Monday, April 1, 2013


The nurse is tall and Teutonic, blonde with a head-circling braid remindful of Heidi in the Alps. I fear she might burst into song. She is in her early 30s, a single mother, and she comes from a center that specialized in pediatric urology. Today she is wearing a face mask and struggling into latex gloves that will almost reach her elbows. I ask her why this change in attire. In the past, she has administered the weekly chemo treatment without such accoutrement. “Tuberculosis,” she says, snapping her gloves on. “I’ve got a kid. I can’t afford to take chances.”

She injects about 20 cubic centimeters of BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin), a liquid containing a TB culture. It burns and stings and I catch my breath. BCG is a vaccine invented in France and used against tuberculosis. This is my second session and four more, one a week, are scheduled.

Hmm, tuberculosis… No one knows exactly why the treatment works on bladder cancer. The belief is that somehow the TB cells irritate the bladder, thereby producing an autoimmune reaction that adversely affects the invading cells.  Personally, I believe the TB and cancer cells simply don’t like each other much and the former will try to destroy the latter, and vice versa, sort of like warring factions in an African country. We’re not sure why they’re fighting, but there’s a high body count. The BCG treatment worked for me one time some eight months ago, and for a short while my cancer vanished. Three months later it was back again…

Tuberculosis itself is an interesting disease with a history. According to the National Institute of Health, “Evidence of tubercular decay has been found in the spines of Egyptian mummies thousands of years old, and TB was common both in ancient Greece and Imperial Rome. Since that time, scientific advances, including the discovery of the tuberculosis mycobacterium and the development of new drugs and the Bacille Calmette-GuĂ©rin vaccine, caused TB to lessen its grip on mankind during some periods of history. However, TB never completely let go. Today, TB remains one of the leading infectious disease killers around the world. Emerging drug-resistant strains of the disease are presenting a new challenge in the ever-changing battle to control and prevent TB.” And, says the World Health Sciences website,

  Someone in the world is infected with TB every second.

  One third of the world’s population is currently infected with TB.

  5-10% of people who are infected with TB (but who are not infected with HIV) become sick or infectious at some time in their life.
Ain’t that just peachy.

On the positive side, a lot of famous people have suffered and/or died of TB, including all three Bronte sisters.  A brief list of sufferers would also include:

Frederic Bartholdi, French sculptor
Alexander Graham Bell, Scottish inventor
Sarah Bernhardt, French actress
Luigi Boccherini, Italian composer
Simon Bolivar, Venezuelan revolutionary
Louis Braille, French inventor
Anne Bronte, English novelist
Charlotte Bronte, English novelist
Emily Bronte, English novelist
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, English poet
Robert Burns, Scottish poet
John C. Calhoun, American politician
John Calvin, French theologian
Albert Camus, French author
Anders Celsius, Swedish astronomer
Charles IX, French monarch
Anton Chekhov, Russian author
Frederic Chopin, Polish composer
Stephen Crane, American author
Eugene Delacroix, French painter
Fanny Dickens, sister of Charles Dickens
Marie Duplessis, French courtesan
Stephen Foster, American composer
Paul Gauguin, French painter
Dashiell Hammett, American author
Henry VII, English monarch
W. C. Fields, American actor
Brenda Fricker, Irish actress
John Henry "Doc" Holliday, American gunslinger
Washington Irving, American author
Tom Jones, Welsh singer
Franz Kafka, Czech author
Immanuel Kant, German philosopher
John Keats, English poet
Maria Faustina Kowalska, Polish saint
D. H. Lawrence, English author
Vivien Leigh, English actress
Louis XIII, French monarch
Louis XVII, French monarch
Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand author
Christy Mathewson, American baseball player
William Somerset Maugham, English author
Dmitri Mendeleev, Russian chemist
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese revolutionary
Moliere, French playwright
James Monroe, American President
Edvard Munch, Norwegian painter
Florence Nightingale, English nurse
Eugene O'Neill, American playwright
George Orwell, English author
Niccolo Paganini, Italian composer
Alexander Pope, English poet
Gavrilo Princip, Serbian revolutionary
Henry Purcell, English composer
Cardinal Richelieu, French clergyman
Eleanor Roosevelt, American First Lady
Edmond Rostand, French playwright
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Genevan philosopher
Friedrich Schiller, German author
Erwin Schrodinger, Austrian physicist
Sir Walter Scott, Scottish author
Bernadette Soubirous, French saint
Baruch Spinoza, Dutch philosopher
Ringo Starr, English musician
Alexander Stephens, American politician
Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish author
Igor Stravinsky, Russian composer
Therese of Lisieux, French saint
Dylan Thomas, Welsh author
Henry David Thoreau, American author
Desmond Tutu, South African clergyman
Georges Vezina, Canadian hockey player
Voltaire, French philosopher and author
Carl Maria von Weber, German composer

Oh yes, and Adolf Hitler.


When I’m rich and famous, I’ll be able to add my name to the list, right there between Rousseau and Schiller.


At last, something to look forward to!


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