Meanwhile, in France, nothing has changed. The great medical chiefs have absolute confidence in themselves, and despite the brilliant results that Joseph Lister continues to obtain in Edinburgh, the principle of asepsis is disdainfully rejected. Today, one can look back sadly at the number of lives which would have been saved if Pasteur’s, Lister’s and Guerin’s advice on elementary hygiene had been adopted as soon as it was known. Pasteur, a great one for shaking up ideas, outdoes himself in communications before the Academie de medecine, and battles on all fronts:
“If one examines a probe under the microscope, one finds on its surface ridges and valleys inside which are lodged dusts that the most minutious washing cannot completely remove. The flame allows the entire destruction of these organic dusts. So, in my laboratory where I am enveloped in germs of all sorts, I do not use an instrument without firstly passing it through the flame.”
Alas, for the eternal supporters of spontaneous generation, the germ is born in the patient, it does not come from the instruments. Therefore, people continue to die under the Surgeon’s scalpel.
The room where one gives birth seems to the women of the people to be death’s antechamber. They still recall in horror that, inside the Hopital de la Maternite de Paris, from 1st April to 10 May 1856, out of three hundred and forty-seven women having given birth, there were sixty-four deaths. The hospital had to be closed, and the survivors were obliged to take refuge in the Hopital Lariboisiere, where almost all of them succumbed, pursued – it was said – by the epidemic. Eight years later, in 1864, out of one thousand, five hundred and thirty women having given birth, there were three hundred and ten deaths. It was another thirteen years before Tarnier, then at the head of the Maternite de Paris, put into practice Lister’s techniques, asepsis techniques which had already been adopted by Russia, Holland, Germany, Austria and Denmark, with the greatest success. Doctor Roux evokes Pasteur’s state of mind during these incessant battles that he was having with the Doctors. He is not content with just giving advice, criticizing (and, in passing, making permanent enemies among those who place their professional vanity higher than scientific progress), he works ceaselessly to demonstrate that which he is advancing. He searches, he experiments and improves the technique of the culture of microbes in the laboratory, getting them to reproduce in his flasks, his test-tubes, in different nutritive media, such as the beer yeast bouillon. This technique was initiated by a young German Medical Doctor who himself admitted being stimulated by Pasteur’s studies. His name is Doctor Koch. Assisted by his wife and daughter, this country Doctor, living in a little village in an eastern province, will bring direct proof that a defined type of microbe is at the origin of a defined type of illness, by developing a pure culture containing only one bacterial layer. It is with this method that he would succeed, in 1882, in isolating the tuberculosis bacillus.
In Paris, Pasteur goes into hospitals, takes samples from sick people, with his sterilized test-tubes and pipettes. When he is warned of the dangers of contagion, he replies:
“Life amongst danger is a real life, it is a great life, it is a life of sacrifice, it is a life of example, that which fecunds!”
He roars with holy anger against the Doctors who continue to dissert without acting:
“I’ll make them move! They must come round to it, whatever it takes!”
In June 1877, he notices under his microsope a long filament, crawling and flexible, translucent to the point of easily not being seen and which, in his own words, “pushes aside the globules of blood like a serpent pushes aside grass in the bushes”. It is the septic vibrion, discovered inside the deep veins of an asphyxiated horse. From the peritone where it is rife, this moving thread passes into the blood after death. A drop of this infected blood innoculated into another animal immediately provokes septicaemia in it. But there is a problem: this minuscule killer cannot stand oxygen, which destroys it. How can it then act and make victims by passing through the air? The Chemist cultivates the vibrion in a vacuum and in the presence of carbonic gas. His experience in the seeding and dissemination of beer yeasts, and those of the silkworm maladies, allow him to work by comparisons. As Emile Duclaux says:
“To the question: is it a virus? Is it a microbe? Pasteur is better placed than anyone else to find an answer. From his studies on beer, from his fights with his contradictors, he is armed with a technique already formed, with the knowledge and the manipulation of microbian species.”
In fact, the “so-called Chemist” permits himself to give courses on Methodology to his enemies. Amedee Latour, a journalist from Union Medicale, who regularly follows the seances at the Academie de medecine, reports, amused, one of Pasteur’s clashes with a contradictor. It is again a believer in spontaneous generation, but this time it is not a Medical Doctor, it is a Veterinary Surgeon, Colin, professeur d’ecole from Alfort. Colin describes his experiment: he had innoculated the leg of an animal with blood from another animal which had died from anthrax. The lymph gland nearest to the injection swelled, the innoculated animal is in turn ill, but Colin does not find bacteridies in the gland, or in the animal’s blood, and yet, it is infectious. Pasteur asks him how he had examined the glandular liquid. Colin replies with the microscope of course. Pasteur tells him that, as his microscope only shows things four or five hundred times their size, this was not the right way to go about it.
“It was four or five square metres of your glass plate over which you should have passed your microscope to be able to perceive the one and only bacteridie which had escaped […] when you examined your gland. It is by the culture of the bacteridies that one is able to arrive at the certitude of the opinions that I have advanced on anthrax.”
And the journalist concludes:
“What a valiant fighter Monsieur Pasteur is!”
To be continued.