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G.W., age 30: Lupus Vulgaris
Private collection of John Wood
PATIENT AT the clinic of the University Medical College. The disease had existed for twenty-one years. It began, according to the patient, in the form of a small scaly pimple midway between right eye and ear. It spread very gradually, in spite of the endeavors of several physicians, who employed both internal remedies and caustics. Four years before the photograph was taken a patch appeared on the scalp near the vertex. The patient now being transferred to my care, I endeavored to check the spread of the patch, and particularly to prevent its further extension upon the eyelid. Caustic potassa in solid stick was applied successively to portions of the edge of the patch. Absorbent cotton wrapped about a probe and dipped in the liquefied potassa was used when working upon the eyelids. By means of these applications, frequently repeated, the elevated margin of the patch was soon reduced to a level with the adjacent healthy skin. The patch was then covered with adhesive mercurial plaster for a few weeks. It is now quite smooth, of a dull reddish hue, looking at a distance like a faint port-wine mark. There are neither tubercles, pustules nor scales at present. The lower portion of the patch, to which the thermo-cautery was applied, is remarkably smooth, and the edge of the patch can hardly be made out, as the redness of the burn shades off into the surrounding healthy skin.
[George Henry Fox (1846-1937), American pioneer in dermatology]
A face of embers, thirty, handsome,
whole years melted, so long
at the kindling point, wifeless,
aroused, virginal, smoldering
in his prowling combustion
like a patch of flame
ready to break and howl out,
desires in packs, rovings
that went no where but to the wash,
but always outward, outward pushing,
far fields and horizons, to trash-faced whores
"Not on your life, Mister," poxed,
dangerous, "Keep it in your pocket,"
flowing with bone rot no, a pure clean
marrow but knotted in frenzy, and waking
with ideas he'd fall asleep with
dreaming of doing things he didn't know
the words for or if there were words,
huge hammers sledging in a hail
of blood-storm pure as corposant fire,
caught breath and risings and thoughts
of the West, the bad lands, where he'd heard
there were possible allowances honed allowances,
whetted, stropped and brought to an edge's edge,
having now by prayers been blanketed
for years, self, mother, father
and grandmother, having wanted
for half a life to be dead,
and men of God advising swathes
and wires, those night-cages
tied to touching boys,
and all medicine useless
before the vulgarity of his face.
And then George Fox, in white,
and smelling clean as sunfire
and purifying in communion.
And it was no more than a birthmark,
a splash of spilled wine.
And G. W., whose life had been reborn,
must have taken Fox's hand, held it
and searched uselessly
the hymnals of his thought
for adequate song.
John Wood Endurance and Suffering: Narratives of Disease in the 19th Century (Edition Galerie Vevais, 2009) [Note: First edition is dated March 2007 but was published in October 2008.]