Saturday, April 27, 2013

Commensal thoughts were parents to the Humanitarian penicillin deed ...

Before 1945 and the rise of post-Modernity, it was rare for scientific doubts to turn into humanitarian actions, but Martin Henry Dawson's wartime efforts against the weaponizing of penicillin was an important exception.

From 1926 till 1940 , Dr Dawson had intensely studied how Nature's smallest beings ( the bacteria) managed to survive upon and co-exist with the smartest and most successful of Nature's largest beings (Man) .

His fourteen years of intense research in Commensality was dismissed by most of his colleagues as a sad mis-directed use of his considerable talents.

As with his colleagues, no one today really doubts that humanity is  a large being and very intelligent( ie is wise as well as mighty) while most of us still regard bacteria as barely living, incredibly small, blobs of jelly : as dumb as they are weak.

But as Dawson discovered, as fast as Man's sophisticated internal immune system and his equally sophisticated external medical system came up with ways to remove these commensal bacteria, the bacteria equally found ways to claw their way back.

Just as he knew that any forthright and honest look at the current and past workings of Nature would show that the tiny and the big are co-existing today and have been doing so for a very long time -----with no sign at all that the small were on their way out.

If anything, the fossil record showed how vulnerable the big could be to mass extinction in times of trouble.

Despite this rather bleak record for the bigger beings of  Nature, it was precisely to Nature ( rather than to the traditional arbiter, God) that Dawson's Era of Modernity appealed to.

All to back its central claim that 'only the strong survive', 'might is right' , 'law of the jungle', 'survival of the fit', 'Nature is on the side of the bigger battalions' and many other similar phrases.

Dawson was a dutiful fully paid-up member of Modernity.

But the more he investigated the many varied and ingenious ways his oral commensal strep bacteria hung in against Man's best efforts, the less willing he was to endure this constant claim of Nature's support for the self-centred and ruthless actions of the world's biggest human societies.

Once, (younger, unmarried, childless and without any old war wounds), he had been able to show his support for the smaller human societies by enlisting in WWI to fight for poor, pitiful Belgium and for the memory of Edith Carvell.

Now in October 1940, as an even more squalid WWII slid into its second year, he still hadn't found an equivalent way to do something in support of the small and the weak in this war.

Then echoes of the Nazi war on the weak reached his own American medical school and gave him the emotional opening he needed.

Suddenly "Social" medicine (the 1930s efforts to reduce sickness among the poorest and most vulnerable) , something he had much a part of through his advocacy on behalf of the neglected chronically ill poor, was to be downplayed in the school's curriculum.

Instead now all possible attention was to be directed to teaching "War" medicine and maximizing the health of America's most fit young men.

So the majority of his colleagues cheerfully clumped off , on the first day of America's first ever peacetime draft registration, (October 16th 1940), to help with medical examinations.

But while America's doctors attended to seeking out the most 1A men possible among America's youth, Dawson heard the beat of a different drummer.

He instead deliberately sought out the 4Fs of the 4Fs, young men dying of SBE (subacute bacterial endocarditis), an invariably fatal progressive disease that mostly afflicted the poor, immigrants and minorities.

His team hadn't planned to start their first clinical trials till next year, 1941, but he changed all that with one sudden decision.

He chose to make Draft Day, October 16th 1940, the first day of his new Age of Humanitarian Antibiotics, picking that day to give History's first ever shots of penicillin.

 Two young men (black man Aaron Alston and a young Jewish boy named Charles Aronson) couldn't be part of that historical first day of peacetime draft registration because, as clearly terminal patients, it didn't seem worth the bother of the draft officials.

 But as the first ever patients of the Age of Antibiotics, they still ended up living on forever in the memory of anyone ever saved by this overdue (humanitarian-driven) advent of antibiotics....

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