It is so hard to write a review on such a dense book this far removed from having read it but I have been woefully tardy in my review writing so bear with me…
Doctor’s weren’t alone in benefiting from the people-getting-better phenomenon, or, as it is formally known, ‘self limited disease.’
It may be hard to believe that less than one hundred years ago a simple bacterial infection would realistically kill you. Modern medicine the way we know it really began in earnest in the 1930s with Alexander Fleming’s (most likely not accidental) discovery of wonder-drug Penicillin. In Miracle Cure William Rosen tells the story of the rise of antibiotics and the ascent of Big Pharma throughout the first half of the twentieth century. One of the more interesting things Rosen discusses in regards to the rise of penicillin is the injuries doctors were seeing during WWII and the struggles to procure the untested but promising antibiotic. Seriously, inventory was so limited that when doctors discovered the drug lingered intact in the patients’ urine they reused it!
Sidebar- I am super allergic to Penicillin. A few years back I went to a new doctor who, after an admittedly lack luster first visit, sent a penicillin prescription over to CVS instead of a Z-pack for a killer sinus infection. This was despite my first sentence with every new physician being “I almost died as a child from a penicillin reaction… yes, I believe I turned purple.” Luckily something made me pause before putting the pill on my tongue and check the bottle. And did you know when you call the after hours line of a doctor’s office and share that their inattention to detail almost killed you they’ll call you back at 8:45 pm with a new prescription? I’ve read that some people have awful reactions as children but are able to use penicillin later in life without a reaction but I am too chicken shit to test this out myself. End Sidebar.
Most of the chapters begin with a patient and their particular case as it pertains to the development of a particular drug. Rosen touches on antibiotics other than penicillin including sulfa drugs and their trial by literal fire when the Coconut Grove caught on fire in 1942. Many of the Grove victims were given the untested antibiotic in hopes of saving their lives and in most (all? I can’t remember) cases succeeded.
Miracle Cure also highlights the various players involved in the eventual dominance of antibiotics; Flemming, Pasteur, Koch and Waksman to name a few. Of course that dominance has led to a dependence on antibiotics and has lead to resistant strains of bacteria. Overall this was an interesting albeit unmemorable read.