Thursday, January 7, 2010

In Praise of Antibiotics

Thank heaven for antibiotics! After suffering through my post-Christmas cold and thinking that I had finally rejoined the living, I was hit with a secondary infection that really walloped me. I am so grateful for those little two-tone pills.

I have always had a reverence for antibiotics. My mother instilled it in me as a child. Before I was born, she lost a child to pneumonia just before his first birthday because the newly-discovered ‘wonder drugs’ hadn’t yet made their way from the East Coast to provincial New Mexico.

I have a shadowbox hanging in the hall. In it is the blanket my grandmother made for this grandbaby of hers out of material from flour sacks. She gathered wool that had stuck on barbed wire fences at my uncle’s angora goat ranch and carded it for the quilt batt. Up in the corner of the shadowbox, above the picture of this brother, is a little soft-leather, high-button shoe. Bemis, the operator of the village store, gave the shoes to my mother. They were in the inventory when he bought the store, probably left over from the turn of the century.

I wrote about my brother’s death in my book, Counting the Cost:

In the early part of the twentieth century, an up-and-coming German woolen manufacturer was looking for a mordant that would bind dyes more tightly to wool. His company experimented successfully with a chemical that bore the formidable name p-aminobenzenesulfonamide. Apparently, it caused pigments in the dye to adhere to the protein in the wool.

No one remembers just how it happened, but the parent substance, sulfanilamide, came to the notice of scientists researching infectious diseases. It looked promising, and laboratories in England and the United States took up the work.

By 1936, it was known that a group of sulfonamides had a profound effect in the treatment of many deadly diseases. Known as wonder drugs, they were used successfully against scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, meningitis, gonorrhea, and pneumonia. Doctors at the hospital of the Rockefeller Institute in New York City published accounts of a dramatic drop in the mortality rate when these drugs were used.

Dr. Colbin, the aged general practitioner who cared for the poor of Sierra County, subscribed to medical journals and read them faithfully. Two months before the evening that Jimmy Swank came looking for him, he found out about sulfapyridine and its effectiveness in treating pneumococcic pneumonia.

But, knowing a drug exists and having it in your medical bag are two different things. There was no sulfapyridine available in New Mexico, no dramatic drop in the mortality rate in Sierra County, no wonder drug to save Little Emory as he burned with fever and struggled for breath.

He died in the evening of January 6, a week before his first birthday. It was so sudden. Monday he had a runny nose. Tuesday he developed a cough and a fever. Wednesday night he was dead.

My mother told me once that that was how quick it was. She had bought a little wagon in anticipation of his first birthday and kept it hidden under the bed. When she went somewhere and left my father to baby-sit, Dad got out the wagon and let the baby play with it all evening. She was mad that Dad had spoiled the surprise, that is, until the birthday came and the baby was gone.

So, thanks be to God for antibiotics. I know there are people who don’t realize we haven’t always had them, but I’m not one of them. I just had a refresher course in gratitude.
Follow this blog! I'm going to post about setting goals next time, and I've also got my world famous pancake recipe in the queue. And, I haven't forgotten that I've promised Navajo Tacos and a how-to on flour tortillas. I have to have the mood strike me to make tortillas, though. When it does, I'll be sure to take pictures and write down the recipe. I'm a 'little of this, little of that' cook. It really hampers me when I have to write down a recipe. But, I'll do it for you, dear readers!


Monique said...

I'm not old enough to remember a time before antibiotics but I am still grateful for them. I suffered from Strep throat and ear infections as a child not to mention pink eye and every other malady that comes along living with two parents that smoked like trains. I doubt I would have survived childhood without them. I haven't needed them much since moving away from the smokers but there have been a few times my children have needed them and I am always amazed at how wonderful they are. I too was sick early in my last pregnancy and was put on antibiotics. Wow is all I can say. I felt like I was knocking on deaths door and 24 hours after my first pill I was like a new woman! Thank you Lord for antibiotics!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I agree. Thank heavens for antibiotics! They've saved me many times. Suffering from a cold right now. Hope I'm spared what you went through, but it's good to know there's help in those wonderful, healing pills.

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