Thursday, February 5, 2015

Birthing Antibiotics & The Little Red Lighthouse --- their true life unlikely connection in space, time and intent

Antibiotics :

(1) A class of lifesaving drugs  (2) more powerful than anything yet invented by advanced Big Science, made by tiny and primitive microorganisms.

So what on earth is their connection to a beloved children's picture book ???!!!

Let's take that definition apart , separating part 1 from part 2:

Antibiotics needn't be used only as lifesavers, but to the general public it is their use as lifesavers, working when nothing else modern medicine could do to save a life, that so rouses our admiration and wonder.

So, for example, Penicillin can be used - relatively ineffectively - as an external antiseptic.

It was used almost exclusively, for its first twelve wasted years, by Alexander Fleming as a minor laboratory clearing agent in certain throat swab tests.

Lifesaver ('Systemic') : drugs taken internally and spread systemically throughout the entire body

To be a lifesaver, almost all drugs must be taken internally (by pill or needle) and thus distributed throughout the entire body (including the surface skin, from blood vessels below the skin's surface.)

This is because for an infection to kill us, it usually must be in blood stream and spreading to different parts of the body than where it first started.

Because - often - infections can been successfully combated by the body's defences alone, if confined to only one initial spot.

Infections usually kill not by direct action in any one spot, but by overwhelming our defences on multiple fronts : creating too many infectious sites, all happening at once, for even a healthy body - by itself - to stop.

So the antibiotic penicillin first became the ANTIBIOTIC PENICILLIN on October 16th 1940, when it stopped being dabbed on the skin and was first injected, ie used as a systemic, into two patients in at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre in New York City.

Now here is where the beloved classic children's illustrated storybook , The Little Red Lighthouse, comes in - unexpectedly - into the story of Antibiotics.

Two classic 'come from behind underdog stories' of the little guys besting the big guys came from this same site :

Little Red Lighthouse, George Washington Bridge, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre

The doctor who first used penicillin as an antibiotic , Martin Henry Dawson (1896-1945) and the woman who wrote the story of the Little Red Lighthouse , Hildegarde Hoyt Swift (1890-1977) both did so, at about the same time and for much the same reasons.

WWII was a six years long miserable period in history when Big Science invented Big Weapons manufactured by Big Corporations for Big Armed Forces, under orders from the Big Governments of the Big Powers - to use mostly on the lands of the little powers and the little people.

People left like minor cogs in Big Machines - they felt like they were being treated like children.

Children feel that way all the time .

Which is why stories like Hildegarde Swift's 1942 story about the Little Red Lighthouse besting the brand new 'Great Gray Bridge' and its big lights were always popular about the young ones.

(The little red lighthouse still exists, lying just below the real life George Washington Bridge completed in 1931 and just in front of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre.)

The brand new George Washington Bridge's big lights were indeed much brighter than those of the little red lighthouse, but they were also very high above the water and in a fog couldn't be seen by ships as well as the little red lighthouse's light down at sea level.)

Swift, during the darkest days of the war, also wanted to reassure children that 'might wasn't always right' and that the horrible events in Europe (with small nation after small nation being quickly swallowed up by Germany between 1939 and 1941) won't go unaddressed.

Adults read the story to their children but probably didn't absorb its subtle wartime message.

Naturally made penicillin : 'The Little Fungus That Could'

But Dawson suspected - correctly - that war-weary adults might absorb and enjoy the story of how a medicine made naturally by the humble - primitive - little - basement slime fungus was besting the finest medicine made by Big Science in Big Factories.

He hoped his new medicine would save lives but above and beyond that, he hoped it would send a subtle message to the powers to be and their true masters - the public.

Yes, early penicillin did save lives when nothing before it could.

 But don't underestimate slime-made penicillin's appeal, as a classic 'come from behind' story , to a war-weary public simply tired of being pushed around and tired of six years of seeing all the innings going to the big guys....

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