Saturday, May 31, 2008

What is Typhus?

12 Facts about Typhus

1. The word typhus comes from the Greek meaning smoky or lazy - referring to the delirium that is a common symptom.
2. Typhus contributed to the death of Anne Frank.
3. Epidemics of typhus are caused by body lice (not head lice) bites or exposure to their feces.
4. A louse bite is itchy and then the infected feces is rubbed into the wound.
5. Typhus thrives in overcrowded and unsanitory living conditions.
6. Lice get the typhus bacteria from rodents like mice and rats.
7. Incubation period is 7 days.
8. Begins with a severe headache, then sudden high fever, chills and delirium.
9. On the fifth day a rash appears.
10. Sensitivity to light is common.
11. Mortality rate is 10 - 60 per cent.
12. Typhus has caused massive deaths throughout history (every time there was a war or a natural disaster where people were crowded together) - until a vaccination was successfully produced in 1943 and the invention of DDT.

My grandmother died of typhus is a transition camp near Yaya which is near Tomsk, Siberia. She was a young mother with four surviving children (my mother being the oldest). She was one of the many hundreds of thousands of deaths because of Stalin's vision for the Soviet Union.

I guess what bothers me most about her death is how hard it was for me to learn about it. My mother learned to ignore that part of her life (a survival technique, I suppose) and there's no grave. I wonder if the fact that the Soviets were part of the Allies has anything to do with the lack of information about these victims.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

More about small things

I'd heard about lice. Letters sent home from the schools reporting a case of head lice to all the parents had become more frequent in recent years. But it was always about other kids. Well, with the third child, we were included in this nitpicking trauma. Turns out though, it was great research for my book.

Little lice were a big deal up in the barracks of the Siberian exiles. My mother told of how a sweater moved because it was covered with the parasites. And, unlike bedbugs, lice aren't just an itchy inconvenience. Lice can carry typhus and this disease has killed thousands of people. My grandmother was killed by a louse that probably looked like this. It was a very difficult chapter to write (and re-write) in my book.

Body louse

Here are 12 quick facts about lice:
1. Lice is plural. One lice is a louse.
2. Their eggs are called nits.
3. Lice have no wings.
4. Lice feed on human blood.
5. Lice cause intense itching and red spots.
6. There are three kinds of lice - head, body and pubic.
7. Head lice attach themselves to hair, body lice attach
themselves to clothes.
8. You get rid of body lice by boiling or burning the clothes
or using insecticide.
9. Body lice can carry the typhus disease.
10. 6-12 million Americans have lice annually.
11. Lice thrive in overcrowded and unhygenic living conditions.
12. Lice thrived in the Gulag.

I'll share more about typhus in an upcoming post.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

May L...o...n...g Weekend!

This spring has been slow in coming but now that it's knocking, it would be rude of me to ignore this dearly anticipated season. The birds are singing their little hearts out and the tree buds are threatening to burst. I too, am thrilled by the magic of it all. So sitting at this computer seems wrong. There are weeds to defeat, grasses to mend, soil to get dirty with and sweet air to breathe. I have to check on the lilac buds, on the new shoots from last year perennials, and smile at the tenacity of my beloved dandelions.

However, I'll continue to read - only now it's in my garden - (okay, or at the side of a field during a soccer practice). I posted a review about Margaret Hume's book, Just Mary - The Life of Mary Evelyn Grannan - over at Amazon. It's a book about a forties/fifties CBC radio and TV pioneer in children's entertainment. Very interesting stuff. We've come a long way, Virginia!

I've also just finished Flames of the Tiger by John Wilson (Kids Can Press, 2003). I'm trying to read more of the German kids' points of view during the Nazi times. There's still only a handful. This book is set in Berlin and gives good detail about daily life and of some of the attitudes average Germans had towards the war.

Its dedication reads, "For all the victims of the Nazis: those who were damaged in spirit as well as in body." Books like these are necessary for us to TRY and understand.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Small things

I'm preparing a workshop presentation for a Germans from Russia geneology meeting next month where I'll be sharing my experiences in writing my upcoming novel. So I've been thinking a lot about the research I've done to understand Olga's world. I've mentioned some of these things in this blog - big things - like Siberia and Gulags and Stalin. But there were little things, too. And some of them were quite ugly little things. Take the bedbugs, for instance.

Wanzen - that's what my mom called them. I never bothered to figure out what they were. They just belonged to the general horror of her time in Siberia. But when I started seriously writing about her youth, I had to figure out what these 'wanzen' were. They were bedbugs.

My youngest child would recite the bedbug poem almost every night before bed. "Good night, sleep tight, make sure the bedbugs don't bite. And if they do, take a shoe, and wack them 'til they're black and blue." I had no idea of the nightmare of my mom's Siberian nights.
While they don't spread diseases, bedbugs are considered a nuisance and can be difficult to eradicate.
Bedbugs are brown oval creatures that shun daylight and that bite humans. They took over the barracks where the exiles slept. They'd fall from the ceilings or the upper beds and crawl all night over the faces of the exhausted humans. Children would wake up, unable to open their eyes because of the welts from the bugs.

Bedbugs are making the news in our city because changes in pesticide laws and increased world travel are letting these annoying insects multiply. The only good thing about bedbugs is that unlike lice they don't carry disease. They only suck your blood. Small comfort.



Saturday, May 3, 2008

Review of I Heart You , You Haunt Me

It's my goal to read all the Class of 2k8 books. The first one I've read is Lisa Schroeder's I heart you, You haunt me. My 15 year old daughter read it first and couldn't put it down until she was done. So I knew it must be a winner. I wasn't too leery of the verse format because I'd read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and knew that it could work with a skilled writer.

And Lisa Schroeder is obviously a skilled writer. Her story is a poignant account of love, of guilt and of being young & sensitive. It's a sensuous book, full of color, smell, sound, taste and touch. The book was easy to read because it was fresh and simple. And I mean simple in a good way - simple as in pure. It's all about emotions and I can't imagine a better way to tell this hopeful story of a young girl's pain.