Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Who is Typhoid Mary???

By Mary Beth Keane
Review copy from publisher

I bet you heard this many times references about Typhoid Mary. Is she a real person?  I bet you did not realize there was a person associated with the name, her name was Mary Mallon.

She was a 37 year old cook, in New York City. She was hired by the rich and famous to cook in their homes. In 1907. She was employed in the summer for a rich family in Oyster Bay, NY.  After being employed there for about 3 weeks the entire household became ill by Typhoid. How did everyone get sick? What was wrong with them?  No one in Oyster Bay gets Typhoid Fever.

The family which many of them did not recover.  Hired a sanitation engineer, by the name of George Soper.   He became suspicious, and questioned the staff that worked at the Warren summer home.  Realized there was one person they did not question. Her name was Mary Mallon.  He discovered that Mary was employed by several wealthy families in New York.

 George Soper hounded Mary for months. He suspected her because he followed her work history from the time she came to the United States from Ireland, to work as a cook till 1907. He found that 6 families came down with Typhoid Fever. Everywhere that Mary worked, Typhus followed. She infected at least 27 people he could account for.

Typhoid Fever, is a illness associated with over crowded conditions, poor sanitation, infectious diseases.This was the way of life in New York City with mass immigration in to the lower east side.  Only thirty years ago,
it was discovered that diseases were caused by invisible microbes, called "Germs".  You can contract Typhoid easily from contaminated food, or water.

 Mary was forced out of her home and taken to the Wilard Parker Hospital  by the Public Health  to be quarantined for three years. Initially she was living with others in the hospital. Later she was placed in a cottage by herself. At the hospital samples were taken weekly.

She was then finally heard in court, and eventually released with one stimulation. She can no longer be employed as a cook. She was never helped by being retrained in another field. She hated being a laundress. She made less money and it was hard and tiresome work. She eventually went back into cooking.

My Review:   

Fever is a historical fictionalized account of Mary Mallon, known as Typhoid Mary.  I found the book so interesting in the beginning but it seemed to drag on and on. It lost my interest after awhile.  I wanted to like reading Fever. Especially since this is my cup of tea. I love historical fiction, especially when it deals with history, and science, and diseases.

I can't pin point it but I did not like the author's writing style.  Perhaps because it was a straight narrative.  

The elements of the book did stir up ethical questions. Does the Public Health Department have a right to detain her without due process?  "How do you protect health of the masses of the people if it is jeopardized by a individual person who's liberty you are taking away". The unfortunately thing she was the first person to be called the carrier of the disease. She was the scapegoat. There were many others that were carriers and they did not get the treatment that Mary did.  Mary could have been treated this way because she was a single women, and she spoke out, and she was  adamant that she did not cause the disease, and definitely not the carrier.  The Department of Health may have been spiteful, and did this as a example for the masses.  

While reading Fever, what comes to mind was the Aids outbreak. I can recall some years ago. When Aids was found out. There was a person who deliberately knowing he had Aids, gave it to other people for spite. Or how do you treat the person with SAR's without taking their liberties. When you hear someone has the disease you back away.  It is sad that we treat people this way.  But, what are you suppose to do to protect yourself.  

Mary was a proud and stubborn woman, and independent and that may have gotten her in trouble. She never believes that she is the cause of the outbreaks of Typhoid Fever. She was irrational, and went into rages and did not trust doctors. It didn't make sense to her, why they singled her out.  Her understanding of the disease process, "if I am not sick, I can't give it to someone else".

 I think I would feel the same way, if I was taken away and then quarantined. Wouldn't you? I understand her reaction under the circumstances of her treatment. They thought they were doing the right thing.  Put yourself in her shoes.


There were other ways of treating Mary. They could have re-trained her in another occupation that paid equally as well.  This was a setup for failure waiting to happen. 

 Mary Mallon did not maliciously give some one the disease. She was not a criminal. She just did not understand the disease process, like we do now.  Know of course, in restaurants workers are particular about hand washing, and food handling. 

This is a book that I would want to discuss immediately with someone. Even though I found the book to drag, there was plenty to talk about.  I could see this discussed in a book club.  I moderate two book clubs and I can see us discussing this one. 

1 comment:

Heather R said...

Great post - I appreciated all the additional information as well as the review. You are right, there are many, many things that could be discussed - great for a book group.