Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
by Jennifer Wright
Here is a cautionary **SPOILER WARNING** just in case I have inadvertently given away anything significant to the story itself. I will do my best not to mention any big spoilers, but I don't always check myself accordingly.
Progress on 9/6/18: 22% read
I'm kind of reading one plague a day, though I may not be updating daily. However, at some point, I might just stop updating completely and just try to finish the book.
Meanwhile, I'm happy to say that the chapter on Smallpox has so far been the most interesting chapter to me, even if it's the one disease that I had already had some knowledge on. Smallpox is something that is pretty much always covered in all biology or science courses in school, as it often times is the precursor for covering how vaccines came about, as well as the mention of Edward Jenner.
I feel like this chapter is the one in which Jennifer Wright is the least opinionated, and drops the fewest pop culture references (so far), and aside from her short detour in the beginning detailing the Spaniard invasion of the Americas, wiping out the Incan and Aztec civilizations, she pretty much kept to the disease itself, with descriptions of symptoms, the course of the disease, as well as the foray into variolation and vaccination.
Though truth, I found her description of DIC quite amusing--"blobby clots" indeed--as it seems a bit comical for a condition in which your body pretty much is triggered to use up all it's clotting factors, followed by excessive bleeding, which can't be staunched because your clotting factors are being used up, but those clotting factors keep being activated because your body is bleeding. It's a vicious cycle, which ultimately leads to a person bleeding to death unless you can find the underlying trigger and fix it, while at the same time dumping outside blood products into the body to help keep it alive.
I've never personally been in the vicinity of a patient when this has happened, but I've been in the general direction doctors and nurses are yelling at when they need more blood, plasma, platelets, take your pick, to dump into their patient, STAT! Truthfully, even as a behind the scenes medical personnel, it's a bit scary knowing that there is a person bleeding non-stop from an as-yet unknown cause. We sometimes joke that DIC is basically a term for "I have no idea why, but this patient is bleeding from every possible orifice!"
Anyway, as far as this book goes, I think I'm likely to stick with it, with this new mindset, and hope that the rest of the chapters are a little more like this one.
Progress on 9/5/18: 16% read
I'm a little late on this update, but I'd been sitting on my thoughts about both the chapters on the Bubonic Plague and the Dancing Plague.
First of all, after adjusting my reading mindset a little bit, I found Jennifer Wright's writing style a little bit easier to understand--mind you, this doesn't mean that I like it, and in fact, I'm pretty sure I'm still not quite getting into it. And after reading through other's updates, I think I might have pinpointed a couple reasons why I'm having trouble enjoying her writing style (among a couple other reasons I came up with myself). Mainly, it's the fact that her telling is less to do with science and history, and more to do with speculation and opinion.
I appreciate that she DOES sprinkle each section with statistics and facts, little tidbits of information here and there that, like Whiskey mentioned, makes you want to run off and do your own research on the subject--because Wright doesn't exactly give you a lot to go on aside from those tidbits.
That being said, the chapter on the Bubonic Plague was actually quite riddled with information that made the reading of it a bit more interesting. I can see what her goal is, directing our attentions to the general reactions of society back then, as well as how best to react if another pandemic were to surface--a sort of, learning from history, if you will.
I'm still finding her pop culture references a bit hard to grasp--someone else mentioned that the book could quickly become dated based on the specific references made. This conversation then ended up pointing out that the references were also very American-centric. While I don't mind pop culture references, nor the fact that the references are American-centric (I did grow up in America after all), I'm also going to be the first to admit that I've already glossed over several of them because I couldn't quite figure out the reason behind those references--the usage of some didn't click for me, even if I was familiar with some of the names. (Just because I grew up in America, doesn't mean I paid attention to American pop culture.)
Meanwhile, I'm still finding the humor a bit lacking, and that might be my own personal opinion. Rather than finding her tone amusing or sarcastic, I'm actually finding the timing of her humor and color commentary a bit awkward. I'm sure others would find it inappropriate, considering the content of this book, but I have no problem with a bit of dark humor... if used properly, whether to help readers better relate with these tragic times, or just to bring a bit of lightheartedness into the telling of times that were quite devastating. But on a personal level, I'm not feeling the humor... just some awkwardness.
And, finally, I also DO agree with one thing concerning the Dancing Plague, and that is that, I wish she could have also delved further into some more scientific, or medical details about it. It might have helped if she'd elaborated on some of the other instances in history, rather than simply dropping a quick note about these other instances, and then moving on. Comparing the Dancing Plague to the tragedies of killing fields in Khmer Rouge might have been in bad taste--as someone had pointed out, "apples and oranges."
Progress on 9/3/18: 6% read
I'm seeing that I'm kind of the minority in my enjoyment of this book so far. To be fair, I've only just finished the chapter on the Antonine Plague, and I also happened to drift off a few times while reading this fairly short chapter. So maybe I didn't really pick up on the content of this chapter, or maybe I'm not getting Jennifer Wright"s writing style all that well.
Her tendency to drop commentary using pop culture bugs me a little bit, because some of those random one-liners don't feel like they mesh well with the content. I don't mind a little bit of dry humor, or sometimes even a slight comic addition in non-fictional books--in fact, it will usually help make things move along more smoothly. But the timing of her humor seems a bit off, to me, personally.
Meanwhile, the chapter on the Antonine Plague seemed to meander outside the actual subject of the plague so frequently, and also so randomly, that I think that's where my attention ends up drifting. There were tangents to do with the Roman soldiers and what they were wearing (which I thought was interesting, even if off-topic), to Commodus and his lustful activities (as well as speculation on his incestuous ways). None of which necessarily contributed to the topic of the plague, though I see where Wright was trying to go with these extra tidbits of information.
I wish there had been a little bit more about the plague itself, rather than just constant emphasis on how this plague was the true culprit for the Roman Empire's fall.
Anyway, I'm hoping that my wavering attention span was just a fluke and that I start getting into the book more. There are random facts here and there that are quite interesting, and I had even highlighted a couple quotes I found that I liked.
Otherwise, the entire chapter on the Antonine Plague honestly felt like reading one of my old research essays I'd slapped together, with an additional mishmash of extraneous information, in an effort to reach a specified page count.