This episode was mostly about the path of two integral advances in medicine, a possible cure for tuberculosis that was finally tested on a patient, and a possible cure for diphtheria that had begun to see success in animal testing. However, I want to start with Sister Therese because she broke my heart when she told Ida that God was punishing her for her feelings. Therese contracted tuberculosis and was only allowed to remain at the hospital because of the intervention of Dr. Virchow. Our society has advanced to a significant degree, but this is a wrenching reminder of a time when there was such a lack of understanding, acceptance, even acknowledgement of the LGBTQ experience. That Therese could think that her feelings for Ida resulted in God’s punishment via a then often fatal disease made me feel for the many who might have felt as she did at that time.
Therese became the first patient to be injected with tuberculin. When it came time to test the tuberculin, Dr. Koch first injected it on himself, a healthy patient. He became so ill that he had to be taken to his home, where his estranged wife lived, so he could receive proper care. At first, Mrs. Koch refused to allow Dr. Koch in, but Hedwig cleverly pointed out that refusing him entry into his own home whilst he was ill could be construed as abandonment of Mrs. Koch’s marital duties. When Dr. Koch recovered, Mrs. Koch told him that she could live with his relationship with Hedwig; she was still against the two of them getting a divorce.
Hedwig next volunteered to be injected with tuberculin. She had a mild fever, but was otherwise fine. As a final test subject, Dr. Ehrlich, who had recovered from tuberculosis, also volunteered. As with Hedwig, all that happened to him was a mild fever. Dr. Koch then gave the tuberculin to Therese, witnessed by other doctors and photographed by Tischendorf.
In contrast to Dr. Koch’s apparent success, Dr. Behring faced disappointment. The animal trials on his diphtheria cure were successful. Though Dr. Koch was less than enthusiastic about his research, Dr. Behring had a champion in Director Spinola. Dr. Virchow agreed to be part of Dr. Behring's demonstration; the white rabbits were given the cure whilst the black rabbits were not. After three days, Dr. Behring opened the doors to his colleagues and Tischendorf with his camera, and saw that all the rabbits survived. Later, Dr. Behring figured out that the variable he was not able to account on was the season. Diphtheria could not survive in the cold, hence, though the rabbits were infected, they remained healthy.
It was to Ida that Dr. Behring shared his breakthrough. Dr. Behring, who left Ida when she lost her fortune, kissed her. It was their shared enthusiasm for medicine that drew them together. Ida, however, was all but engaged to Tischendorf, and Dr. Behring had really caught the eye of Director Spinola’s daughter Else. As I previously wrote, I don’t particularly ship Ida and Dr. Behring. It is Dr. Behring’s support and encouragement of Ida’s interest in medicine that makes him sort of okay in my eyes, despite his famous temper and his continued addiction to opium. There was one doctor who volunteered to work with Dr. Behring, Dr. Ehrlich.
There is a fine balance of medicine and melodrama in this episode, which has to be my favourite so far.
■ Tischendorf and his a—- friend von Minckwitz took a photograph of Hedwig, which ended up in the newspaper. Dr. Koch’s affair was now widely known.
■ Tischendorf, with Dr. Virchow’s backing, convinced Director Spinola to splurge on a camera for the hospital. He was even given a small studio.
■ Dr. Virchow was supportive of Nurse Edith’s plan to form a carer’s union.
■ Dr. Behring named the rabbit who was the first successful recipient of his diphtheria cure Ida.
Image from Charitè, currently streaming on Netflix