Two of my stories took place during the Victorian/Edwardian era (1865–1914). It was a time of political unrest in Europe with anarchists stirring the pot with assassinations. Some countries’ leaders wanted war to expand their powers. Reading about that era in Barbara Tuchman’s “The Proud Tower” made me think that if war had broken out before 1890 it might have been much less gruesome than the First World War turned out to be.
As it happened, however, a peace movement grew in strength because people were excited, content and complacent. Technology was making life better. The new amenities were exciting. New inventions made everyday life easier and more comfortable; and new discoveries made living safer and therefore less stressful.
The new inventions that made life easier included washing machines that eliminated hours of rub and scrub washboard blues. Telegraphs and telephones provided easier communications for business and also provided medical, social, and safety support. Typewriters were a boon to business and raised employment numbers. Phonographs brought recorded music into the home to soothe and entertain. Running water and sanitation curtailed diseases. Lighted streets brought safety. Lawn mowers were invented promoting relaxing lawn games. The combustion engine replaced the steam engine and boosted the oil industry. Developments in antiseptics and medical breakthroughs saved countless lives. And the horseless carriage made amazing changes to transport.
In fact, invention rates were at the highest point in history during the 1890’s. As a result, the population in Europe increased by one hundred million, while in the United States the population doubled.
Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, Wilhelm Roentgen, William Jenner, Ernest Rutherford, and Marie Curie were some of the medical heroes of this period. Children of our present time have to know these remarkable people. The stories I have written about these heroes could easily enrich the teaching of social studies in the classrooms of the middle grades.
How could I not write about these extraordinary people and their amazing fortitude in pursuing goals that saved so many lives?
Joseph Lister, the physician who discovered the means to create antiseptic surgery, must have been of strong character and controlled emotions to have withstood the ridicule and rejection from his colleagues.
His idea of contagion was not new; three other physicians had already realized that deaths from puerperal fever (known as child bed fever) were caused by contagious infection. But they did not follow through.
In 1795, Alexander Gordon, a physician, left the navy to set up general practice. He published a paper saying that puerperal fever was spread by doctors and nurses. Outrage was so overwhelming Gordon abandoned his private practice and returned to the navy.
Ignaz Semmelweiss headed the obstetric department in a large hospital in Vienna. It was a teaching hospital with a policy of doing autopsies after every death. By observation Semmelweiss recognized the contagious spread of infection from autopsy to maternity wards. His outrage and accusations did nothing to convince doctors of his convictions. He did not follow thru with tests for proof and did not publish for years. His book then was a mass of statistics that bored rather than convinced. He lost his emotional stability and went into an insane asylum where he died.
Oliver Wendall Holmes, a young physician and writer, was also convinced of contagion in child bed fever. He published an article in accepted journals but was derided by his superiors. He continued to maintain his position but did not prove it with testing.
Staunchly supported by his wife Agnes, Lister was able to test and prove and publish his findings and so deserves the title of the Father of Antiseptic Surgery.
In spite of knowledge as old as four thousand years people still resist washing their hands.
Finally the 2008 was declared the International Year of Sanitation and Global Handwashing Day was launched. It is now observed annually on October 15th.
It has been shown that washing hands routinely after sneezing or wiping the nose, before and after eating, and after using the toilet could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical discovery. Yet in 2009, surveys showed that some medical staff were still not washing their hands enough so campaigns circulated in hospitals along with alcohol-based sanitizers which were placed around conveniently to encourage use.
I can imagine the frown on Joseph Lister’s face if he could witness such lack of respect for his effort to prove that antiseptic surgery was a necessary practice without exception.
Why are we all chasing excitement? It is so temporary. And yet we want our children to get excited about anything. So they are exposed to inner-earth people flying on giant birds, battling monsters… at least that’s what the ad promotes. Or young people taking to the woods to murder each other. I’m told Grade 3 children are reading Hunger Games. That’s not excitement, that’s horror!
So it has become the trend to promote fantasy and violence. In real life, fantasy is in the mind and violence is abhorred. At least people still react with horror to it.
Children of today begin life innocently. They are not looking for monsters. They’re not inviting violence. Why do authors think those ingredients are required in order to sell books?
All I see are anti-heroes. Where are stories about real heroes? Where are there plots about people who strive to accomplish something to benefit humanity? Where are there stories about love for family and kindness and understanding for those in need? Where is humour?
Stories about real heroes like Marie Curie, who put her research to cure cancer on hold in order to save lives in World War I; or Hippocrates, who taught the ethics of medical practice and became known as the “Father of Medicine”; or Joseph Lister, who taught the medical community about the concept of antiseptic surgery; these are real heroes, and children love to hear about them and are inspired by their work.
I know, because I’ve been reading stories about these real heroes to children in their classrooms and they love them!