Monday, July 19, 2010

In Wrath remember Mercy

On page 162 of Gladys Hobby's "Penicillin: Meeting the Challenge" (1985) , the most through account to date of the early days of penicillin, she speaks of a daily trip she made to the SBE wards of NYC's Presbyterian Columbia Hospital, between 1940 to 1944.

Holding aloft a flask filled with a musty-smelling slimy mold, she would demonstrate its new growth before each SBE (Subacute Bacterial Endocarditis) patient,intended, as she explains, to keep their courage up as they faced an almost certain imminent death.

And to remind them that their treatment with this early penicillin might save the lives of millions of potential SBE victims after them.

As it has come to do so.

I use the word 'demonstrate' deliberately and in its original, religious, sense.

The word Monstrance (aka monstral or monstre) comes from the same Latin root for 'demonstrate' and was the solar sunburst shaped metal holder for the Blessed Host, as the Body and Blood of the Living Christ was displayed (demonstrated) before the eyes of the Faithful.

Traditionally, a modification of this public rite was preformed in private, before the sick and dying, in the visitation to them with a Blessed Host inside an elaborate variation on the humble pyx, to keep their Faith and courage up in the face of death and pain.

Fair and good, but why was Gladys Hobby, of all people, carrying around and displaying a Monstrance of a circle of emerald green mold surrounding central drops of the purest gold?

Hobby was nothing if not a faithful Presbyterian and the very last Presbyterian to carry about a Monstrance , rather than melt it down for its gold and jewels, was probably Paul of Tarsus !

Green and emerald had a deep significance to the people of the Old and New Testament that almost any visitor to the Middle East can instantly appreciate as they try to escape the 'merciless heat' of the sun.

The rare shady cool green trees were literally merciful and so emerald green was easily given a deep religious significance -  representing one side of the Janus-like Jehovah.

Janus,Jehovah and Jesus.

God was often described via three colorful gemstones: jasper, sardius and emerald.

They meant high grade jasper obviously, because their jaspar was described as clear/transparent and bright and unflawed as crystal - "brighter than a thousand suns" - and represented the awesomeness of God.

But God, Janus-like ,was awesome in two directly opposing ways that yet were successfully combined in one being (a rather Marx-like thesis/antithesis/synthesis!)

Sardius was a fiery flame like red and represented Revelations' "Lake of Fire" - the fierce thirst for justice of the Jehovah of Wrath.

But God also had an equally fierce thirst for mercy - emerald green, soothing mercy, Jesus's color.

Revelations 4.3 has God on His throne on the Day of Judgement, all jasper bright and sardius angry ( cue the thunderbolts) but, thankfully,with a circle rainbow of emerald mercy surrounding him .

Thus fulfilling the key phrase of the book of Habbakuk (Hab 3.2): "In Wrath Remember Mercy".

The Manhattan Pilot did not focus on 1A patients during World War Two, as their government wanted them to.

Instead the tiny team turned 180 degrees away to focus on the lowest of the low - the 4Fs of the 4Fs (the SBEs),  considered nothing but an expensive and futile drain on scarce medical resources in a time of Total War.

So in this Time of Total Wrath, the Dawson team's Agape Science remembered 'the least of these' with a four year long Act of Mercy.

The blue-gray-green penicillium molds (the color changed day by day as they grew) was not the only green color running through the Manhattan Pilot story. Viridans Strep, the SBE killer, is the bacteria that makes unbrushed teeth look green. More accurately, it turns red blood greenish .

SBE wards were often informal known as The Green Rooms, as a result - better than calling them 'the terminal wards' , as many people thought of them back then.

Of course, in any hospital built during the Streamlined or Art Deco era, as Presbyterian Columbia was, all rooms were green - the famous 'hospital green' or 'institutional green', a shade that was literally invented during the Art Deco/Streamlined era and became one of its key characteristics.

This shade of pale green made the rooms and corridors soothingly cool and relaxing, and - it is said - made any blood splattered on them look less alarming.

It is called 'Green Chrome' paint, short for any green paint made from chromium oxide - it was tough and resisted the corrosive effects of various bodily fluids or hospital chemicals. (It also was not a favorite food of bacteria or fungi - so it was easy to maintain as sterile .)

Yellow or gold is often thought of as the color of the penicillin story - but this is only partly true ( pure penicillin is crystal clear and even today, the antibiotic starts off in bright green fungi growths).

In any case ,yellow was also the color of Yellowcake uranium and the Manhattan Project - the evil counterpart to the Manhattan Pilot - and the other big scientific venture coming out of Columbia University between 1940-1945.

More on the yellow connection later.

Right now, anyone of us who has had their life or that of someone in their family saved thanks to penicillin or other antibiotics should simply feel touched by this act of mercy during a horrible,horrible war.

And remember Gladys Hobby, the world's most unlikely Monstrance carrier....

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