Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tommy Atkins

The British War Office in the 18th century used the name "Thomas Atkins" to illustrate how to fill out pay slips. The name stuck for centuries and the term "Tommy" became the name given to the common soldier. British poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem for Tommy Atkins noting the double standards soldiers are held to by civilians. Kipling wrote this poem in 1892 to give you an idea that what you see today, on Veterans Day (Armistice Day as it was known to the Tommies who survived the trenches of World War One), are sentiments that have been floated around for a long time, not always to the credit of the promoters. Here is actor Roger Moore quoting the poem:


Edward Jenner crashed on his future wife one day when his aircraft ran out of lift and forced him to land in her father's front yard. In 1788 flying was a novelty and hot air balloons were a miracle. The fearsome killer at the time however, was not flying wrecks but smallpox. One in three of those who contracted the disease died and many, many people lived their lives scarred and pitted by the pustules the disease formed on the skin. The fact that today one is hard put to come across an obvious survivor of smallpox, at least in our comfortable first world, is a tribute to Edward Jenner.The trouble with vaccines is that people have short memories. I attribute this generation's contempt for government regulation to a lack of institutional memory to remind people why government instituted regulations in the first place. We have social security disability and old age pensions today because people starved without them, literally, in the 1930s. US banks used to be tightly regulated because bank failure was commonplace and so the federal government created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect the savings of working people. Vaccination programs were a public health response to sweeping waves of disease that killed and crippled.Dr Walter Reed, an army surgeon figured out yellow fever was mosquito-borne and his discoveries permitted the Panama Canal to reach completion.His work also paved the way for huge public health works to make modern cities safe. New Orleans, Rome, Key West, were all cities subject to outbreaks of deadly yellow fever, until respective governments removed the breeding grounds of mosquitoes. Today dengue fever has made a reappearance in Key West and the advice remains the same as in Dr Reed's day: get rid of stagnant fresh water to eliminate mosquito habitat, and because people aren't used to dealing with deadly disease the advice falls on deaf ears. I contracted dengue when I was on assignment in El Salvador twenty years ago. Salvadorans died, I got a horrible fever, and I discovered why they used to call it "breakbone fever," such was the pain. Dengue is also transmitted by mosquitoes and El Salvador wracked by civil war was in no position to carry out public works programs.

Louis Pasteur in France followed up vaccination work with discoveries in the field of anthrax and rabies and saved a child's life with an experimental vaccine. In 19th century France, and elsewhere, stray dogs were a feared threat as one bite from a rabid animal promised a horrible, writhing, foaming death. Rabies was terrifying and Pasteur's inoculation made him the object of adoration.

These are just a few of the giants, the most well known giants in the field of public medicine in the past couple of centuries. Their work is how we as a species figured out how to eradicate ghastly diseases. I well remember young kids coughing their chests out with "whooping" cough, a hacking chest condition so severe it sounded like the victims were literally going to split their young bodies apart from coughing. I remember spending an eternity in a dark isolated room with measles, I remember eating a sugar lump to prevent polio. Nowadays it seems no one remembers any of it. Yesterday I went to get my free swine flu vaccine, thinking grateful thoughts about Jenner, Pasteur and Reed among others, grateful we still have some sort of public health department in the US, and at home my wife tells me most of her students aren't vaccinated because parents fear the vaccine. Most of my colleagues refused the free vaccine- and half of the twelve of us are sick, coughing and hacking. One has swine flu and is in isolation at home "sounding like death." Hyperbole I know but swine flu is horrid and why would anyone refuse a vaccine? Because it's a government plot they say, because vaccine causes autism, because people are uneducated, ungrateful and deserve what they get. God, if you exist, please give me strength.

Pierce Lane

Ironic I thought to myself as I cycled by on Simonton Street. The pool chemical store to the left, the Sugar Apple all natural store to the right.I was in the neighborhood to photograph Pierce Lane, a slip of a street that runs alongside the industrial powerhouse here which is Key West Chemical Supply:
The north side of Pierce Lane is dominated by Key West Chemical's warehouse:And looming above the warehouse the downtown cell phone tower that gives the whole place an even more industrial look. The only other such tower serving Key West is on Stock Island, though there are plans being discussed about putting another one in on North Roosevelt Boulevard:On the other side of the lane the pool chemical company was ventilating the store room with a big fan. A reminder that even in November it is necessary to throw the doors open on an overcast 80 degree afternoon (27C) to keep the chemical laden air moving:
As though a reminder were needed these are new homes built on Pierce Lane tell us that Key West has a high tolerance for "mixed use zoning." There simply isn't enough land to do otherwise and these new homes need protection apparently:
But there is still plenty of old stock buildings in the darker recesses at the back of the lane:
And, as though to compensate there is also the back of the brand new hotel which actually faces onto Truman Avenue. It is built in the modern style, sort of industrial chic warehouse with firm colors and a touch of metal in the decorations. I quite like it even though it is unusual for Key West:
Complete with parking under the building. Very convenient. The scooter is riding towards Duval on Truman Avenue on the other side of the hotel:
This is a last look back at Pierce Lane towards Simonton Street:
After all my efforts cycling around town to photograph lanes and Peary Court I felt I deserved refreshment before I went to rest at the Tropic for a matinée movie. I stopped off at my new favorite place for a quite lunch, on the 1200 block of Simonton. Badboy Burrito was as good as ever:
A stool in the window and a Gaucho Ernesto, jalapeno, beef rice and beans with a bottle of water (I forgot to bring my own flask, mea culpa!) for ten dollars set me straight. Excellent food, including the fresh salsa and blue chips on the banana leaf on the plate, it's safe to say Key West finally has a superb burrito shop to call it's own.