Monday, November 20, 2017

"Just and True"

"But see, think, judge; do as the Lord our healer Shall direct you."

            Bright red flags went up over more and more front doors of Boston homes in 1721. Some had the words "God have mercy on this house" emblazoned on them. Smallpox had returned. The flags meant: "Quarantine. Do Not Enter."
            The plague had struck this thriving city of more than 10,000 colonists years earlier. Remembering its horrors, more than 1,000 people fled to the countryside. "This grievous Calamity of the Small-Pox has now entered the Town," wrote the prominent minister Cotton Mather (shown below). He called the disease "the destroying Angel." Smallpox typically killed half of all the children and old people who contracted it and about 15 percent of all other sufferers.
            Mather had a rare knowledge of smallpox. Five years earlier when a journal published one of his essays, he chanced up an article in the same issue describing the strange Turkish practice of "Inoculation" against the disease. The report said that when liquid from the pox (or material from their resulting scabs) was placed under the skin of those who had not had the disease, a great number of the resulting cases were less severe than if the disease had been contracted naturally.

“be WARILY proceeded in”

            Mather had evidence of this in his own home. Years before he had bought a slave and named him Onesimus which means "Beneficial." How fitting it was, for Onesimus told Mather that he had been inoculated and showed him the procedure's scar.
            He did further research and learned that this strange ritual was performed among the "heathens" and "'primitives" not only in Africa but also in Asia and Russia. Mather then wrote a leading Boston physician. "How many Lives might be saved by it, if it were practiced?" he asked and recommended that it "be WARILY proceeded in."
            When the letter was forwarded to other doctors, none showed an interest—except the surgeon Zabdiel Boylston. Perhaps the others were wary of being associated with Mather. He had been a leading figure in the Salem Witch Trials, and his efforts had led to 20 executions.
            Boylston was controversial, too. He had recently performed the first mastectomy in America, cutting off a woman's cancerous breast. Other doctors were appalling, saying that it was impossible to cure the disease that way. He had also removed bladder stones from children, a practice associated with quacks.

            He clearly didn't care what others thought. He charged more than other physicians and had no qualms about suing patients who failed to pay. He also had the weird habit of changing his clothes and bathing after visiting patients. Perhaps worse, he had not studied at Harvard.

“Ravings and Deliriums”

            Boylston knew first-hand what smallpox could do. He was a smallpox survivor. His case had been horrendous and had left him with a ravaged pockmarked face.
            Here is how he described the symptoms of smallpox in the worst cases: "Purple spots, the bloody and parchment Pox, Hemorahages of Blood at the Mouth, Nose, Fundament, and Privities; Ravings and Deliriums; Convulsions, and other Fits; violent inflammations and Swellings in the Eyes and Throat; so that they cannot see, or scarcely breathe, or swallow anything, to keep them from starving. Some looking as black as the Stock, others as white as a Sheet; in some, the Pock runs into Blisters, and the Skin stripping off, leaves the Flesh raw….Some have been fill'd with loathsome Ulcers; others have had deep, and fistulous Ulcers in their Bodies, or in their Limbs or Joints, with Rottenness of the Ligaments and Bones: Some who live are Cripples, others Idiots, and many blind all their Days."
            He had another reason for wanting to pursue inoculation. None of his six children had had the disease. He decided to perform the procedure on his adult slave Jack, the slave's son, and Thomas, his six-year-old son. He could not expect Bostonians to submit to the procedure unless at least one of his family members had undergone it. As for his slaves—they were, in the thinking of the day, his valuable property, and he did not want to lose them.
            Mather implored Boylston to proceed, writing him, "See, think, judge; do as the Lord our healer Shall direct you."
            Thomas and the other child developed fevers and twitchings lasting more than a week before the children regained full health, while Jack barely became ill.
            When Bostonians learned what Boylston had done, "the immediate reaction was shock," one historian wrote. He published a statement saying he was on solid medical ground because the accounts from far-away lands were "just and true" and his three patients had survived without lasting ill effects.

“Infusing…Malignant Filth”

            Boston's leading citizens convened a hearing. Boylston suffered through its verbal abuse. Its report declared that he was "infusing…malignant Filth" in patients and that what he was doing was well known to have "prov'd the Death of many Persons." Two days later Boylston was inoculating others.
            Someone hurled a firebomb into his home, according to one account. It failed to explode. Another person wanted to embarrass Boylston by secretly spreading tar on his saddle. The dirty deed failed when the vandal accidentally put the tar on another man's saddle and "spoil'd his Breeches."
            Over time, Boylston inoculated 280 people. Only six died or 2.4 percent, far lower than the usual fatality rate. Acclaim followed. Boylston wrote the book "An Historical Account of the Small-Pox Inoculated in New England." He offered a 15-step guide to performing inoculations, described each of his cases, and made conclusions based on a statistical analysis (at a time when the word 'statistics' did not exist). He even proposed that tiny, unseen creatures caused the disease by entering its victims via skin contact, respiration, or through contaminated food or water.
            Sometimes it's courageous to get under people's skin, but it helps if you are a medical professional.

MORAL: Your mother was right—
Wash your hands.

* If you like this blog, shop at Amazon via my portal above *

'Til Death

All my present happiness is more for what is to come.”

Spanish composer Enrique Granados missed the boat. His greatest success forced him to rebook his passage across the Atlantic, and his shining moment cost him his life and that of his wife, yet they both died heroes, each trying to save the other's life.
            He won fame in his homeland in the late 1890s with his first opera Maria Del Carmen. His piano compositions were regarded as among the world’s best. An English critic called them “the finest piano music of the day.”
International acclaim came in 1911 with his Goyescas, a suite for piano consisting of six compositions based on the paintings of fellow Spaniard Francisco Goya. The Paris Opera then commissioned him to write an opera based on the suite. It was to have premiered in 1914; however, the rampaging First World War forced the cancellation of the performances.
            There was, nonetheless, good news. New York’s Metropolitan Opera told Granados it wanted to stage his new opera, fixing it on its calendar for late January 1916. Granados was left with decidedly mixed feelings. He and his wife Amparo were honored that his work would be performed in New York City, and they sailed across the Atlantic to attend the opening. Yet Granados was also apprehensive. He had a morbid fear of dying a watery death and often had nightmares on that theme.

"I am only now beginning..." 

The financial successes he achieved in America delighted him. The Met handsomely paid him, and he was well compensated for piano-roll recordings and private recitals in New York. In a review of one of his solo performances, The New York Times' music critic wrote, “Mr. Granados.…played with brilliance and power: there were also the languor, the smoldering fire, the tenderness and passion which belong in this music, by which it is marked with Spanish character.”
Until this time, Granados, 50, had been a struggling artist. Now he was out of debt. His financial future looked promising.
            I am only now beginning my work,” he wrote a friend from Manhattan. "I am full of conīŦdence and enthusiasm about working more and more….I am a survivor of fruitless struggle [due] to the ignorance and indifference [in my] country. All my present happiness is more for what is to come than for what I have done up to now.”
New York critics gave his new opera mixed reviews, yet word of its performance reached the White House. Out of the blue, Granados received an invitation to perform a private recital for President Wilson who had said that music was “a national need” in time of war. His daughter was a semi-professional singer and may have arranged the invitation.
            The resulting delay meant that Enrique and Amparo missed the embarkation of a Spanish ocean liner bound for Spain. Instead, they booked passage to England on the Dutch liner Rotterdam. They night before they embarked, terror gripped Granados. “Never again will I see my children,” he wept to a friend on the telephone. “This is the end.”

Yet a week later the Rotterdam arrived safely in England. From there they boarded the French ferry S.S. Sussex which also served as a mail boat. At one p.m. on March 24, 1916, the Sussex  left Dover for the four-hour trip across the English Channel to Calais. Onboard were 378 passengers and crew. German U-Boats had orders to conduct “unrestricted submarine warfare” on any target. The ferry had no military escort. No U-Boat had ever attacked a cross-Channel ferry.

A lovely day

                It was a lovely day. The sky was clear, the sea calm. Two hours into the voyage,
Granados was seen playing the piano in the ferry’s smoking room, according to an eyewitness. It's said he may have even been improvising something.
                At least one passenger saw a periscope jutting out of the waves. The captain of the Sussex spotted a torpedo, and he ordered his ship hard to starboard. Had he seen it a few seconds earlier, his ship's evasive action would have caused the torpedo to whiz by harmlessly. Instead, it hit near the bow, exploding with devastating force.
“A moment of silence, then Hell let loose,” wrote an American survivor.
Terrified passengers leapt into the water, whether or not they were wearing life jackets. Because the U-Boat threat was not taken seriously, the ferry did not have enough vests onboard. Many it did have were so old they were rotten and fell apart
“The scenes around us were harrowing,” the survivor wrote. “The water was full of men and women, swimming, sinking, drowning, clinging to spars, boards, and other bits of wreckage, crying out in the agony of the last hold on life.”
In the panic and confusion, the Sussex’s radio operator sent out the wrong location for his ship, causing French destroyers to search 20 miles away. The first rescue vessel did not reach the Sussex until midnight, nine hours after the attack.

In a bizarre twist, the Sussex broke in half. The forward part of the ship sank, while the stern remained afloat and was later towed to shore. As a result, somewhere between only 50 and 100 passengers and crew died. The Granados’ cabin was in the stern. Had they been there at the time of the attack, they might have survived.
The captain begged passengers not to abandon ship. A friend of Enrique and Amparo also implored them not to go into the water. Both husband and wife considered their chances and leapt into the sea.
Passengers still onboard the Sussex watched in horror as Enrique became separated from Amparo, who was a better swimmer. Accounts differ. Some eyewitnesses saw Amparo struggling to keep Enrique afloat. Other saw both floating on a raft in the frigid water. Amparo slipped over the side. Seeing her fighting to keep her head above the water, Enrique jumped in to rescue her, and both went under the waves, leaving their six children orphans
In Europe and America, musical organizations held fund-raising concerts to benefit the children. In May 1916 at a benefit at the Met, pianist Ignace Paderewski performed Chopin’s ‘Funeral March.’ The audience stood in silence. All lights in the theatre were extinguished, except a lone candle on his piano.

MORAL: To have and to hold.

* If you like this blog, shop at Amazon via my portal above *

To see my paintings, visit

The Babe's Battle

"You just can't beat the person who never gives up."

            Everything about him was big. His whole life was big, and in September 1946 the pain in his head was big. The agony behind his left eye wouldn't go away. The whole left side of his face was swollen. His left eye had clamped shut. His whole head ached, and he was hoarse and couldn't swallow.
            At first, the doctors thought it was merely a sinus infection. Then they guessed some of his teeth had gone bad, so they pulled three. Then came the diagnosis—a rare cancer in the back of his nose and throat—nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Only about 1,000 Americans are diagnosed with it every year.
            Babe Ruth would be dead 21 months later.
            He fought hard, just the way he'd battled to win all through his life. He was one of the first patients in the world to receive experimental chemotherapy. Some researchers think he was the first patient with his type of cancer to be given both chemotherapy and radiation.

A Tough Old Ox

            Maybe he was in the right place at the right time. Maybe the doctors thought he was such a tough old ox that he would thrive in the face of unknown treatments.
            He asked no questions about what his doctors were doing. He knew that the daily injections of teroptin might help him or that they might make his condition much worse. He had been told the drug had rarely been given to humans before. (It is related to methotrexate which today is used to treat cancer.)
            ''I realized that if anything was learned about that type of treatment, whether good or bad, it would be of use in the future to the medical profession and maybe to a lot of people with my same trouble,'' Ruth wrote in his autobiography.
            To say that Ruth was tough would be the understatement to end all understatements. Casual baseball fans and experts agree he was the best who's ever played the game, and you don't win that sort of universal acclaim unless your hard-won achievements prove it ten times over.

An Olympian Record

            When he started in the major leagues in 1914, the home run record was 27. He hit 27 in 1919. The next year he slammed an amazing 54. His all-time high of 60 came in 1927, and he closed his career with 714 dingers, an olympian record that stood for 47 years.
            Want more? He led the league in homers 12 times. He played on seven world championship teams.
            What's more, before he was the king of sluggers, he was one of the best pitchers ever. He is lifetime ERA (Earned Run Average) of 2.28 over 1,221 innings ranks him as the third best pitcher ever in major league baseball.
            He loved everything about life from hot dogs and women to fast cars and fancy clothes. Most of all, he loved kids. In the 1926 World Series, he even performed something close to a miracle for a seriously ill boy named Johnny Sylvester. On his death bed (or what the press said were his final house), Johnny asked his father if he could have a ball autographed by Babe Ruth. The press got the story, and the Babe said he could do better than that—he would hit a home run for Johnny. And Babe Ruth being Babe Ruth, he hit three home runs in that game. Johnny Sylvester lived until 1990.

“A Rotten Start”

            What explains the Babe's affection for children? When he was seven, his father took him by the hand to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. It was an orphanage. Ruth would spend the next 12 years there. He was on its books as "incorrigible." He didn't have an easy time of it, at least at first—the other children taunted him, calling him "nigger lips" because of his dark complexion.

            No one knows why he was sent there. His father was a saloon keeper. Maybe the police told his father his joint was just too rough to have a child around. On the other hand, Ruth told reporters no one could make him go to school and that he had learned how to hold a beer mug before most kids could hold pencils.
            "I hardly knew my parents," he wrote in his autobiography. "I had a rotten start, and it took me a long time to get my bearings." Rarely did his parents visit him. "I guess I am too big and ugly for anyone to come to see me. Maybe next time," one of the other boys remembered him saying.
            Ruth may have started out rotten, but he ripened into one of the world's greatest athletes and most beloved celebrities. His appetite for life was insatiable. "I swing big with everything I've got," he said. "I hit big, or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can."

MORAL: If you play for one run, that's all you get.

* If you like this blog, shop at Amazon via my portal above *

"Just and True"

"But see, think, judge; do as the Lord our healer Shall direct you."             Bright red flags went up over more and mo...