Archive for the ‘public health’ Category

Hawks and Cholera

December 7, 2008

I am at my mom’s house for the weekend dog sitting for this guy:


This afternoon, I went for a walk along the bike paths that line the Bronx River Parkway. In the Village of Tuckahoe, the Bronx River widens into a slow moving lake-like body of water; it is my favorite walking spot because I always see all sorts of interesting creatures along the water. Today I spotted a great blue heron hanging out by the river bank. So I went on a path that goes up a ridge overlooking the river bank, putting me at eye level with high branches from the trees below. I looked down towards the river bank to find the heron, but all of a sudden, I am staring at this giant hawk that is in a branch right in front of me. The hawk could not have been more than 20 feet from me and it was right at my eye level. The hawk was facing me and I was able to look right in it’s eyes. After a few seconds, it seemed to notice I was staring at it, and it turned around to face the river, with its back towards me. Then it flew further away towards a branch closer by the river. It lifted its tail and pooped into river. Then it walked up the branch a little bit, and flew away to the other the side the river. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a hawk before, and I was able to see one so close up, it was amazing. Because I just read Red Tails In Love I wanted my bird to be a red tailed hawk. But after some extensive Google image searches, I think it was either a Cooper’s Hawk or an immature red tailed hawk. Cooper’s hawks are smaller than red-tails. I thought my bird was big and burly, but maybe that’s because I’ve never seen any other hawks before to compare it with. It had a large white belly with some scattered brown spots, like a red tailed hawk. But my bird didn’t have the red-orange tail that is characteristic of red-tailed hawks. Its tail was broad and brown with dark stripes. Both the Cooper’s hawk and immature red tailed hawks have these types of tail markings. So I don’t know what it was. But it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen.

Moving on to books, a few days ago I finished Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I very much enjoyed. When they are kids, Florentino Ariza falls head of heels in love with Fermina Daza. As they get older, Fermina chooses to marry a prominent, wealthy physician, and Florentino waits for the day he can once again profess his love for her. Only in old age, when they are both in their 70’s, does Florentino get a second chance with Fermina. On the surface it was a moving love story, but there are some more serious undertones throughout the novel. I did some research online (meaning I read the Wikipedia page) and found one of the major themes to be “love as an emotional and physical disease”. Florentino experiences physical pain from his love of Fermina Daza; for him, love is a disease which one can suffer from that is just as real as cholera.

Florentino Ariza loves Fermina Daza to the point of obsession. He eats the flowers that smell like her (camellias). He tries to find sunken pirate treasures so he can shower her with gold and jewels. He writes to her pages and pages of love letters, he follows her throughout the city and keeps tabs on her whereabouts. He is sick with love. Fermina’s husband, Juvenal Urbino, is the exact opposite. He fights cholera outbreaks throughout the city and successfully lobbied the local government to relocated the city dumps and sewage away from the harbor and the drinking supply. He is rational, practical and methodological.

Without this entry turning into a high school book report, I will just mention something else that I found interesting: according to the Wiki page, the word cholera in Spanish (colera) not only means the disease but also can denote rage or someone who is easily irritated or angered, much like the English word choleric. So you can look at the story another way – how Florentino manages the anger and frustration he feels about Fermina’s marriage to the wealthy Dr. Urbino and about social conditions of the city that influenced Fermina to marry someone she didn’t love so she could advance her social status.

In the mid-1800’s a cholera epidemic swept through New York City killing 3,515 people in a city of 250,000 people. (In today’s city of 8 million people, that would be the equivalent of 100,000 people dying of cholera.) But the out of this epidemic came the foundations of modern germ theory and the science of epidemiology, and also the creation of the New York City Department of Health. A British physician named John Snow was apparently the first person to document the connections between the spread of cholera and contaminated drinking water. Using a map of lower Manhattan, he marked the location of city water pumps as well as individual cases of cholera – thus showing that people who got water from contaminated pumps were the people who got sick. There wass a really good article about the cholera epidemic that was published in the Times a few months ago: How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis. The article ends with this: “Cholera is still a threat wherever drinking water is polluted. But Dr. Ho says that people should no longer die of it, if they are treated promptly and properly with rehydration fluids to restore their ravaged bodies.” And yet, there is currently a terrible cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe, where the disease has already killed over 560 people.