Tag Archives: Penicillin

Courage at Twilight: Penicillin

The year was 1945, the last year of the great and terrible War, and Dorothy languished from pneumonia.  The family thought she would die.  Mom was the oldest child, but still a little child.  At his last house call, the country doctor said he could do no more for Mom’s mom.  But when he came to the house another night, he offered a glimmer of hope: he had a new medicine to try.  “I don’t how much to give you,” he hedged as he filled a syringe full with yellow fluid, “so I’m going to give you a big dose.”  Six years old, Mom watched the physician inject the fluid into her wasted mother.  “We’re just learning how to use it.”  Called Penicillin, it showed promise, he said.  Professor Alexander Fleming discovered in 1929 that the Penicillium bacterium produced a “juice” deadly to rival bacteria.  In the early 1940s, Penicillin had transitioned from a laboratory curiosity to a serious infection-fighting medicine, of special value to wounded and diseased soldiers.  Penicillin became widely available to the public in the spring of 1945, just in time for my grandmother Dorothy.  Very quickly after the injection, she turned a corner and began her journey back to the land of the living.  These 77 years later, Mom asked rhetorically as she reminisced on her childhood, “Can you even imagine the world before antibiotics?  People got sick and just died!”  How grateful I have been, as I have carried and rocked sick babies in the middle of the night, for the miracle of antibiotics.  Without antibiotics, I myself would have died a dozen times over.

(Photo from Scientific American, used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)