Thursday, May 29, 2008

Research crazy

I've been working on a scene for my historical novel that centers on a 14-year-old girl in a Pasadena, California TB sanitorium in 1918. Patients had to eat raw eggs and milk 4-6 times a day. (Think Rocky Balboa: all of this protein was meant to beef up those being consumed by TB, which was also called "consumption" because the body would burn itself out and waste away.)

Thank goodness for all of the databases available at our public/university library. So much information is at my fingertips. Of course there's the ongoing risk that I'll get happily drunk on history and have an oh-I-forgot-to-write hangover.

I just talked over the phone to a very helpful a medical historian at the National Institutes of Health. I had some questions that he was able to answer, such as: Would her family have visited often? Would she have been able to interact much with other patients? WWI was just coming to an end at that time, and I know some TB-infected soldiers were staying at Barlow: would she have been able to talk to them?

I recently learned this amazing fact: In the early 1900s, more than 80% of the U.S. population was infected with TB, and tuberculosis was the single most common cause of death.

Due to antibiotics, TB cases reduced significantly by mid-century. However, some TB hospitals continued in operation. My mom worked as a nurse at this one in the early 1960s.
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