It’s over twenty years since I first read ‘The Cry and the Covenant’ , by Morton Thompson, and at least ten years since I re-read it. It’s historical fiction based on the life of a Hungarian doctor called Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) and what still strikes me the most is that no-one has ever heard of him. It may be different in Hungary and Austria, where I believe there’s a statue of him.
We’ve all heard of Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur–Lister is acknowledged as the first surgeon to use antiseptic during surgery, in 1865. Ignaz died in 1865 so probably didn’t know of Lister’s achievement.
This man most of us are unaware of was vilified by his fellow doctors for his preposterous theory that the thousands of women dying across Europe after childbirth could possibly be saved if doctors were to wash their hands! Everyone knew childbed fever was caused by a miasma, poison floating around in the air, and the method of wiping their bloody hands on their jackets allowed doctors some status–it showed how hard they worked.
When Ignaz was able to establish his regime the women themselves were offended when doctors began washing their hands, taking it as a personal insult! Every time he managed a step forward the medical profession dragged him back; even so he saved the lives of many women. I have no idea if Lister knew of his work and was inspired by it or if he came up with that idea on his own. The book is a novel and, as such, the reader can’t be sure how much is fiction and how much is fact–the one thing that annoys me about historical novels. Why not a page or two at the end explaining some of the facts?
Anyway this book is amazing and, since it was written in 1949, may not be easy to get hold of. I’ve had three copies and lent them all out and now I don’t have any but that’s okay–I remember it! If you can get hold of it, it’s well worth a read.
It may be that I was especially taken with the book because I was mum to five young boys at that stage and it occurred to me that without visionaries like Ignaz I may not have survived the first one! My boys are all grown up now–and yes I still call them boys but then my 93 year old mother still calls her brothers ‘the boys’.
If you have any children in the 9-12 age bracket, my children’s novel, ‘Last Chance’ is free on Amazon till the 28th. Or you could read it yourself and write me a review if you like it! See my Amazon Author Page for info on all my books.