Thursday, March 12, 2015

75 years ago, on a day supposedly devoted to 1As, two New York City 4Fs made medical history instead

It is an irony beyond all measure that on America's first ever peacetime Draft Registration Day, October 16th 1940, a day designed to separate the 1A sheep from the 4F goats, two 4Fs (a black man from Harlem and a Jew from the Bronx) instead made medical history by ushering in our current Age of Antibiotics !

And they made history not by accident of sheer coincidence either.

For their doctor, Martin Henry Dawson of Columbia University's Presbyterian medical campus,was incensed that his colleagues were using the move to a War Medicine footing (of which the separating of valued 1As from unvalued 4Fs was but one part) as an excuse to drop Social Medicine - the extending of life-saving medical care to those in need, regardless of their income, color or origins.

Dawson felt that a Double V Victory was needed to defeat the hold that Fascist values held among much of the world's Neutral nations - both a military defeat and a moral defeat.

Abandoning America's weakest and the smallest to medical benign neglect, just as the Nazis were currently doing with their own weak and small, was no way to win the 'hearts and minds' of the neutral nations.

These two young New York City boys, famed athlete Aaron Leroy Alston of St Nicholas Avenue and teletype operator Charles Aronson of Vyse Avenue, were dying of then invariably fatal subacute bacterial endocarditis, known to all as SBE, the disease that made Rheumatic Fever the most feared and fatal of all school age children's diseases.

It was also known as "The Polio of the Poor", which gives an indication that minorities , immigrants and the poor were the hardest hit by it.

For these two reasons, people with it were judged, by a medical establishment echoing the Manhattan of Gordon Gekko, to be of no value to the military or to hard-slog war-factory work ---- and so best left to die.

But Dawson, perhaps channelling the spirit of Manhattan's equally famous Emma Lazarus, saw the pair as worth saving and their disease as curable if only.

If only, twelve long years after penicillin's non toxic and bacteria killing nature were first discovered, some doctor plucked up enough courage to test its toxicity in the human blood stream.

Dawson did that crucial test - injecting it in himself.

Convinced it was safe, he then injected his team's home made penicillin into the pair and quietly, off stage in all that day's media splash, made history.

For journalistic hindsight is always 20/20, but back then it seemed clear that reporting upon possible student resistance (on the same Columbia campus) to the draft registration process was a far,far bigger story.

Hopefully, this time around, on the October 16th 2015 seventy fifth anniversary of those historic pair of antibiotic injections,  the NYC area media will run with the ball ...

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