Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sanatorium, Texas

A couple of weeks ago I was in Texas Junk Co. and found a box of papers that looked like it had come out of someone's attic. I probably spent half an hour sifting through it, expecting to uncover a brown recluse nest behind every page.

Fortunately I didn't find any spiders but I did find this fabulous letter postmarked January 13, 1941. That is exactly 50 years before Taylor was born so I bought the letter, not paying too much attention to any of the other details.
Once I got it home and took a good look at it, I noticed the postmark was from Sanatorium, Texas. Sanatorium?? Who in their right mind would want to live in a town called Sanatorium? Thanks to my sister's stealthy Googling skills we discovered that approximately 55,000 adults and children with tuberculosis chose to live there between 1912 and 1969. It was the state's first and largest TB colony.

To be honest, I had no idea there were TB colonies. I know about leper colonies but had never heard of TB colonies. After some research I learned that there was a guy who was cured of tuberculosis after a stay in the Himalayan mountains. Tuberculosis sanatoriums in the United States tried to duplicate those conditions by providing a treatment of fresh air, lots of food and milk, and plenty of rest. That was the cure for TB until effective drugs and surgical treatments showed up in the 1950s.

Sanatorium, Texas (which no longer exists) was located just outside of San Angelo. At its largest the complex covered 1,000 acres. It had 35 buildings including a post office, library, barber shop, dairy, hog farm, a power plant, a printing press with its own newspaper, a school for the children, churches, and a sewing club. Sounds like a town to me.

Eventually more effective TB treatments were discovered so there was no longer a need for a sanatorium. The facility was converted to the San Angelo State School which continues to serve the MHMR community.

Am I the only one fascinated by that? Probably. If you want the whole story you can read about it at the Texas State Historical Association.

I was shocked to discover that TB is still a serious problem in third world countries. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I thought it was like small pox or polio and had pretty much been wiped out or was under control. That's not the case at all. Even though there are now effective treatments for TB, those who are at the highest risk for it don't have access to those treatments. That makes me sad.

I also learned that when old books and movies talk about people dying of "consumption" they're talking about tuberculosis. I did not know that. Early folklore associated tuberculosis with vampires since it tended to suck the life from its victims.

The letter I bought appears to be from a young woman with TB living in Sanatorium. She's writing home to her mother and family. Oh, I also learned that a huge percentage of the world's population has been exposed to TB but the disease generally only manifests in those with weakened immune systems or those whose living conditions are unsanitary. This made me feel much better since I can just picture this gal coughing all over her letter as she was writing it and now I'm handling it while eating a bag of chips. If I lived in Africa I would be in serious trouble.

The letter is hard to read because of the woman's handwriting and she wasn't exactly queen of the spelling bee. Apparently her mother sent her some gifts for which she was very grateful. She especially needed the "scizers" because her fingernails and toenails were about a "foot long". She wanted her mother to make and send her some teacakes with raisins then proceeds to tell her how to make them.

She described what she had for dinner and she circled the word "milk" as if she'd had all of it she could stand. She was receiving gas treatments in which her lung was collapsed then filled with some kind of gas. She said her doctor might let her come home in 6 months if she stayed in bed. Bless her heart.

Then at the end of the letter it looks like she says something about the "last time the Dr. will see my ass". I'm not sure what that's all about.

I got some more letters from that same treasure box from a man staying in some kind of hospital in Muskogee, Oklahoma. It appears to be a long term stay but I can't figure out what his affliction is. Those letters are from the 1920s. I'll have to scan them later so that maybe someone can help me decipher them. It'll be my luck that he had small pox or something so now I'm probably a carrier for that as well as TB.


Canada said...

I was very interested in your findings. I am working on Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos and I have reason to believe that she stayed here except that she called it San Ángel because she was a Spanish speaker. She would have stayed there sometimes in the 1950's.

Thomas Jones said...

My Maternal Grandmother was a resident at Sanitorium, Tx in the 1940's.............. very interesting!