Thanks Howard


Howard Florey, taken in 1945, at the time he received the Nobel Prize, along with Fleming and Chain, for their work on antibiotics.

It is a year this weekend since I became ill with what turned out to be meningococcal meningitis. I have had it in my mind for the past few days, thinking back to how ill I felt, and the bleakness of the week or so before I got a proper diagnosis. I responded so quickly and strongly to the antibiotics that I received once I got to hospital – and here I am a year later, well and happy and relieved and healthy.

There were many people involved with the development of antibiotics back in the day, but the local guy who had a big role to play was Howard Florey. He was born here in Adelaide in 1898 and eventually went to the UK as a Rhodes scholar in the early 1920’s. Eventually he worked with Ernst Chain and others to develop penicillin as a viable medical treatment after the antibiotic properties of the mould were discovered by Alexander Fleming. Much of this work was done during WW2, and by the end of the war, the drug was available to treat people. My father was wounded in the chest in 1945 in Bougainville – there is no way he would have survived such a severe wound without penicillin, which, he said, you could almost see working on him. It must have been miraculous.

He has only started telling the story of what happened in recent years (thank goodness for a long life). He always talks about how much luck he had, and about the incredible contribution of his friend Alec Russell, who was alongside him when he was wounded, and who had the first aid kit on him at the time. He got immediate first aid as a consequence, after which Alec carried him out of the battle and to the medical post. Then there were the antibiotics. He remained very close friends with Alec until the latter died (way too young) in the 1970s. We kept in regular contact with his wife (Auntie Roma) till she died many years later.

Of course he and I are two of many millions of people who have been fortunate to experience first hand the incredible impact of Florey’s work. And I am talking about Florey as he has a local link, but this is not to forget not just those who developed the drugs, but all those who helped get the treatments out to people, diagnosed illnesses, helped folk who were in extremis, and made the difference to so many people along the way. There are stories everywhere of folk who have lived instead of dying from some bacterial infection or another. All sorts of infections and injuries that have been treated so simply since the advent of antibiotics, would kill people in earlier times. It is a blessing that cannot be taken for granted though, as the consequences are dire if bacteria become immune to the drugs we use to kill them. The moral of the story is, use antibiotics only when you need to, and use them correctly, so they continue to work into the future.

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6 Responses to Thanks Howard

  1. Kathy says:

    Yes to all that! What strength you had to have to get through that awful week. So thankful to have your wonderful self still here xxx

  2. Mandy Laidlaw says:

    So grateful you are healthy. The world would miss you immensely.

    On another note, found this article and wanted to share xx

    Some people can’t get out of a bookstore without picking up a title or two, even if they already have loads of books at home waiting to be read.

    If this describes you, you might be engaging in “tsundoku”, which is a Japanese term for a person who owns a lot of unread books. 

    According to Open Culture, the word tsundoku dates back to the Meiji era (1868-1912) as a pun.

    Andrew Gerstle, professor of Japanese studies at the University of London told BBC that the word “doku” can be understood as a verb that means “reading”, while the “tsun” part originates in “tsumu” or “pile up”. Put together, “tsundoku” means buying reading material and piling it up.

    Gerstle said the word is not an insult in Japan, even if it might be interpreted otherwise in other countries.

    Tsundoku is distinct from the word “bibliomania”, a term commonly used by self-identified book lovers. Oxford Living Dictionaries defines the latter as “passionate enthusiasm for collecting and possessing books”. While people engaging in tsundoku pile up books by accident, bibliomaniacs have a clear intention to create a collection of books.

    No matter which category you fall into, guilt may come into play as you add another copy or two into your ever-growing library. However, as book critic Michael Dirda said: “As book collectors know all too well: We only regret our economies, never our extravagances.”

    Do you buy books that you barely get around to reading? 

    • Hi Mandy,
      great to hear from you – especially as you are on your big trip. I hope it’s going well. You’ll have to give us an update! I definitely have books I haven’t got around to reading and am engaged in tsundoku – the pile up just happens, with no plan or intention. What can you do hey! Anyway, sending you love across the miles… xxx

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