Monday, February 4, 2013

In the news

Mary Ingalls, Laura's older sister from the Little House books, who went blind at fourteen. Dr. Tarini has published an article on the cause.

Dr. Beth A. Tarini, a U of M assistant professor of pediatrics at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, is in the news this week for the publication of her article, "Blindness in Walnut Grove: How Did Mary Ingalls Lose her Sight" of the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. From the New York Times blog post:
“When I was a medical student doing my pediatric rotation,” she says, “I asked my supervising doctor ‘So, scarlet fever can make you go blind, right?’ and she said no. I argued— ‘Mary Ingalls was a real person. And it said in the book that scarlet fever made her go blind.’ But clinically, it didn’t make sense.”
Turns out: meningoencephalitis, not scarlet fever, is what made Mary blind. I'm trying to picture my seven-year-old self sounding that word out.

I know some characters have already undergone independent scrutiny of medical ailments that are more pertinent to the narrative, such as Ebenezer Scrooge and the protagonist in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. But I would be interested in further investigation. Namely: did Beth die of scarlet fever? What is happening every time someone dies of consumption, apparently all the rage in the 18th and 19th centuries? Is it TB? Did Colin have an actual diagnosis in The Secret Garden? Surely there was something wrong with Don Quixote...?

Maybe it's better not to know. In most of these examples, the author has woven poetry into the suffering: Beth is too nice, too good for this life; Colin's healthy body returns with a healthy spirit; Scrooge has his existential epiphany. Would medical diagnoses take the piss out of the whole thing?

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