Q. If you died in 1934 of a “lung hemorrhage,” could that be a euphemism for tuberculosis?
— Kathryn, of Collinsville
A. If this person was on your family tree, you may be thinking that someone didn’t want it broadcast for all eternity that an ancestor died of TB, much as some folks still may be squeamish about listing cancer or Alzheimer’s.
But a century ago, lung hemorrhage was indeed a common, primary cause of death among tuberculosis patients. In fact, in some cases, doctors may not have even known the patient had TB, says Dr. Norman Edelman, the senior consultant for scientific affairs at the American Lung Association (which once called itself the National Tuberculosis Association).
“I would say in 1934 probably the most common reason for someone dying of a lung hemorrhage would be TB,” Edelman told me. “But it’s not a euphemism. The patient died because they hemorrhaged from the lung. In 1934, before the era when we had antibiotics, tuberculosis would be the most common cause of that.”
Here’s what happens: TB can cause a type of inflammation known as a granuloma, in which cells grow out of control. In some cases, it spreads like a tumor, invading blood vessels. This can cause bleeding, which can lead to death from hemorrhaging.
“It wasn’t the usual thing that happened, but TB doctors certainly knew about it,” Edelman said. “So a properly drawn death certificate would say ‘Cause of death: lung hemorrhage. Secondary cause: tuberculosis.’ But it’s possible in those days — especially if people were not wealthy — that tuberculosis was not even discovered. The patient just presented with a lung hemorrhage and you didn’t know that tuberculosis was the underlying cause.”
Sadly, as Edelman notes, the person you may be asking about had plenty of company. Before he made it big, early country superstar Jimmie Rodgers was diagnosed with TB in 1924 at age 27. By the time he showed up for his final recording session in 1933, he was so weak he had to rest on a cot between songs. Two days later, on May 26, the 35-year-old entertainer died of a lung hemorrhage.
Once commonly called consumption, tuberculosis is thought to have killed one of every seven people who ever lived, according to the recent PBS special “The Forgotten Plague.” But although it still kills 1.6 million worldwide, it caused just 536 deaths in the U.S. in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Q. Can you please explain the strange dating system in your Saturday papers? For the life of me, I cannot understand what benefit we readers get out of knowing it’s Week 8 or Week 10.
— E.M., of Belleville
A. We’ve certainly upset readers with countless stories and editorials, but in my 47 years here, I cannot remember such a seemingly innocuous style change irritating subscribers as much as this one has.
Everywhere I go, I am bombarded by complaints and questions about our weird/strange/odd/incomprehensible dating system in our Saturday paper. Since I don’t want to belittle your irritation, let me try one more time to explain the reasoning and hope for understanding:
Starting last May 10, we decided to have our Saturday paper serve two purposes. Our home subscribers would get the normal Saturday paper. But we thought customers at Schnucks or Walmart might be more likely to buy our Saturday paper if we stuffed it with the ads and other inserts our home subscribers would receive on Sunday.
Since this is our early Sunday edition for stores and vending machines, we want the Sunday date on them. In the newspaper biz, this is a “bulldog edition” — an edition of a paper that usually goes on sale the previous day. But our home subscribers will receive a true Sunday paper, so we obviously want them to see the Saturday date on the Saturday paper.
Here’s the problem: If we were to put, say, Saturday, Feb. 28, throughout the papers we deliver to homes and Sunday, March 1, on the others, we’d have to make at least two copies (or “plates”) of each page. At about $7 a page, this would cost us an estimated $8,000 a year just to change one teensy-tiny line on each page.
Instead, we decided to change the actual date only on the front page and use the number of the week throughout the rest of all papers. So, in all honesty, the real benefit of using the week number isn’t for you; it’s for our bottom line. Here’s what I hope is a simple answer: Look for the date on the front page and ignore the rest.
Where would you find Mount Harvard and Mount Yale?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: Pierce Brosnan is even hotter than his adoring fans think. While studying acting at London’s Oval House Theatre in 1969, Brosnan, just 16, saw someone leading a fire-eating workshop. But it wasn’t the thought of picking up the odd skill that necessarily interested him.
“I noticed that there were women there and they had their tops off,” Brosnan told The Guardian in 2003. “This guy was a street performer and he was teaching us how to put the flames across the chest and the young ladies had to take their bras off. So I went to the workshop and I learned how to fire-eat.”
Early on, Brosnan used the skill to land a job in a circus. He also did it once on his TV show “Remington Steele,” but the four-time James Bond quit after things went horribly wrong on, of all programs, an episode of “The Muppet Show.”
“The prop guy said, ‘This stuff is great. It doesn’t taste of anything, you don’t smell it,’” Brosnan recalled. “I went, ‘This is good. I’ll try this.’ It was like rocket fuel. I blew it, it all came back into my mouth and my mouth blew up. I had blisters for the rest of the show.”