Well behaved women, chapter 24

It looks like our series is finally starting to wind down.  I’ve got a few more weeks left in the tank but the original list (that was more or less completely generated in about fifteen minutes of thinking) is starting to run short on examples.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty more but it does mean I will have more than made my point by the time I’m done here.

So that said, continuing on the medical theme from last week (and tangentially inspired by Dr. Pantsuit’s self-comparison in a recent interview), our guest of dishonor this week is Mary Mallon, whom history remembers as “Typhoid Mary.”

Mary worked as a cook in New York City in the early twentieth century, and unbeknownst to her (at first) she was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever.  She worked for several different families and every time the entire household got sick she would move on.  Dozens of people got ill from exposure to her and several died.  After a few incidents, a typhoid researcher named George Soper looked into the outbreaks and was able to identify Mary as the common thread between them.  When Soper confronted Mary about this, however, she adamantly refused to be tested for the possibility that she might be causing these families to become ill.  Soper continued his historical investigation and came up with a very strong supporting case, and confronted Mary several more times including when she had been hospitalized, offering to write a book and give her a share of the royalties.  She still refused to even consider the possibility.

Eventually the New York City Health Department got involved, and when Mary still refused to cooperate, she was jailed.  Under a compelled test, not only was it discovered that Mary had a major node of typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder, but Mary also admitted that she had poor hygiene and didn’t see the purpose of washing her hands.  She was a goddamned cook.  Mary was told she ought to have her gallbladder removed but stubbornly refused.  She also refused to stop working as a cook until that was expressly made a condition of her release from jail.  Even then, since she apparently wasn’t making the same money as a launderess as she did as a cook, she simply changed her name and went right on cooking and people kept getting sick.  Once more, nevertheless, she persisted.  Soper tried to track her down but she kept moving on, leaving sick families in her wake, before she was finally found (working for a hospital no less), arrested, and confined for the rest of her life because she continued to refuse to have her infected gallbladder removed.  Typhoid Mary was responsible for dozens if not hundreds of people getting sick and it is estimated (since due to her lack of cooperation and use of aliases the exact figure is hard to nail down) that she is to blame for as many as fifty deaths.  Wash your damn hands, lady, that’s just foul.

I’m totally okay with Dr. Pantsuit comparing herself to this woman.

Next week, someone a little less disgusting.


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