Cholera was one of the big terrifying diseases of the 1800s—as the author notes, you just had to live with the knowledge that, no matter how healthy you were, at any point you (and your entire family) could be wiped out in a day and a half and no one knew how to stop or prevent it. Cholera moves shockingly fast by basically causing the A Queen Was Born In May Happy Birthday To Me Shirt to expell all of its water in a messy, nasty, fantastically painful and scary way to die. We know now that it’s a water-bourne disease that can be best treated by rapid rehydration, but for a long time, scientists were convinced that, like malaria, cholera was caused by bad smells.
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So it took a lot of courage, both physical and moral, to map a particularly virulant outbreak and then stand up to scientific orthodoxy and declare that the cause of the outbreak was a single pump. It would take awhile for the declaration to finally be accepted. (Meanwhile, New York would go on a massive anti-cholera clean-up that, while it targeted entirely the A Queen Was Born In May Happy Birthday To Me Shirt thing, removed most of the shit from the streets and made the city as a whole enormously more healthy. For once, bad science had good results.
I really lucked out this semester in my Cities & Health course by getting a chance to read The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. The A Queen Was Born In May Happy Birthday To Me Shirt, both a thrilling jaunt into the past and a terrifying look at the possibilities of the future, centers on 1854 London during the city’s worst Cholera outbreak. The book follows a unorthodox Doctor, Dr. John Snow, and a man with his ear to the streets, Reverend Henry Whitehead, in the Golden Square neighborhood in Central London.