Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Life Crowded with Incident

As Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell said disapprovingly, I have recently had “a life crowded with incident,” which is why I have not been posting lately. What with watching political conventions, falling ill, and starting back to church home groups, there has simply not been time to write! I must remedy that.

My lovely, planned four-day weekend over the Labor Day holiday was crippled by a sudden fever. I’d had a vague headache for a couple of days, woke up on Labor Day with a sick stomach, and then the fever came on a few hours later. Of course, as an amateur epidemiologist I was immediately convinced that I had West Nile Virus, and went to Google for confirmation of symptoms. It could fit, but I think I was influenced toward extra drama because I had just finished a book about an epidemic (see my latest book review) and because I’d read a news story about a man in a neighboring town who had died of West Nile Virus last week. It’s possible, although I haven’t hiked through a swamp lately. A mosquito could have chomped on me between the house and the car. Anyhow, I’m much better now.

Before and after my little spell, I stayed up late every night watching both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions. I am a junkie. It has taken its toll, as right now I could sleep for 24 hours straight. Who in the world thought it was a good idea to put the major speeches on at 10:30 at night? As my sister said, don’t they know that Republicans are in bed by 9:00? My husband pointed out that for the people on the west coast, it would be 7:30. I pointed out that I live on the east coast, so I don’t care.

Why, you ask, would I torture myself for six whole nights of unending blather and hot air? It is my civic duty, I tell myself, to be fully informed and to receive information from the source, not recycled through a TV news commentator. I like to pretend that everyone in America does this, and that no one would ever make a critical decision because of a joke they heard on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show.

In case you were unavoidably prevented from exercising your civic duties, I have a quick summary of the major points that you need to know before you vote:

  1. All elected officials of both parties firmly believe that we, the “average Americans,” are awesome.
  2. All elected officials of both parties were born into abject poverty, and yet their parents/grandparents made great sacrifices so that they could speak on this stage today. They all believe that their forebears were also awesome.
  3. All elected officials of both parties are totally in favor of Mom and apple pie—although the Democrats would now prefer low-fat apple pie, followed by exercise. They both earnestly desire for you to know, however, that the opposing party is trying to put apple pickers out of work and has nefarious plans for Mom.

There you go. Now you can make an informed choice.

Church is always part of our schedule, too. Our church is a pretty large church, at least for us. David and I have been in so many church plants that more than 100 people feels like a megachurch. Sovereign Grace has about 500 people on a Sunday morning, and since it’s tough to be all Acts Chapter Two with that big a crowd, everyone belongs to a small group that meets in someone’s home twice a month. We take August off, though, so that everyone (particularly the hosts) can take a breather. Since I am introverted enough to want to slip into a cocoon every night when I get home from work, I’ll admit that there are times that I’d rather stay home than go to home group. Once I’m there, though, it’s warm and caring, and I really found myself missing my home groupers in August! We started back this past Wednesday, and it was so good to see them. This is church. When someone says, “How are you?” they’re not looking for “Fine.” They really want to know. Everyone is completely honest about what’s happening in their lives and in their souls. We try to help one another, and we pray for each other constantly. I know all kinds of things about their kids, their parents, and all of their ailments, and they know the same about me. There is never a hint of gossip, but there is plenty of care. I love going to church on Sunday to sing with a room full of really loud and joyful people (my husband is the loudest) and to listen to a serious and meaty sermon (with laptops and iPads filling with notes all over the room), but Wednesday night home group is like getting together with family. It’s good to be back.

So that’s what’s up with me. I’ve also been reading like mad, happily zipping through Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince and following up with Invincible Microbe. I’m sure there was something else in there, too. Now I’m reading an adult novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is due out in October and is so good that I will certainly write a review soon. Be sure to put it on your “to-read” list!

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Invincible Microbe

I love a good plague story. It’s a macabre part of my personality, I suppose. I was struggling through Connie Willis’ wonderful Doomsday Book, hoping to connect to this novel that came to me highly recommended, and as soon as there was a hint of bubonic plague, I was hooked. I thought the movie Contagion was great. A few years ago, I loved Jim Murphy’s award-winning An American Plague, a brilliant expose of the yellow fever epidemic, and so I looked forward to his new book, co-authored with his wife, Alison Blank, about yet another ailment.

Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure, unlike the stories of bubonic plague or yellow fever, is an ongoing story. Until I read this book, I did not realize that tuberculosis is still such a danger all over the world, including the United States. I remember when my son’s Tine test showed positive when he was little, and the doctor said, “Don’t worry. We have antibiotics these days.” Thank goodness that it turned out that Michael was allergic to the Tine test and showed negative for the bubble-under-the-skin test, because we do not, as a matter of fact, have effective antibiotics for every case of tuberculosis even today.

Murphy starts with the history of tuberculosis, which is found in ancient skeletons. The most interesting part of the history, for a nineteenth-century novel enthusiast like me, is discussing the strange attitude that “consumption” was romantic and spiritual. Murphy gives a list of many poets and artists who had consumption, and how the emaciated, thin-skinned look of tuberculosis patients became fashionable. Healthy women even drank lemon juice and vinegar or ate sand in order to attain that coveted pallor. It reminded me of Calvin Klein’s ad campaign a decade or more ago that promoted the similar look of “heroin chic.” I guess even antibiotics can’t cure that kind of insanity.

I am always amazed and frustrated when I read about how long it took for germ theory to be accepted by the medical community. Imagine how many patients died from being bled, when they would have recovered perfectly if the doctor had left them alone! It makes me wonder what we don’t know today that will seem so obvious in the future. Dr. David Agus, oncologist and author of The End of Illness, has expressed his frustration that germ theory is being used in the research and treatment of cancer, although it does not fit. So we still have a long way to go.

The photographs of the huge sanatoriums filled with patients— and then years later empty and decaying— showed how much money was invested in the treatment of tuberculosis patients. No matter how large they were, there was never enough room for everyone. The regimens of treatment in sanatoriums ranged from common-sense to bizarre, but consumption patients and their families were willing to try anything.

The narrative about the tiny, incremental victories toward the cure of this epidemic is often interrupted by setbacks as the bacteria strengthen and resurface, either in the same patient or on another continent. Our hope is that some young person reading this book will be inspired to continue the fight toward eradicating tuberculosis once and for all.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer or anyone else. I read a library copy of the book.

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