Saturday, September 6, 2014

Asleep by Molly Caldwell Crosby

Because I enjoyed her "Great Pearl Heist" and I prefer nonfiction I wanted to read another of her books.  Asleep showed up on recommendations for me based on my preferences and I read this in March 2014.  I was not disappointed although it is different than the Pearl Heist, it is intriguing and an account of the 1918--1927 sleeping illness plague that  became the forgotten world wide epidemic.  I had not known nor read of this before so found the account fascinating. Published in March 2010 by Berkley it is only 229 pages but reading on various case studies world wide of those who have this sleeping sickness, some die, some survive and some are confined to institutions.  Doctors still do not know what causes this condition diagnosed as encephalitis lethargica.  

Pages 11--16 begin with detail of the brain study  presented  at Vienna Psychiatric Society by Dr. Von Economo whose theory would be considered and 70 years went by  before "advanced medicine" proved his theory correct.  Dr. Cruchet a French physician and pathologist met with an unknown soldier from the battle of Verdun and was struck by unusual symptoms which he wondered might have been after effects of mustard gas or another chemical weapon.  Cruchet would go on to see 64 more similar cases , some with fever, some without, most had headache and nausea, strangest of all to him was the excessive amount of tine all these soldiers spent sleeping.  The soldiers were not comatose but simply asleep.    Pg 19,  in 1918  doctors were preoccupied with the  epidemic of influenza worldwide which would kill between 20-100 million worldwide.  The sleeping sickness had to take  a backseat to medicine's research into  curing the influenza that swept the globe.  Pg 25 details how the symptoms began to change as the  sleeping sickness spread.  The history of medicine documented through this work is a good reference to the times of that era and mentions that in the 1920's  the decade of rapid technological changes  began. (pg. 84).  Josephine B Neal was a bacteriologist and neurologist who led the Matheson Commission.  She was  born and raised in Maine she had  been a school teacher but applied for medical school.  (Pages 162--165)  She was considered an expert on polio and  was one of the first people to be injected with the anti polio vaccine in New York in 1934, the results of the trials were kept out of the media and the vaccine campaign stopped until renewed in the 1950's by Dr. Jonas Salk. Chapter 19  details Josephine's pioneering involvement as a woman in medical research  in New York where she lived. 

The sleeping epidemic diminished but the book leaves one wondering if it might not return with different symptoms.  I give this book a 5 ***** and will share it with a friend who spent a career at the bench in medical research.  I will be interested in her comments.