Brana Dimitrijević

Fever and a Spider

Fever met a spider and they started traveling together. When they came to a vineyard, the spider went on but fever stayed behind and "attacked" a man who started to shiver. However, the man took a hoe and dug so hard until he was dripping with sweat so that fever relaxed its grip. The next day the same thing happened and fever finally gave up and left the man and the vineyard.

Meanwhile, the spider went to a city and settled down in the room of a gentleman. But every day a cleaning lady came to clean the dust and the spider's web. The spider left the room and started traveling again. After some time he came across the same fever he had met before. They talked about their different experiences and decided to exchange them. So, the spider went to the vineyard where he could make webs to his heart's content and fever went to the gentleman in the city and started to shake him. The gentleman went to bed and called for the doctor. But it was in vain. He suffered enormously...

This folk story is a good example of how a false belief is formed. Dr. Vladan Đorđević writes in his book, "Folk Medicine in Serbia" (1872): "Folk medicine is not only applied to disease, but it influence people's lives much more than can be imagined. In this way, people not only form ideas of how diseases are caused, but also what diets to follow. This becomes an unwritten law—they know it by heart and behave accordingly." Dr. Đorđević writes that people believe there are two types of fever: "public'" and "secret." Malaria would be "public" fever, which manifests itself in intense and dramatic fits, whereas tuberculosis is a "secret'" one, characterized by a somewhat higher but steady body temperature. In folk medicine both diseases are treated the same way So if a person suffers from one form of fever or the other, the following advice is given: "Drink quite a big quantity of plum brandy (šljivovica), take something heavy in your hands and walk uphill until you start to sweat.'"

In the story of "Fever and a Spider," fever is a so-called "public'" one— malaria in swampy regions. Dr. Đorđević writes (referring to Dr. Valenta): "Malaria exists especially in the northern areas along the rivers Danube, Sava and Morava. and at the mouths of many smaller rivers and brooks. In years when the Danube, Sava and Tisa overflow and form such floodwaters that enable travel by boat from Titel to Belgrade, all valleys turn into pools with rotten fish, which can be smelled for miles... Then malaria develops and turns into an epidemic...People start to wither away and the weight of their spleen goes up to 6-8 pounds. In such years a great number of people die in spite of the existence of a specific, reliable drug against this infection. Dr. Valenta doesn't dare to estimate how many people fell ill based on quinine usage for two reasons. First, there are prejudices against the use of quinine and second, few sick people consult a doctor but go to some sort of healer..."

In fact, this attitude is evident in the story of "Fever and a Spider:" those who follow a doctor's advice and stay in bed will have their fill of suffering and those who toil with a hoe will get better. According to this folk tradition, it is believed that a disease is cured by sweating as a result of physical activity, and not by being bedridden and yielding to the illness (even nowadays some people practice this when they have a cold or the flu).

This tradition was evident during the malaria epidemic at the Thessalonica front. In July 1916, at the delta of the river Vardar, soldiers of the Šumadija Division were fiercely bitten by mosquitoes. In only one day there were up to 300 cases of malaria, but the disease was underestimated.   The Division was ordered to march up the Kožuh and Nidža mountains. Except for the Division's Chief Medical Officer, nobody saw anything peculiar or bad during the march. Wasn't fever cured and disease prevented by walking at a fast pace, weighted down, which led to sweating? That's how the Timok Division was decimated, too.

The year 1914 was even worse, regarding the number of patients suffering from typhus, malaria, paratyphoid and cholera. Malaria did not cause huge numbers of fatalities but did recur constantly, which caused long-term body weakness to its victims. The clinical picture and symptoms of malaria were not always the same. Sometimes the manifestation was in the form of high fever, while other times it was imperceptible. Sometimes it caused death but other times soldiers would not show any symptoms and malaria would be diagnosed when the wounds had healed.

Quinine was given either as a cure or a preventative measure. But Serbian soldiers did not believe in it. Hence, as a preventative. it was necessary to order every soldier to swallow the prescribed dosage of quinine in the presence of a doctor or an officer, whereas malaria was cured in outpatient and convalescent centers. The following quantity of quinine was used: 11,000 kg of pills, 200 kg of powder and 407,000 ampoules. Still, there were some units, especially at the front lines, that avoided the order to take quinine. The battle against malaria at the Thessalonica front was made more difficult by doctrinal doubts of Serbian and Allied doctors, delays, swamps (which could not be turned into dry land), as well as prejudices.

Translated from Serbian by Emilija Kićović
Originally published Zadužbina 18, #76, Belgrade

На Растку објављено: 2009-03-12
Датум последње измене: 2009-03-11 23:06:15

Пројекат Растко / Историја / Историја медицине