Introduction to the historical archive-

Each issue of Hospital Drive features an online exhibit of the Historical Archive of the University of Virginia Health Science Library.  Follow this link to “Every Breath You Take—Tuberculosis Treatments.”

If illness functions as metaphor, tuberculosis [TB], has been an overused metaphor.  Poets and mystics in 19th century novels died of TB.  In the 21st century homeless people and AIDS patients die of TB.  All over the world the poorest of the poor die of TB.  Prisoners die of TB.  All healthcare workers remain at risk.  Later today I have to go for my annual TB skin test.  Each year I also need to be “refitted” for the respiratory mask that, if properly worn, would keep TB or Avian flu out of my airways.  Before Pasteur, before we understood the contagious nature of the common fatal diseases, we knew that air was dangerous, especially the crowded air of tenements, barracks, dorms, ships, prisons, homes.  If your mother or brother had TB, so might you, like the poet, and physician of sorts, John Keats.  Treatment involved relocation to a safer climate.  We’ve known this since Galen, almost 20000 years ago.  The 19th century TB sanatorium relied on fresh air, often cold mountain air, to slow down the disease enough to allow the immune system to control the infection.  Not all fresh air is the same, but as “Every Breath You Take” explains, the air up there in the Blue Ridge Mountains (I can see these mountains when looking out the window from a patient’s hospital room) is particularly fresh.

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