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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/303

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THE GREAT WHITE PLAGUE.

sandth of an inch—an organism which multiplies so rapidly and so invisibly and insidiously that the consumptive, in coughing, emits several billions of it during twenty-four hours.

There would be no excuse truly for putting such sinister details as these before the laity were it not that the condition of things, which we term consumption or tuberculosis, is a tremendous, much-pervading human factor. I have intimated that of all death-dealing agencies, Koch's bacillus claims the greatest number of victims; the cholera, typhus, the plague of the middle ages, small-pox—are not in the running with consumption. The last, although its ravages have not been so picturesquely gruesome, has claimed many more victims than any of the others; it has probably been coeval with human existence, and very likely has afflicted our primordial ancestors.

To-day every third or fourth adult dies of consumption. In the periods between birth and senescence every seventh death is caused by it. The point about these two propositions is this: Very few of us die only of old age; almost every one dies of one disease or another, so that it would not seem to matter much what the particular disease might be that would carry us off. But, although all periods of life are precious—infancy and childhood and old age, as well as any other—it is during adult life that consumption gets in its fell work, in the periods when young people should entertain wholesome anticipations of matrimony, when husbands should be strong to work for and maintain their families, when wives should have strength to rear their children, and when men and women generally should have physical and mental capacity so that they may accomplish the world's work.

No one knows better than the physician how truly touching may be the condition of things we are considering at the first of these periods—the period of early manhood and womanhood, when poetry, music, flowers, sunshine, and the new-born instinct to love and power to inspire love, are gloriously dominant, when sentiments ring true, when thoughts of compromise with unworthy factors, of subordinating ideals to considerations of interest, have not yet been conceived; when the love exists which welcomes sacrifices and feels that if it is ever to manifest itself, it should do so most gladly and most abundantly when the beloved is sorely stricken; the love that feels bound to triumph over all obstacles, and which snaps its fingers contemptuously in the face of fate. One is proud for human nature when such spirit is exhibited. Nevertheless it is then that this dreadful disease demands with deplorable frequency to be reckoned with. And it is then that the mature physician discerns the practical certainty that marriage, in cases where consumption exists or is suspected, will be followed by intensified illness, and perhaps death (which might not otherwise have occurred), on the part of the sick one; the possibility of infection of