advantage, causing problems for those who were trying to control the situation, and gaining acceptance by the public for doing so. The public wanted Sister Kenny to be real, and everything they heard or read about her to be real, as far as the treatment was concerned. She was and is still a hero to almost anyone who had heard of her, or anyone who hears of her now. Anyone who is not threatened by her that is.


1) Website-Minnesota Public Radio. www.news.mpr.org/features/0008/_olsond-sisterkinnet/part4.shtml title- Gentle Hands- Sister Kennys Legacy, author-Dan Olson


) Website-Minnesota Public . www.news.mpr.org/features/0008/_olsond-sisterkinnet/part4.shtml title- Gentle Hands- Fear of Polio Grips The Nation, author-Dan Olson


) Website-Minnesota Public Radio. www.news.mpr.org/features/0008/_olsond-sisterkinnet/part4.shtml title- Gentle Hands- Elizabeth Kennys Early Career, author-Dan Olson


4) Website- www.ott.zynet.co.uk/polio/lincolnshire/library/drhenry/srkenny.html title-A Dogma Upended From Down Under Sister Elizabeth Kennys Polio Treatment, author- Mark W. Swaim, MD, PhD


5) Website- www.64.6.1.11/0_educators/teacher/willwalk.htm title- “And They Shall Walk,” author- unknown








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