Tales by Doctors “Typhoid Mary”

“Medical Myths – Tales by Doctors” Typhoid Mary

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. Uche Anyanwagu
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Uche walked into my clinic feeling dejected. It could be seen that she was having a bad day – one dotted by the stress of Lagos traffic and spiced by a plaguing ill health that has refused to give way.
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In her usual way, I am always her last resort when all efforts at “faithing” her health to self-prescribing, then patronising Onye Chemist, later Aunty Nurse (Eliza), and summarising it with Lab man, have all failed.
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Uninvited, she gate-crashed into my clinic with “a big Bagco Super Sac” of Entitlement mentality and demanded that I give her all attention she “rightfully” demands and desires.
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She handed me an unsolicited brown envelope. I gradually bent my eye-glasses to gauge its size and predict the amount of money it could contain.
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Alas! It was a roughly folded piece of paper that was tucked into it. I brought it out and quickly unfolded it. On it were some figures which looked more like the scores of some very unintelligent students in a very difficult physics exam.
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She looked scornfully at me and said “Shebi, una don come again with una diagnosis. Me I don even understand all these one-over-three-twenty and one-over-one-sixty written everywhere…”
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“Abeg, no start…” I burst out laughing. “…I no send you go do test anywhere mbok ”
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“…This is like the 10th ‘typhoid’ I will be treating this year alone… we still dey April oh…”
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I released another bout of a very loud laughter and told her that the amount of antibiotics in her body now will be enough to set up a Pharmaceutical company.
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“…this is no joke…” she brashly cut me off.
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I beckoned her to sit, smiling ear to ear. She reluctantly sat, avoiding the infectivity of my smile.
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“…Uche, I will henceforth call you Typhoid Mary…” I mocked her.
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“…Wetin that one come mean?… Mba! Mba! Stop that kain joke…” she protested.
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“…Typhoid Mary, actually was an Irish immigrant who lived and worked in New York.
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Her real name is Mary Mallon. She lived between September 23, 1869 and November 11, 1938. Mary was a famous typhoid carrier whose presence alone sparked off epidemics…”
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Uche’s eyes suddenly lit as she reckoned that this evolving story could touch the core of hers. I fired on, mbok, before she loses interest.
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“Typhoid Mary worked as a cook in many homes in New York. Her culinary skills must have been superb that she curried the services of many households in New York.
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Between 1900 and 1907, more than 24 people in these households fell ill with typhoid fever. It was later discovered that they usually fell sick shortly after Mary started.
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It got to a stage that some of these households hired some “Epidemiologists” to investigate this.
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While some dismissed the outbreak as stemming from contaminated water, one (Soper) strongly suspected Mary but had no clear way to link her to it.
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Mary continued working as a cook but Soper kept a distant evaluative gaze. As Mary started in another household, there was an outbreak in which one person died. So, Soper finally met Mary and linked all the past cases to her…”
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“And… what then happened to her…” Uche asked.
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“…Mary fled but was finally caught by the authorities and confined to an isolation centre in Bronx.
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Whilst there, she took the authorities up to the Supreme Court where she won her victory but on the condition that she can never work as a cook or handle food…”
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“…Freedom granted! It didn’t take long, another typhoid outbreak at a Sanatorium and Maternity Home brought Mary again into limelight.
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Holy Mary! (smiling) Mary was found to have worked in these places too.
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She was later arrested and finally returned back to the isolation centre. She lived there till she died at the age of 70 of stroke…”
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I noticed Uche’s shock like that of a Human rights activist who lost a sweet potential case. I told her that In all, Mary caused 57 original cases of typhoid and 3 deaths
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Uche took a deep breath. “So, how did she get her own typhoid nah?…” She queried.
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“It is not known how she got it but she carried the Salmonella typhi bacterium. Sincerely, it was for no fault of hers…”
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“So what do I do about my frequent typhoid fever before I become another Typhoid Mary?…”
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I stood, pulled her ear, and told her that I do not believe that useless report on that piece of paper she handed over to me.
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“You have no typhoid fever, please! I will tell why next week, Dear Typhoid Mary…”
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She gave me a puzzled look, stretched her left hand towards me, spread her fingers and told me “waka”.
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My name is Uche Anyanwagu. Do you think typhoid fever is that much in Nigeria?
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This is the 28th in a series of short stories on “Medical Myths – Tales by Doctors”

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