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Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Knick 2.4: Spirochete

My favorite thing about The Knick is the way it shows medical science in heroic, close to hopeless action at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century.   Sitting here in 2015, we know how many of these valiant attempts to vanquish malady worked out - or didn't - but it's especially fascinating to see our characters throw everything they can into these one-on-one battles for life and death, or at least health and knowledge.

Actually, it's usually one character who's leading the charge, often alone, or with a doubting assistant. Last season, Thackery did what he could for Abby, an old flame who caught syphilis from someone else, and is now suffering one of the symptoms, a collapsed nose. Thackery performs a pioneering skin graft from Abby's arm to reconstruct her nose.  She's happy with that bit of light in her darkness, even though they both know that the spirochete inside her will work inexorably to her imminent death, however improved her face may be.

But Thackery's guiding principle is that while there's life there's hope, and in last night's episode 2.4 he undertakes to rid Abby of the deadly disease, which is already taking its toll in other parts of her body and psyche.   This is 1901, or nearly 40 years ahead of penicillin, which would finally bring the scourge down to manageable treatment.   It's also a few years before Salvarsan, an arsenic-based drug, but that worked best with cases in early stages anyway, and Abby's is pretty far gone.

Fortunately, Thackery becomes aware of another treatment - fever - the heat of which can kill the spirochete, if it's high enough.  The catch for the Knick's doctor is that the fever has to be high indeed - 109 degrees - which could well fry poor Abby's brain.  So here's the perfect tension for our story: will Thackery be able to raise the heat in Abby's body high enough to kill the spirochete before the heat kills Abby?

You never know how these things will work out on The Knick.  Abby had been a significant but not crucial character to the story.  I was therefore pleased to see the spirochete get its due, and Abby smile, and the end of this fine little story of medical success.

See also The Knick 2.1: Playing Off Our Present

And see also The Knick: Paean to Scientific Method ... The Knick Sneak Preview Review 1.8: Good Loving, the Fix, and Typhoid Mary ... The Knick Sneak Preview Review 1.9: Sacrifice ... The Knick 1.10 Sneak Preview Review: Fallibility

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