Thursday, 18 April 2013
Lung diseases in the early 20th century
Since I last posted we’ve found out a little more about Rudi Lehrs’ lung problem. He did, in fact, have TB so badly that one lung was removed. He was middle-aged by then. The other lung took over the function of both and he led a reasonably normal life after that.
I’ve already written my first scene where they get the doctor in the night for something that looks like an asthma attack and leaves him looking blue. They cure it with steam. We think he may have been asthmatic anyway. Käthe was and so was her grandson as a child.
I’ve also made him quite weak in some other scenes, too.
It’s actually useful in terms of story anyway. Clara’s early married life and her childhood seem idyllic. She initially becomes engaged in what looks like a very exciting third stage of her life. Rudi’s illness questions these good times and maybe foreshadows later doom.
TB was still a killer disease when Rudi was young. There was no vaccination then and it was possibly made worse by the dirty air and smogs of the time. Berlin was not as bad as London but it was still a busy city with some pollution and people living in close proximity to each other. The importance of cleanliness was not understood by all at that time so disease could spread quickly. It is likely that Clara was quite house-proud though not obsessively so.
Before Rudi becomes an adult the iron lung has been invented and oxygen masks are given to soldiers affected by gas from the Great War.
Lung removal seems a desperate measure and it is a major operation even today meaning that a patient cannot return to work for eight weeks. It’s normally only done if cancer is present. We’re not sure whether Rudi did have cancer. It can be a successful procedure and possibly was in Rudi’s case. Although both his older sister and older brother outlived him, it was only by a few years. Pope Francis also had a lung removed when he was a teenager. He seems to be doing fine.
It certainly seems really unusual to do this after TB, although it may be that Rudi’s lungs were already damaged after bouts of asthma or whatever else it was that caused the dramatic incident I’ve invented for when he was less than a year old. Sarcoidosis? GERD? And maybe he did well despite his difficulties because he shared his mother’s optimistic spirit.