Friday, January 27, 2012

One Simple Act to Save Lives

Jonathan Rhys Meyer
as Henry VIII
in "The Tudors"
Jane Seymour
 I was recently watching the mini-series, “The Tudors”, and found out that both Henry VIII’s mother (Elizabeth of York) and his third wife, Jane Seymour, died of “childbed fever”, Jane, after giving birth to Henry’s only son, Edward VI. Both women came out of the delivery just fine, but died a short time later. How could a simple fever cause their deaths?

Because it wasn’t a simple fever. Childbed fever was a bacterial infection caused by one thing: doctors not washing their hands.

Doctors, who were usually gentlemen, thought their title and status was enough. “Doctors are gentlemen," Charles Meigs of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College said, arguing against hand-washing, stating that “gentlemen's hands are clean.” But stats and facts obviously said different. In fact, there were far fewer deaths of mothers who had children born at home than those cared for by doctors in hospitals, proving that the doctors habits of not washing their hands between patients created periodic epidemics of childbed fever deaths.
Hospital 1840
 In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s more than one doctor put two and two together and tried to make changes in medical procedures. But to no avail—and often to their own professional downfall. Doctors held themselves above other professions and didn't want to hear that they were at fault, or culpable in anyone’s deaths—even though washing hands reduced childbed fever deaths by 90%. Pride goest before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. . . unfortunately, new mothers’ destruction.

Mary Wollenstonecraft

There have been other famous women who died of this streptococcus-virus, the same bacteria that causes strep throat (among other ailments.) Eighteenth century feminist, Mary Wollenstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and who was the mother of the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley died of the fever, as did Isabella Beeton—who wrote the well-known Victorian home guide: Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.  Women's rights and household management... if only these logical-thinking women could have helped the medical profession before it killed them.

Katherine Parr
Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife, died of the fever after Henry was dead, and she had married her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour—who just happened to be the brother of Jane Seymour, the king’s third wife (who, as I said) also died of childbed fever. Interesting interweavings that show the pervasiveness of this type of death.

A famous person to be born of a mother who contracted the fever--and lived--was the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Now, sanitary measures have all but eradicated childbed fever, or if contracted, it can be treated with antibiotics. Just another reason to be thankful we live in modern times with soap dispensers at every sink, anti-bacterial sprays and gels, and Wet Wipes.//Nancy

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