Saving lives and stories

by | Nov 21, 2009

Someone at work yesterday asked me who was the most important person in the twentieth century (for the Western world, at least). I said Alexander Fleming, the man who invented antibiotics. One of my colleagues shook his head, and said, Hitler; the other said, of course it should be Fleming, or the person who made Fleming’s discovery widely available. The person who saves lives wins. Right?

I have severe rheumatoid arthritis*: it’s something that I don’t often discuss, because of the general misunderstanding of what rheumatoid is and does, and also because I get tired of people suggesting treatments that don’t work (and I am very well served by recent developments in treatments, to the extent that my RA has been in remission for many years, halleluia. See above). Plus, it’s not deadly, only life-shortening, and I’m well aware that I have plenty to be grateful for. However, I came across this wonderful feature in the New York Times, which is testament to the power of the personal story, amongst other things.

I also mention this because it was chiefly the RA that got me writing: I was so scared that my fingers would seize up that I was propelled into writing my first novel, Obsession. If there must be a silver lining to such a cloud, this is it.

The NYT health section contains other features on conditions like cystic fibrosis, which ended the life of my beautiful young cousin terribly prematurely: again, advances medical science now means that such people can live longer, despite their conditions. Medical researchers, unsung and invisible heroes of our age, we salute you.

*That’s the actual medical diagnosis, not its acuity – it’s severe if not controlled by drugs.

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