Tuesday, August 25, 2009

VEGEMITE also had its hour ; one far fierce hour and sweet

Yellow Snow Bad; Yellow Uisce Beatha Good

It is no secret that Irishmen like their drink, even ( or perhaps, particularly) in wartime.

For a real Irishman likes nothing better than defying straitlaced authorites who think sugar and alcohol has higher uses in wartime than to just use in beverages - such as using them to make more and stronger explosive materials.

So in November 1943, it probably won't seem that unusual to see a feisty Irish-Australian named Jim Duhig sprinkle some yeast-like material over a vat of water and molasses and put it in a cool dark place for ten days.

We say yeast-like because yeast extract was unavailable in wartime Brisbane (Queensland) Australia.

Jim did what any quick thinking Aussie would do - he reached for that all purpose substitute, Vegemite in .3% solution, because after all, he did come from the land down under, where beer flows and strong men chunder.

Also not unusual was his decision to strain the resulting golden colored liquid at the bottom of the vat through a piece of cheesecloth and put it into bottles.

But what he did next might surprise you : he drew some of that golden liquor out in a big needle and stuck it - again and again - into a dying woman.

He saved her life with this golden uisce beatha and saved four other dying patients' lives with it as well, in addition to successfully treating another two dozen less severe infections with his brew.

Duhig's technique, as crude as it seems, is about as high tech as antibiotic science & industry ever has to get, if its only interest is in saving lives.

But it isn't and Jim Duhig's heroic actions came 15 years after Penicillin's initial discovery.

Millions would have lived ( longer - for we all must die at some time) if Alexander Fleming had felt in 1928 as Dr Duhig felt in 1943.

But he didn't and neither would have Dr Duhig in 1928.

It took someone else, someone far bolder than Fleming or Dunhig or Florey, to kickstart the radical-at-the-time idea that injecting natural penicillin into a patient's bloodstream was the best possible treatment of most life-threatening systemic bacterial infections.

That bold idea was first enacted upon on a tiny island, not far off the American coast, a few years earlier.....

Jim Duhig was indeed very Irish - his uncle was the archbishop of Queensland - but in real life he didn't brew liquor - or even drink - he was the head of a prohibitionist society.

But he did brew penicillin---- rather than see some patients die needlessly while waiting for Big Pharma to get its act together to do in decades what Jim had done in weeks !

Life is much stranger than fiction.

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