Monday, June 30, 2014

Acting Up : even if you can't , sometimes you simply must

This story* is not a conventional adventure story --- where the hero and heroine are always handsome and physically fit.

Fit is important, because doing the right thing always seems to be both physically and emotionally arduous.

But in this story, the villains are villains precisely because they think of themselves as handsome and physically fit.

And based on that slender intellectual reed, they then go on to act like they regard anyone who isn't handsome and fit as having no right to be treated as a full member of the human family.

So our heroes and heroines this time out are not conventionally handsome or physically fit - far far far from it , in spades .

Rather they are pushed to become our reluctant heroes and heroines precisely because they have a lifetime of experience being  seen 'weak' and 'damaged' or 'defective' and can feel deep inside just how damaging the labelling of half of humanity as defective could be.

The bad people in this story advocated and practise Plenticide but didn't see it as any sort of "cide' or murder.

They were merely weeding out and tidying up the very messy natural garden that the last owner of on planet earth ( God) had left behind.

Where in our current post-modern era we seek out variety and regret the loss of biological variety in the disappearing rain forest , this earlier era sought to reduce all the excess variety as clutter - for example , ultimately seeking to replace all natural food with a few synthetic pills !

When The Seven chose to Act Up way back then, they began the shift from that era of errors to our present day...

* : World War Two

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why it took the efforts of seven "lives unworthy of full life" to finally bring penicillin to the rest of us ...

The selfless five of The Seven

Regard closely , if you will, the personal circumstances of Dr Martin Henry Dawson, his teacher wife Marjorie Dawson, doctors Dante Colitti and Thomas Hunter, industrialist Floyd Odlum.

For none of these five (out of the total of seven key - and handicapped - individuals who brought us all penicillin) actually needed penicillin in the early 1940s .

All would have had extra-privileged access to the scarce medication if they had needed it.

So their actions were purely of agape love for others, rather than as part of a patients' advocacy group.

So why were these few , a mere one out of five hundred million of all the people living on the planet in 1943 - so willing to "Act Up" to see that all those dying for lack of wartime penicillin should receive some of the new lifesaver ?

I am convinced that they responded  personally - at a deep empathetic level  - against the then fashionable eugenic arguments about why the lives of SBE patients were intrinsically unworthy of scarce lifesaving penicillin.

To be Modern was to be Eugenic 

It was then fashionable in that besotted - modern - eugenic - age to argue that these 4Fs , born with intellectual and physical challenges and even those who acquired them later in life, were unworthy of the full lives granted to those who was 1A in mind and body.

(This intellectual net thus swept up almost all those (poor or minority) members of society who caught infectious diseases by claiming they had a defective gene that made them get these diseases.)

These "handicapped" or "crippled" members of society might be denied an education, or an fair access to jobs or marriage and children or medical care.

Ultimately some of these handicapped were even denied access to Life itself  - murdered by an direct injection as in Nazi Germany or murdered by quiet but deliberate indirect neglect --- as in the rest of the world.

The then popular prejudice - at both the official and popular level against people who wore glasses  ("four eyes")  - a category that ultimately most of us fits into at some time in our lives  - suggests some of the strength of this 'modern era' insanity seeking impossible physical perfection.

Or take "The Greatest Canadian Ever", Baptist minister and socialist politician Tommy Douglas.

He is regarded as the Father of Canadian Medicare -  a lifetime spent promoting that cornerstone of Canada's present day egalitarian values : full medical care provided to all Canadians regardless of their social status.

But surprisingly, eighty years ago, this young University of Chicago PhD student in sociology (and at the height of the Great Depression in particularly badly hit Saskatchewan !) still chose an eugenic over a political or economic explanation to account for why so many were living on welfare in his home town of Weyburn.

His highly divisive eugenic values was probably entirely typical of his age group and class in the Canada of the 1930s, just as his later egalitarian values were equally in tune with the egalitarian Canada of the 1980s.

In the 1930s, Douglas seemed to regard almost any physical handicap in the children he visited as something not just genetic and eternal but as a marker of darker moral failings.

But when this net of "handicapped-ness as a symbol for useless and less than fully human" was cast so wide, most should have said to themselves, "they're coming after the SBEs today, but they'll be after all those with congenital or acquired chronic defects tomorrow."

But the world did not - but these five did.

Dawson and his wife had met as fellow wallflowers at a college dance in the dance-obsessed Twenties.

Dawson had been a champion basketball guard as a teen but being twice severely wounded during the war had left him missing the use of one Great Toe and with restricted movement in one arm and shoulder.

Marjorie had been born with a relatively common defect in one hip.

The severity of the condition varies greatly - in her case , despite the best operations money could buy in the Edwardian age - she was left with severe restrictions on her movements , sometimes requiring the use of a cane.

But she was intellectually smarter than others and emotionally livelier as well - but these bonuses didn't compensate for her physical failings in this physical perfection obsessed age.

Dawson had acquired, in late 1940, a severe and probably quickly terminal case of Myasthenia Gravis , then a horribly debilitating chronic disease.

Death usually came from respiratory 'crises' and so he often needed a wheelchair and oxygen assist to get about.

Floyd Odlum had been healthy all his life until his worries over the course of the war gave him an unusual severe case of chronic rheumatoid arthritis , so severe that for the rest of his life only his time in a warm pool ever gave him body and mind some relief.

He walked with crutches, mostly , from then on.

Thomas Hunter had severe polio at an early age - leaving him paralyzed from the waist down and requiring the use of crutches.

Despite this, he was not just a star pupil but also very active in student affairs - including coxing race-winning crews at Harvard and Cambridge.

Dante Colitti came from a poor Italian family living in the crowded Lower East Side - he got TB as a child that went into his spine , leaving him a hunchback and requiring braces and crutches.

He spent years in hospitals and came to admire doctors and their roles.

His hunchback, his Catholicism and his Italian origin held him back in that many-prejudiced age , but he persisted and became a surgeon , though he eventually found he was more useful and much more valued as an unusually skilled anesthetist.

Noteworthy is that none of these five had a normal vocational reason to be involved in penicillin and in treating a heart condition .

They all stepped out of their comfort zone to do good , I believe , because they knew personally what it was like to be handicapped and to feel society's eyes upon them.

And they could all feel in their own bones just how the poor SBEs felt when they were handed their death sentences by an uncaring and eugenic Allied medical establishment ....

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Acting Up" : how we got wartime penicillin, despite the Allies ...

Wartime penicillin (discovered in 1928)  actually had two miracles.

The first miracle was how the Allies managed to keep new of penicillin's wondrous lifesaving abilities from their own wartime public for so long.

The other miracle was that the Allies managed to produce at least some penicillin - despite their own best efforts - before the war's end.

Bruce Springsteen reminds us that blind faith in our leaders - be they political , military or medical  - can get us all killed.

And this was as true during WWII as it still is today.

There are times when the only moral thing to do - the only patriotic thing to do - even during a Total War - is to Act Up.

And because seven cripples had the courage to Act Up over the immoral weaponization of wartime penicillin, the whole world got cheap abundant non-patented penicillin....

Manhattan's OTHER project : how seven lives 'unworthy of life' improved the lives of seven billion of us ...

WWII as a triumph of small science

Conventional accounts of the atomic Manhattan Project and of the development of wartime penicillin strongly emphasize that they were the first of what has come to be called Big Science  --- something that is taken as the norm for today's science.

But in fact much of the science of the atomic bomb and atomic energy was actually done by very small teams working with very little money and home made equipment - it was the engineering aspects that were the truly massive part of that particular project.

With regards to wartime penicillin it was much the same : small science ,  not Big Science.

One must remember that wartime penicillin's powerful impact came not merely from its unique scientific characteristics --- ie that it was first (and to some extent, the last) broad spectrum but non-toxic bacterial killer.

Its biggest impact really came from the fact that wartime penicillin G was unexpectedly inexpensive and and unexpectedly widely available for such a potent lifesaver.

This is because a very cheap and abundant (because it was non-patented) lifesaver could save far more lives than any very expensive patent-limited lifesaver could ever do.

And then we all benefit.

Because by a sort of a global herd immunity when even the poorest people living in the most remote places on Earth are cured of killer strains of disease, we in wealthier places tend also to never see those diseases again.

This is because such diseases have been around seemingly for ever as endemic diseases  --- all by surviving in geographic cum cultural pockets, among those considered too poor or too worthless to treat properly medically.

So the true miracle of wartime penicillin was more moral than scientific in nature.

Its miracle lay in the unexpected success of a small band of seven physically challenged individuals in convincing the American public that penicillin should be made available to all Americans who need it to survive.

Convincing them that their Allied leaders should not just producing a small amount of penicillin as secretively as possible, just so they could use it as a weapon of war to give D-Day's front line Allied commanders an advantage over their Nazi counterparts.

The Allies had - because of dysgenic fears - far too few infantrymen to really defeat the Nazis or the Japanese in a hard fight.

(And the few infantrymen they did have were more 4F than 1A, in comparison to the average military serviceman !)

The Allies instead hoped to quickly re-use most of their relatively small forces of infantry when they got moderately severely wounded - by employing advanced medical efforts - so their frontline rifleman could get a second and third crack at being killed in combat.

(As a member member of an reserve infantry unit, may I quickly say ---- "Oh joy !!")

If these medical efforts failed , it meant many more 'decent, middle class, white, Protestant men' would end up dying in the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) and this was seen as an eugenic mistake that the Allied cultural elite was not about to repeat from WWI.

If their scheme worked, they would keep the best of their breed safe from the trenches and still have a big advantage over the enemy.

Because , by contrast, they figured the average German infantry, when moderately severely wounded , was out for half a year - while the average Japanese under such circumstances simply died of their wounds.

Their thinking was that that much bigger Axis armies, with much of their troops in hospital beds, couldn't defeat assaults from much smaller Allied Corps , if the Corps had most of their troops in fighting trim.

Because the medically convincing details of the lifesaving results of penicillin were only known by the Allied medical establishment , the  hard pressed Nazis and Japanese hadn't given the development of penicillin (which they had read about in the public scientific literature) much of a priority.

If these lifesaving successes could continue to be kept out of the medical and public media until D-Day , only the Allies would have abundant patented (secret) penicillin to return their wounded to combat much quickly than had traditionally been the case.

D-Day would spill the beans soon enough , but long before the Germans and Japanese chemists had broken the penicillin patent and gone into mass production,  the war would be over.

The Seven Crips

The seven argued - by contrast - that the war to defeat Hitler was as much moral as military.

Germany was the moderately big schoolyard bully and Poland was the moderately small schoolyard victim.

Hitler had gotten away with his bullying because the rest of the world - which vastly out-numbered and out-gunned him, had not intervened against his bullying but instead talked up the virtues of non-intervention in European 'schoolyard squabbles'.

Not my words - rather the shameful words of endless newspaper editorials and 'statesmen' the world over in the early 1940s.

The seven said we must not just talk The Atlantic Charter talk (the Allied declaration that said all - even the smallest and weakest and most valueless - had an absolute right to life and security).

The seven said we must make sure our own Allied actions don't echo the Nazi's counterclaims.

(That the strongest are morally justified in denying the weakest and smallest the right of life and succour.)

But instead the Allies were actually and openly "Code Slowing" tens of thousands of mostly young, mostly poor and minority people.

People with the SBE version of endocarditis - SBE being the final - hitherto terminal - disease that made childhood Rheumatic Fever such a terror.

The SBEs were considered to be so useless that they couldn't even be recruited to work in the war industries , let alone be in the military.

So no wartime penicillin was to be wasted on them and they were to be left to die --- for two reasons.

The unimportant reason was that currently penicillin was still in limited supply and the SBE were below the lowest in priority, particularly as some cases of SBE did consume extremely large amounts of that limited penicillin.

The important reason was that SBE was regarded as the "Gold Standard" of intractable infections.

Any evidence that this new fangled 'penicillin' stuff could actually cure this famously most incurable of infectious diseases would tend to break the whole story of wartime penicillin wide open in the American news media.

And nothing (to paraphrase an old old adage of the pop music business) only 'breaks local' in America .

A big news story in America becomes a big news story worldwide - including in Japan and Germany, via friendly neutral diplomats in Washington.

The seven may have realized that while the Allied medical establishment won't easily bend on the issue of SBE and penicillin, it was also a hard position for the Allied elite to sustain publicly.

Letting young kids die needlessly merely on account of being judged 'life unworthy of life' would be a hard moral sell for the Allies warring against evil governments that basically did exactly the same thing.

Dr Dawson, the leader of the seven , decided to liberate ie 'steal' government controlled penicillin to successfully save five young women dying of SBE but his success was written out of the official report indicated penicillin test results.

And there it might of ended.

But for the fact that his successes and how this most unlikely of heroes was driven to steal to save lives had become the stuff of legend in New York's wartime-strengthened gossip grapevine among it tens of thousands of medical staffers.

A former patient of his, a fellow crip and fellow doctor named Dante Colitti , decided to emulate Dawson and saw to it that the fount of Yellow Journalism, Citizen Hearst's newspaper empire , covered his efforts from gavel to gavel.

The story - involving a terminally ill and terminally cute two year old toddler named Patty Malone - broke wide , broke stateside, broke worldwide.

Soon defeated in the court of public opinion by the formidable Doctor Mom, the Allies really opened the penicillin floodgates wide when Dawson's friend among Big Pharma , John L Smith of Pfizer , took up his cause and started producing it at levels a million times higher than Pfizer had done earlier.

Small science ?

Well the seven cripples had no government grants, had strong enemies rather than warm friends in high places and were - obviously - in poor physical vigour.

That they nevertheless brought the massed Allied governments - during a Total War - to their knees shows us all what sheer raw moral courage can do.

And that when we see those physically and mentally challenged as 'lives useless of life', they are anything but ....

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Oct 16 '40 : Dies Mirabilis , marking 75 years of Antibiotics and Draft registration

I might just do an Erik Larson and interweave Jack Kerouac and Martin Henry Dawson's experiences of that Dies Mirabilis, October 16th 1940, together in one book - and not separately as two books ...

Oct 16 '40 : for Jack Kerouac, a 1A's first ever Draft registration day was eventful ...

October 16th 1940 : Dies Mirabilis

As a husky football player from a poor family ,  John "Jack" Kerouac was not earning his usual drinking money that day by being part of the team of Columbia U football players hauling about tins of graphite or uranium for Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi's forerunner to the Manhattan Project .

Yes this gridiron hero drank.

Lord he drank , drank mostly to drown out memories of the painful prolonged death of his saintly slightly older brother Gerald,  from Rheumatic Fever in 1926 when Jack was only four.

Rheumatic Fever - and not the rather more famous polio - was far-and-away the leading killer of school age children, but it tended to kill the poor mostly .

(And because New York book editors are themselves rarely poor,  we don't hear much about this Sword of Damocles that hung over America's families for almost a hundred years.)

So with no tins of uranium to muck about, our future Poster Boy of the Beat Generation was instead enthusiastically obeying his legal requirement to be part of the historic registration process for America's first ever peacetime draft .

After registering * in the morning - he was certain to be classed 1A at any subsequent medical - job two for our future Beat that day was to go off in the afternoon to play his second ever football match for Columbia - and to promptly break a leg tibia bone.

Coach Furey didn't take the leg break seriously, told him to 'walk it better' - so Kerouac never went to Columbia university's own hospital , the Presbyterian, to have it checked out properly.

So - and rather ironically - he never got to meet Dr Martin Henry Dawson there that day , busy succouring some of NYC's 4Fs of the 4Fs ( sufferers from the endocarditis complications of childhood Rheumatic Fever) by giving them history's first ever antibiotics.

That broken leg - plus his string of arguments with his head coach Lou Little - doomed Kerouac's football scholarship to Columbia and he soon dropped out.

This 1A exemplar of American manhood went on instead to write novels and poetry , join the Merchant Marine and US Navy , drink lots more, travel, find world fame - and die young at age 47...

* Jack was only 18 in 1940, so it doesn't appear he even could be registered - the lower age limit for draft registration was 21 in 1940.  But Kerouac's biographers insist he did register too - he certainly joined his slightly older classmates in enjoying this big moment on campus - but actually registering ? -- Who knows for sure !

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oct 16 '40 and the 4Fs : Draft rejects them , Antibiotics succours them

I will have two books in my 'Agape Penicillin' series out in early 2015 -- they will be published simultaneously and hopefully reviewed together...

"Oct 16 '40 -- 75 years of Draft Registration : rejecting the 4Fs"

"Oct 16 '40 -- 75 Years of Antibiotics : succouring the 4Fs"

Aaron Alston - Antibiotics pioneer on '40 draft count but not on '40 census ?

In the Spring of 1941 *, the US Census discovered a major embarrassment : it counted far fewer young black men in April 1940 than did the draft registration process in October of that same year, only five months later.

Three percent of draft age men were missed by the census overall, but a whooping 13% of blacks - an even higher difference in the correct count in inner city places like Harlem New York.

This (fiscally important) undercounting of the poor and minorities has never really stopped and probably never will --- not if Republican congressmen have any say in the matter.

But it might mean a little bit of information on Aaron Alston may still be found found on the (sealed) US draft registration card made out for Alston October 16 1940 at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center , the same day he was becoming one of history's first antibiotics patients.
Because there is no Aaron Alston on the April 1940 census in the state of New York or in states nearby to New York City like Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania .

I have speculated he may have moved to New York from rural America seeking work between April and October that year but the possibility he was already in the New York City area near the hospital and simply uncounted in the census can't be discounted.

In the case of this truly historical event - perhaps that draft registration record might even be unsealed - who knows ?

Daniel O. Price, "A Check on Under-Enumeration in the 1940 Census" American Sociological Review, Volume 12, Issue 1 (Feb., 1947), pp.44-49

Oct 16 '40 : marking 75 years of Antibiotics AND of Draft Registration !

The Draft (conscription) process tends to implicitly lay bare the utilitarian instrumentalism that form the true backbone of most civilizations - the values Christianity rose to oppose.

This is because how most ordinary people chose to interpret the results of draft board medicals.

They tend to regard only those people judged draft board 1As (as fit enough to fight for their country or to work in heavy war industries) are deemed worthy of full public praise and honour.

And ultimately, of being worthy of full food rations,  decent housing and proper medical care --- if those three necessities of life run short, as they frequently do in war.

But those judged unfit are publicly mocked as '4Fs', the scorn of every teenage girl seeking a date and the sort of people whose life-threatening illness is left on the back burner of "Code Slow",  because that illness is  judged 'not a military priority'.

On Draft registration Day,  October 16th 1940, Dr Martin Henry Dawson choose to oppose those instrumentalist values head on.

He choose that date to give very first ever injections of life-saving antibiotics.

But not to 1A youths.

Instead, to two young men judged to be the 4Fs of the 4Fs.

These two young patients  were dying of invariably fatal SBE (the form of endocarditis that made Rheumatic Fever the leading killer of the young before penicillin).

SBE is a disease mostly of the poor and of minorities.

Treating it was often regarded as a form of Social Medicine --- and thus was highly suspect in the eyes of many isolationist members of the American medical fraternity.

That was because treating it - or going to the defence of Poland or Belgium -  meant selflessly helping people outside their own religious, economic and ethnic community.

It meant walking the Christ-like walk on Monday instead of just doing the talk on Sunday.

In the Fall of 1940, conservative and isolationist members of the medical community seized upon the interventionalists' talk of getting the country ready for war.

They manipulated that talk of war preparation to urge the need to divert resources towards War Medicine for 1A youth (particularly in light of the upcoming Draft Registration process planned for October 16th).

And away from the left wing's emphasis on helping those sick among the poor and minorities (Social medicine) --- the likely majority of those judged 4F.

But what were the moral values that Americans would be dying to defend if they went to war against Hitler ?

Were they not the moral values that said all humans should be treated equally ?

The moral values that said human beings were not to be regarded as mere instruments for the larger collectivity - to be tossed aside like used condoms when they were no longer useful ?

Dawson certainly felt so - but it would be years later before even a bare majority of his fellow Americans would agree ...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Draft Registration, October 16th 1940 : 75 years Young !

Due out in early 2015 is my book about the origins of America's 75 year old peacetime draft registration process.

It is another in my series of books on "Agape Penicillin".

If my book about the 'Dawning of Antibiotics' on October 16 1940 focuses on the 4Fs among America's youth, this book will focus instead on the 1As among her youth.

But I do not think it is odd or a coincidence that both events share the exact same 75th anniversary, right down to the day.

I believe that Dr Martin Henry Dawson began his antibiotics crusade on that crucial date, October 16th 1940 , as a deliberate and provocative counterpoise.

A counterpoise to 1940s America's undue emphasis on only valuing its children to the extent that they are fit enough to kill other children.

He felt all children - as well as all people - are worthy of the best possible health care simply because they are our fellow human beings.....

* Dawson had the freedom to experiment with penicllin that October day only because the very pro-war President of Columbia university had suspended classes to ensure a perfect registration drive.

After football scholarship undergrad Jack Kerouac dutifully registered that day, he went forth to play his second football game for the university.

He broke his leg and his career in football was over - its loss and literature and the Beats' gain ....

"Antibiotics, October 16th 1940 : 75 Years Young !"

My first book on "Agape Penicillin" ,  due out early in 2015 , is all about the brave Scottish Presbyterian doctor (Dawson) who first gave us penicillin the antibiotic.

It is not at all about the Scottish Presbyterian doctor (Fleming) who discovered penicillin --- but then only used it indolently, for twelve wasted years , as an useless antiseptic.

I have entitled it '75 years young' rather than '75 years old' to emphasize that the real miracle of antibiotics has mostly been for in its effects on younger rather than older patients.

Because, just as in the earlier miracle with Lazarus , people who get life-saving antibiotics still die - the miracle simply consists in moving the goalposts further along , to a point closer to Life's natural ending.

Before 1940, few large upper class families - let alone poorer families - did not know the terror of a healthy five year old child being here today and in an premature grave a few days later.

Those of us of a certain generation know well the difference between an antiseptic and an antibiotic.

Antiseptics were when we scrapped our knee falling off our tricycle - it was part of a ritual involving a cookie, "a kiss to make it better" and some orange liquid from a little bottle.

The orange stuff hurt like hell, hindered healing and promoted scarring but it was all part of the ritual back then.

But antibiotics !

You'll alway remember that fast as the ambulance was , your old family doctor (who usually moved with slow dignity) was much faster.

His car came around the corner on two wheels and he took the steps three at a time - no word of greeting - simply hauled a big needle out of his black bag and plunged it into your baby sister.

You were too young to know exactly why the room was so still and tense - a neighbour had whispered 'meningitis' but that tension suddenly broke with the doctor's next and unexpected act.

He cuddled up to your mother , put an arm familiarly around her shoulders and said "Marge , where's that cuppa ?"

Marge !?  Not even your father called her that.

She looked up startled and then happily bustled off , saying "oh , where my manners."

And your father - for the first and only time in your young life - starting crying - big sobs - but smiling to beat the band all the time.

Your little sister is now a grandmother as old as the doctor was then, with grandchildren of her own.

That's what an antibiotic is - and that is why it is so worth celebrating ...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I can confirm George M Conant of Middletown NJ was third antibiotic patient in history !

A page one story in the Middletown Times Herald * of June 2nd 1941 recounts the details of flour mill salesman George M Conant's long and very dramatic  battle against subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE).

 That battle unfortunately ended in death, in New York City's Columbia-Presbyterian "Medical Center" on May 31st 1941.

Small town newspaper journalists everywhere , all take a bow : because this is the very first report, ever , detailing the fate of an individual patient receiving our now routine "antibiotics".
The story says his trials began December 9th 1940 in the local (Horton) hospital and that in early January 1941 he was transferred to CUMC .

There Dr Martin Henry Dawson was making history , pioneering the use of penicillin as an antibiotic  - working full out to try and save the lives of patients with 'invariable fatal' SBE .

Gladys Hobby's eyewitness book (Penicillin - Meeting the Challenge) on early penicillin records (on page 73) that Conant first got penicillin injections from Dawson on January 18 1941 , a course running until January 26th, a total of 36 ml over 16 day period.

Now this report of Conant's death came a month after  Dawson delivered his famous May 5th 1941 report on his pioneering use of penicillin injections to treat three patients dying of SBE.

(Today , you can best think of SBE as the "deadly" part of grandmother's often repeated phrase "deadly Rheumatic Fever".)

So , at the time of his report in the New York Times, two out of his three SBE patients treated with his historic penicillin were still alive --- but he still displayed a welcome caution about exaggerating the value of these initial results.

Middletown's newspaper makes no mention of Dawson or penicillin but their dates match up closely to the dates found in Hobby's book about Dawson's third patient to receive penicillin-the-antibiotic , "Mr Conant" .

I don't doubt I will be able to locate Mr Conant's descendants.

 (His wife Marabelle (Erickson) Conant was born about 1908 and here is a photo of her from 1942. She has probably passed on.

Marabelle (Erickson) Conant , Middletown NY

George also left three daughters : Delores Conant born about 1932 , Edith Conant born about 1933 and Gloria Conant born about 1937.

(These three women are in their late seventies and early eighties.)

I intend to invite them to the 75th anniversary celebrations of the dawn of the Age of Antibiotics October 16th 2015 in New York.

Hurray !

Another patient or team member now located, four located already and only two more to go...

* Middletown is a community in Orange County, in upper New York State - a long long way from the normal mile or two catchment area for the poorest patients in  the Medical Center's public wards.

So I might have to cast my nets wider to locate Aaron Alston and Charles Aronson - I had assumed they had come from a mile or two around the Center's upper Manhattan location.

Time for a re-think.

Though I still do believe I am on the right track.

 Gladys Hobby referred to George only as "Mr Conant" while the other two were mentioned by their first names and this hints to me that Conant might have been a middle class paying patient.

He might well then have come from a much further distance away - while the two other initial patients were of a local socio-economic status and came close by.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Aaron Alston , penicillin's first SBE patient but second to get the historical injection

The known published facts are few

All the contemporary (1945 era) newspaper and book accounts - written by (or coming second hand from) participant eyewitnesses to the events themselves - make it clear that Martin Henry Dawson's first SBE/penicillin patient was a "negro" "man".

And that his name was"Aaron Alston" and that he subsequently "died".

The available record of the amounts and dates that Aaron received Dawson's penicillin - as published by key Dawson team member Dr Gladys L Hobby in her 1985 book on penicillin , Penicillin : Meeting the Challenge , ceases near the end of January 1941.

And that is all the published accounts show.

But now for new research and reasoned suppositions...

We can say that 1940s medical statistics indicate that Alston was a more likely than not a young adult when he entered the hospital with SBE .

It is clear from the census that the names Aaron and Alston is a combination found in a fair number of men in America in the first half century of the 29th century.

However , the censuses generally indicates they are usually negro and that their residences seem centred in the South - from rural Carolina into urban black centres like Washington and Baltimore.

But in the critical 1940 census , there is no Aaron Alston recorded in New York City or in nearby New Jersey and Connecticut.

Now the first SBE patients that Dawson dealt with in the public wards of his upper Manhattan Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital were simply there because they were poor and his hospital happened to be close to where their family lived or close to where they lived when they took ill.

They were not drawn there from great distances because Dawson was then a famous and successful expert in this nearly 100% invariably fatal disease.

Far from it , he hadn't in fact handled any SBE cases up to then as the lead doctor.

Alston almost certainly had to be residing within a three or four miles circle of the Presbyterian hospital, at most , at the time he took ill. But the census does not show this.

He may have moved to New York City after April 1940 and before September 1940 : because southern blacks were still coming north to the unofficial American black capital of Harlem , though there was rarely gold for them at the end of its tattered rainbow.

Harlem is well within the catchment area for the Presbyterian's public wards.

We seemed to have failed to find out anything more about Mr Alston.

But as it happens, the New York City individual death records up to 1948 have been hand indexed on computer by many volunteers and made available via

They show an Aaron Alston , born about 1911 , (that is about age 29 on date of his admission to the hospital in September-October 1940) has having died on Jan 25th 1941 in Manhattan.

I am not sure that the original  death record will reveal more more - but perhaps a last address in New York and the name of next of kin and their home town , but I feel 100% certain this is our Mr Alston.

All we have really confirmed so far is that he was indeed a young man at time of his admission , as expected.

Why first patient but second to get the historic penicillin injection

Now while I am certain that Mr Alston was first SBE patient Dawson intended to treat with penicillin, I think he got it moments after Charles Aronson , the other SBE patient to get the historic penicillin injections on October 16th 1940.

Dawson's first major paper on penicillin and SBE was significantly the first penicillin paper not written by him with the help of the very reticent (as he himself was !) Dr Gladys Hobby, his lab chief.

Co-written instead with young Dr Thomas H Hunter, it positively gushes - for Dawson anyway - in giving forth the ages, initials of their name, gender, ethnicity,  dates of treatment, medical condition etc of all the SBE patients that Dawson had treated.

This was a style that Dawson had never shown before in 20 years of writing many, many medical articles.

Some doctors ("clinicians") simply tend to write articles that minutely detail the very 'grain' of  one (person's) case - while others ("researchers") prefer to report on the general conclusions drawn from treating one hundred similar cases.

(Both are valuable to doctors and scientists - but biographers won't be human if they didn't prefer the intimate details of the first type of articles !)

Dawson gets a chance in mid April 1944 to treat Charles Aronson a second time with penicillin for SBE .

This was because the little penicillin Charles had gotten in October 1940 had helped him survive his first bout of SBE.

He thus became that rare successful SBE case (about one in a hundred) that did so , back then.

Dawson indicates  in 1945 , that Charles had first entered the Presbyterian three and a half years earlier - ie mid October 1940 , confirming the common assumption that he was a very late addition to Dawson's Penicillin SBE program.

(Dawson knew he had too little penicillin to even treat Alston adequately, but he kind-heartedly treated both.

He was hoping perhaps that any small sign of a clinical response from either one of them might move Big Pharma to step up to the plate and mass produce the stuff --- for Aaron, Charlie and everyone else.)

Literally : the last shall be first 

But did Dawson really add Charlie at the last minute out of kind-heartedness alone ?

I believe the real reason was because Charlie was such a late addition to his ward's SBE patients.

When a new patient arrived with suspected SBE - a relatively slow killer, first a number of blood tests over a number of days must show the continued and not merely transitory presence of green strep in the blood stream to match all the other classic clinical signs of SBE,.

Then the ethical response is to immediately start treatment with the newest miracle drug , sulfa, and pray.

This is what happened to Aaron, who had been in the ward about a month when he first got his penicillin.

But because Charlie was such a late addition, there hadn't been time to start treatment with sulfa drugs .

So if Charles was treated with penicillin alone and did show a clinical improvement, Dawson's sulfa worshipping naysayers (and their lineup began around the block) could not say it was all due to their established sulfa , not his new penicillin.

(Remember that a lot of middle-aged doctors , the same age as Dawson , had first made their mark as early sulfa drug pioneers - any new miracle drug meant their acclaim was over. )

Behind the polite rancour of academic/scientific 'critiques' is often a lot of half-hidden ego and income concerns.

Dawson recalled, in his 1945 article , that the 1940 Charles was treated with penicillin on October 16 and 17th and then immediately (first) "started" on sulfa on October 22 and that he responded so well that he was released in December and was illness free for three plus years.

Ethically, Dawson would never have wasted half of his tiny amount of penicillin he intended for Aaron on Charles --- if he was already responding well to sulfa.

I think the reason it became so urgent to treat Aaron in mid-October (well in advance of the Dawson team's own original timetable for starting clinical trials) was because he had already been treated with sulfa and it had failed.

And maybe even made him extremely sick  because allergies to sulfa are common and serious.

But treating Aaron alone risked having any penicillin success disputed by the pro-sulfa lobby and this would only forestall drug company involvement - hurting Aaron as well as all others.

Hence Charlie not only getting treatment but getting treated ahead of Aaron , if only by moments.

Ask anyone : nothing starts off a (soon to be citation classic) medical article quite like an opening sentence like this one ---

"The first patient  ever treated with systemic penicillin had (then invariably fatal) SBE , but had not yet had time to start a sulfa treatment, however he responded so well to the penicillin that he has now been home fully recovered for over six months months."

In fact Dawson saw no clinical response at all between cases of endocarditis and penicillin for one and a half long years and he didn't save anyone with the disease purely on penicillin alone until two years later.

But Charles's recovery might have been helped by the morale uplifting affect of simply knowing that he was Patient One of a touted new Miracle drug .

I can only hope that my research efforts eventually help Aaron Alston's relatives to gain some comfort from his short life.

They will learn that he helped bring penicillin into this world and that while it didn't help him personally, it has directly and indirectly helped ten billion of us in the seventy five years since he first received it.....

Friday, June 6, 2014

Is the male-dominated media biased as to which historical events get commemorated ?

The answer - unfortunately - is yes : male-dominated news coverage is still very gender-biased.

When it comes to commemorating violent versus beneficial historical events , it usually proves that male journalists are from Mars and the women from Venus.

And since most executive editors and executive producers are still men , guess which kind of historical events are splashed about and which get merely 'noted' ?

Wartime New York had two Manhattan Projects - one pioneering death-dealing atomic bombs and the other pioneering life-saving penicillin.

Both will be celebrating their seventy five anniversaries next year but it is quite likely that you will only see news stories about one of them.

In March 1940, Columbia University scientists Fermi and Szilard got $6,000 for building their atomic pile , on the authorization of President Roosevelt, an event usually viewed as the start of the atomic Manhattan project.

Call this the 'Little Boy' Manhattan project, after the name of the first bomb. (Would women name a bomb that was about to burn tens of thousands of children to death after a child ?)

The American national government has since spent far more than six trillion dollars on atomic research - a sum (by no coincidence) that is about the size of the entire publicly held debt of the America national government.

Try converting all that into new books for school libraries, extra staff for nursing homes and new places in daycare centers to imagine what $ six trillion dollars looks like when it is spent on something useful and productive.)

On October 16th 1940, penicillin's Manhattan project began, when the first needles of penicillin-the-antibiotic were given to patients Charles Aronson and Aaron Alston by Columbia University scientist Martin Henry Dawson, thus ushering in our Age of Antibiotics.

And by the way, Dr Dawson - who was combatting a painful terminal illness the whole time he was fighting for abundant cheap wartime penicillin for all humanity - never asked for any money from the government.

Call his effort the 'Baby Girl' Manhattan project .

(After the August 1943 story about how dying baby girl Patty Malone only received penicillin after intervention by Citizen Hearst's newspapers sparked a national protest by Doctor Mom that finally made penicillin world famous overnight, fifteen neglected years after it was first discovered.)

If male journalists continue to rule the roost - guess which event will be ballyhooed next year and which one will be ignored or only 'dutifully noted' ?

Mars may still domain the battlefields - but it does not have to go on dominating the newsroom and the TV in our living rooms .

A 1999 Newsday/Newseum survey of 35,000 American media consumers confirms that male readers think that the atomic bomb and the Little Boy story was the top news story of the 20th century.

But the women thought penicillin and the Baby Girl story was the top news story of the 20th century.

Since there are slightly more women than men , a prudent journalist should try and think of all their audience when they have two similar stories at the same time to report.

But unless New York's female media 'Act Up' , I think the events behind the 75th anniversary of the start of the life-saving Age of Antibiotics will be ignored --- once again....

Agape's TRINITY : dawning the Age of Antibiotics , October 16th 1940 , New York City

To female members of the media reading this blog : 

Another 16th day , July 16th 1945 , is considered the dawn of the Atomic Age , our new age of possible instant global death , and it is a day well marked by (male) historians and (male) journalists alike.

But who marked then - who will mark now (because its seventy fifth anniversary is next October 2015)  - of the dawning of a more hope-filled and life-saving age, our current Age of Antibiotics ---- if not you ?

On October 16th 1940, registration day for America's first ever peacetime draft , all media eyes (along with the eyes of a good many diplomats from Germany and Britain)  were on the 1a students of  New York's Columbia University.

After all , three thousand of Columbia's students had famously voted to never again to go to war - would they now register , to fight a new possible war ?

No eyes were on another part of the near-deserted Columbia campus (all classes were cancelled to ease the registration process) as a new class of medication was about to undergo its first critical (systemic/internal) test on an actual human patient.

Columbia's medical school dean knew of this crucial test but deliberately chose not to release a press release about it - so how could any media have reported upon it ?

But would they have anyway ?

Because as America girded up for a possible war, 1A young men and their medical conditions - war medicine - was the new priority.

Lowest of the lowest priorities - for news media and medical researchers alike - was 4F medicine - social medicine.

For that was the news that had greeted all of Columbia's medical researchers as they returned to work in the Fall of 1940.

Even lower still in priority were any pioneering efforts to help the 4Fs of the 4Fs.

People like the young men with weakened heart valve conditions likely to die at some point of invariably fatal subacute bacterial endocarditis , because they were judged unfit not just for military life but even for work in the crucial war industries.

This instrumentalist view of humanity : viewing the worth of your fellow human being by only what they can contribute to the war effort - was really done best by Hitler and Stalin.

But America was willing to give it the old school try - starting with the SBE sufferers.

However - and thankfully for all humanity - one Columbia medical professor, Dr Martin Henry Dawson , felt quite differently.

He began his own Manhattan Project - Agape penicillin - on that October morning.

A military hero of WWI,  he nevertheless felt that one of the best ways to combat Hitler was morally - by showing in practise how much we opposed the Nazis' instrumentalist view of humanity.

So on October 16th 1940, he felt America should show it cared at least as much about its unfit 4F youth as it did about their fit 1A companions.

A  Jew, Charles Aronson , firstly, and then a black man , Aaron Alston - in 1940 America they were practically 4F simply by ethnicity alone - were the two patients who got the first ever needles of penicillin-the-antibiotic that day.

Aaron eventually died but amazing, Charles survived : a hopeful start to the new Age of Antibiotics.

So on October 16th 2015, seventy years later, will the New York media mark the start of the American peacetime draft registration - still very much a part of American life ?

Or will the New York media mark the start of the Age of Antibiotics  , still very much part of everyone's life around the world ?

Or hopefully both - seeing how intimately the two events were intertwined,  way back in October 1940 .

But I doubt - if left to the men alone - it'll ever happen.

A 1999 Newsday-Newseum survey of 35,000 American men and women revealed a perhaps not so surprising difference of opinion as to the top news story of the 20th century.

The men thought it was the death-dealing Manhattan Project and its atomic bomb.

But the women thought it was the life-saving Manhattan Project and its wartime vision of cheap abundant penicillin for all humanity.

So women, particularly if you work in the media - its time to step up to the plate and make sure that , this time , the dawn of the Age of Antibiotics gets its due ...

Fungus cloud rises 35,000 ft over New Mexico desert as Oppenheimer intones "I am become death , destroyer of nations"

The Boys Own Manhattan Project

Trinity's famous FUNGUS cloud

The seminal image of the other Manhattan Project, the Boys-Own version , is of a lethal fungus cloud radiating forth , roiling and boiling as it ascended to 35,000 feet above the New Mexico desert . Down below , Dr Robert Oppenheimer intoned portentously "I am become Death, destroyer of nations".

Doctor Mom's Manhattan project 

Lifesaving MONSTRANCE of penicillium

Dr Martin Henry Dawson's Manhattan Project ( the Doctor-Mom's version) also had its seminal image , also of a fungus radiating forth.

It was held aloft like some sort of Roman Catholic monstrance (albeit by devout Presbyterian layperson Dr Gladys Hobby in New York's Presbyterian hospital !) to offer hope and succour to SBE patients facing imminent death.

This lifesaving fungus radiated forth in all directions over a large Petri dish, with its golden droplets along the wedge lines in the green blue mold looking like the rays of the sun itself.

Two wildly different fungus , two wildly different faces of Janus Manhattan.

One Manhattan , the Manhattan of Gordon Gekko , cold and mean  - the Manhattan of the Hiroshima bomb droppers that 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef raged so hard against.

The other Manhattan, the Manhattan of Emma Lazarus, offering the warm golden lamp of welcome to all the world's tired, hungry and huddled - the Manhattan that Yousef and his ilk never got to know.

If Manhattan is ever to stop the Yousefs of this world, it needs to show the Emma Lazarus side of its face.

I hope my books on Martin Henry Dawson's Manhattan Project (Agape penicillin) help start that process...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

When the UVic Press was just a photocopier, stapler and a paper cutter...

Browsing in the stacks of one of my local university libraries a while back,  I discovered that the "academically-correct police" there had missed a few 'bad taste' errors from the past in their pogrom to get rid of unread books.

It was a massive three volume monograph from the University of Victoria (BC) Press -- about 200,000 words in total -- dating from the mid-1980s.

That is a big work by any standards - for an academic work or a commercial novel.

Interesting to me (and shocking to many) it was just three simple staple bound (aka saddle bound) volumes with soft paper 'selfcovers'.

Their text was laid out in small newspaper-sized type in a two column arrangement.

Each volume was 8.5 x 5.5 inches in size and 120 pages long.

(A successful staple bound book that long really requires a print shop grade folder, paper cutter  and stapler. And perhaps even the use of thin (45 pound weight) paper.)

Interestingly, because the text lines were so short as a result of the two column layout, I actually found it much easier to read with my aging and poor eyesight , despite the small font done up on a cheap offset press.

But then this has always been the secret of the daily newspaper.

Even the tiny type on cheap newsprint (and faintly printed in fast-drying ink at that because of the need to print 6 million copies in just hours) of the UK's massmarket newspapers of yesteryear were always easy to read .

Certainly a lot easier to read than the UK's current 'very well printed on very good paper' upmarket magazines like The Times Literary Supplement with their ultra wide columns of type.

I estimated the words on a few typical pages of this UVic book to arrival at a total of about 200,000 words for the three volume 'book'.

Each page was two columns 56 lines deep , with an average of six to seven words a line unjustified,  giving a page count of about 600 words , allowing for a few small subheadings and a few small line illustrations.

About 65,000 to 70,000 words for each little 'booklet' times three to get the total.

Now a commercial hardcover novel of about 65,000 words would be about two inches thick and a little heavy for children or older hands to hold up for long.

But these UVic booklets were only about an half inch thick and much lighter and actually easier to read, because each page-spread opens fully in staple-bound publications.

And the short lines of text make reading and comprehension a joy.

But could you get away with charging $29.95 Cdn for a novel in a simple staple-bound version ?

Of course not.

It isn't really greed from publishers, authors and bookstores that makes a $9.95 staple-bound version a non-starter.

Because past evidence across time and nations shows that cheap literature sell so many more copies that volume makes up for lower prices.

It is that almost all of us treat books less as cheap physical vessels holding valuable abstract enjoyment and information and more as objects to be displayed as proof of our intellectual worth.

The French were, as usual, of two minds on this point.

They led the world in designing books as expensive objects of beauty.

Ornate leather covers concealing coloured illustrations, hand pulled on a press by the famous artist himself - of beautiful naked women in acts of love.

But their works of the mind were often very short and inexpensive - merely of long nonfiction essay length or fictional novella length -  put out in cheap plain staple bound booklets with soft paper covers.

I like best their poetry chapbooks, letterpress printed in dense black ink biting deeply into the soft cream-colored laid textpaper, with attractive line illustrations and with an oversized deckled soft cover. Staple-bound or hand sewn.

These seem to combine the best of both ideas.

Today, I believe - and my own books will put into practise - that the multi-part publication and soft covered saddle-bound books of Charles Dickens' day are long overdue for a revival.

Its all thanks to the internet allowing readers to easily download a pre-imposed PDF and print it out on their own home computer and then fold (and maybe staple) it to assemble a book themselves -- in as many little 64 to 96 page booklets as their 'book' word length requires.

My books will be free, but commercial books would only require an online payment to receive an unique code to access your download.

But would professors get tenure if their 60,000 monograph was only available as an e-book or a staple bound multi part set ?

Rather than as a $95 hardcover printed up in only a few hundred copies to match its expected lifetime world sales ?

(If our dear old auntie only prints up a few hundred copies of the family history, we all treat it as a big joke.

But when the department head/ full professor of big research university does the same , he gets reverential reviews in all the world's top academic journals. Go figure ! )

Of course the tenure candidate would not get their wish - most professors on tenure committees merely say that they are left wing , progressive and pro the planet.

 But deep down they are as snobbish as the rest of us when it comes to expecting 'books' to be visible physical talismans rather than mere wrappers holding founts of knowledge or enjoyment.

So how did these UVic staple-bound books ever slip past the tenure committee and into existence ?

Back then new, small, poor universities didn't have the money to buy the kind of super expensive equipment that commercial book printing firms had.

The dozen copies of father's PhD for the University of Ottawa were all pounded out at the same time, on a big manual Underwood typewriter by my small mother.

 The copy on the top on regular paper and the others below on layers and layers of onion skin paper between carbon paper.

This sandwich was about a half inch thick and a real bugger to make corrections , insert end of page footnotes in foreign languages etc.

We found no electric typewriter had the strength to make an impression through 25 sheets of paper - mom had arms of a coal miner by the time the ordeal was done.

And just imagine the joy of trying to understand the obscure thought of Hegel off the faint smudged type on the 12th copy 'onion skin' bound book in some university library !

But once universities started feeling some real money, all this was out - verboten - left to third world universities - now the efforts of the book publishers of New York were the minimum acceptable for tenure consideration.

Tory taxpayers support this left wing professor hardcover book fetish.

Indeed they do - because they fully share this fetish.

But you don't have to - maybe because you are neither left nor right but rather a frugal earth-loving tree-hugging Green instead...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Martin Henry Dawson (1896-1945) : died much too young , so billions won't

When ten billion of us - so far - have lived longer and healthier lives because of Dr Dawson's agape sacrifice, it would seem that some stone monument to mark his brief time on Earth is neither fully adequate -- or required.