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“Born like this / Into this”

Tuberculosis, justice, and futuristic dinosaurs

By Leigh E. Rich

I was born of disease.

Not in the same circumstances as too many still today and so many others in the past, but my existence—or at least key narratives from life courses entwined with my existence—are rooted in disease. Had it not been for the “Spanish flu,” I would cease to exist. For it was the death of my paternal grandfather’s first wife during the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic that left him a widower, with three young children to raise. Out of this tragedy came marriage to my grandmother and ten more children, my father eighth in that line, eleventh in the blended family overall.1 And had it not been for tuberculosis, my grandparents never would have met. For it was my great-grandfather’s affliction with TB that brought this small immigrant family of three—him, my great-grandmother, and my barely born grandmother—from New York to Denver. They came West, into the dry, thin High Plains air of Colorado, where the sun reputedly shines three-quarters of the year (Colorado Climate Center 2010) and the climate was a prescriptive for what was then called “consumption” and those ill with it “lungers” (Lewis 2015).

Perhaps this health history somehow found its way, Lamarckian-style, into my being. For I am otherwise not sure from where my lifelong interest in medicine and the health sciences springs. I didn’t grow up in a household of healthcare workers. My parents, before I knew them, were both schoolteachers, and all of my life they owned and operated a local furniture manufacturing company.2 There were no aunts or uncles as doctors or nurses, no family friends in the business of sickness and health or the production of well-being. Yet, since I was small, all I wanted to do was read about medicine. True, these early books consisted mostly of those by Michael Crichton and Robin Cook (which also might explain my ongoing interest in the rise and persistence of the detective narrative). And while these novels weren’t the bastions of great philosophical or medical depth (although authored by scientists/modern medicine men), they hooked me into seeking more, and soon I was reading non-fiction about the rise of hospitals, evolutionary theory, the pharmaceutical industry, the history of science and technology. Anything related to medicine. And the politics of health. And morbidity and mortality. [continued …]

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Rich, Leigh E. 2016. “Born like this / Into this”: Tuberculosis, justice, and futuristic dinosaurs. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 13(1): 1–5.

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