D = Dick’s Test (A-Z Challenge)

It’s not what you think. It’s not a test to see if someone’s a jerk, nor is it a test to…well, you just get your mind out of the gutter with that one.

Gladys Henry Dick (WTF kind of unfortunate name for a female was that?!) and George Frederick Dick invented Dick’s Test in 1924 as a way to see if someone is susceptible to scarlet fever.

Scarlet fever is characterized by sore throat, fever, a bright red tongue with a scary white patch at the back, paranoia, hallucinations, abdominal pain, vomiting, and a distinct rash. It looks like a peppering of spotted rash and would eventually begin to peel. The fever could get up to 101 or higher, it could cause sepsis, and would eventually kill you. And by “you” I mean “children.” It was most common in children and was featured in the Velveteen Rabbit, Charles Darwin lost kids to it, it is likely what caused Helen Keller to lose her senses (literally), could lead to kidney/liver damage, could develop into the “flesh eating” bug, and it was known for wiping out an entire family’s children, leaving the parents physically unharmed.

The Dick Test was a way to check and isolate those in danger. They would basically shoot your skin up with the disease to see if you would get it. People who did not react were considered to have sufficient antibodies and were therefore not in danger. This seems pretty messed up. Granted, they had a way to nullify the topical effects, but it’s almost like the kind of “logic” extant at the Salem Witch Trials. “We are going to dunk you in this cold, cold river until you admit that you are a witch. Then, we will likely kill you…because you are a witch. If you are not and you die from this torture, well, surely someone will write a sincere letter of apology in a few hundred years.”

However, it seemed to work. It was a fair enough indication of who would catch this (at the time) dreaded disease. Since scarlet fever used to kill and did so very often, their achievements were groundbreaking and revolutionary. They probably saved many lives. The Dicks eventually even created a vaccine…only to have this replaced by penicillin in 1940. Now, neither the Dick’s Test nor the vaccine are in use. Gladys died in 1963 and George died in 1967, so they saw everything they did, all their toil and pain, turn to complete ashes. I imagine there is nothing like watching your best known work (a.k.a. life’s work) be totally eclipsed and made irrelevant by another person’s discovery.

You have to imagine these Dicks getting, say, strep throat or some other infection and being prescribed penicillin. I can picture them in the doctor’s office thinking, “Seriously, if this fucking doctor prescribes me penicillin, I am going to jam his stethoscope right up his urethra and show him what a REAL Dick’s Test is like.” I can picture them, bitter at the pharmacy (or apothecary or potion shack, I have no freakin’ clue what they had in those days), slamming the prescription on the counter, looking like they had just sucked a lemon dry and ate the rind, unable to talk from their swollen, infected throats, and just glaring at the bottle when they got home. “It’s 3 o’clock. Time to take the Dream Destroyer,” swallowing a penicillin tablet (and no small amount of bile, I expect), and just spending the day pissed off.

Gladys Dick eventually went on to do other things, but she never did anything as significant as this now-obsolete test. My Oracle (a.k.a. Wikipedia) tells me almost nothing more about George Dick. As bacteriologists, they were probably very happy that something else came out to treat not only scarlet fever, but a myriad of other conditions. Still, I wonder if they weren’t the least bit bitter. Penicillin stole their thunder.

Unfortunately for them, Xanax wasn’t released until 1981 and Prozac remained a dream until 1986 to early 1987. Alcohol, however, had been around for centuries.

I picture, somewhere in the afterlife, Gladys and George have heard about MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases which could potentially throw our medical practice back to the Dark Ages, and they are maybe just a little bit pleased. “Should have stuck with our vaccine, huh? Who’s obsolete now, bitches?”

Alternate letter considerations: Deadlights (It), Deadites (Evil Dead), deadlines.


~ by Darren Endymion on May 5, 2014.

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