I think we’ve lost it
-our true purpose as writers, scientists, students, or whatever title you feel suits your calling. I say we, and place myself in a position of high guilt, because I didn’t even realize something was missing until I read “Ship Fever” by Andrea Barrett.
The novella details the 1847 Typhus epidemic. Forever a mark on the hearts of Ireland, the year of 1847 or the “Black Forty- Seven” contained a major exodus of the Irish from their motherland to lands across the Atlantic, mainly Canada and the United States. They were seeking a better fate than the one afforded to them due to a great famine. I guess starvation, disease, and eventual death wasn’t very appetizing. Unfortunately, due to malnourishment and poor ship traveling conditions, many aboard contracted Typhus. As there was an influx of Irishmen into Canada, there was also an influx of Typhus cases. This created a tense relationship between Canadians and the immigrants. Barrett portrays this historic event and epidemic through the eyes of an English doctor treating Typhus, Lauchlin Grant, and an Irish survivor of the Black Death, Nora Kynd. As one can imagine, 1847 Canadian society’s unsupportive response to Gross Isle’s need of government and private aid led to consequential tough decisions for health care officials.
Although Barrett highlights the issues officials faced then, I believe they still ring true today. Who to treat and who goes first? What quality of supplies should be used for certain groups of people? How much aid is each person allotted before he’s deemed a lost cause? Focus on physical health or mental health? Both? What if that isn’t convenient? Is the greater good potentially sacrificed for an individual? Or would be denying that individual of high quality care be a violation of morality? Is successful treatment measured qualitatively or quantitatively?
I think so often we don’t ask these questions ourselves as students, because we’re not there. Currently, we’re debating the morality of scientific methods, because we’re learning about those methods. I don’t spend my free time in Canada treating Typhus patients, so it’d wouldn’t be normal for me to spend a lot of time thinking of how to best treat those people. I get it, and I agree. In this stage of our life, it’s more important to have a stance on cloning, genetic testing, and the like, because right now we may not be saving the world, but we’re voters and citizens. It’s important to have opinions to be good at our current job description. But, my fear is that if we never talk about the people affected by the carrying out of those methods, if we never question to what extent the policies and laws that we debate will affect those needing care, we won’t be ready to answer those questions.
That would be tragic- to be so well educated, so opinionated, and so so unprepared. We would be Launchlin Grant, the English doctor. He was a licensed doctor but only in a clinical sense. Dr. Grant underwent a character transformation and became more than just a licensed official, but a servant to those he treated, determined to save them, all of them. As he lay dying of Typhus himself, the beast he had sought to slay, his dying words/thoughts given to the reader were a plea, “Count me, count them, count us”. His plea to count the other roughly 20,000 people who died during the Black Forty Seven echoes the cries of the millions worldwide who are suffering today.
So, I call you, Disciples of Darwin, Mendel, and Lamarck, as you follow your passion neither forsake your purpose nor forget the people you serve.
Even if it’s just while you read this blog post….because hey, midterms.