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  • Colleen MacFarlane

Consumption

In the 19th century tuberculosis was known as “consumption”. Consumption is defined as, "a wasting away of the body." To understand what it means to be dying of consumption during the 19th century, you need to understand death was caused by a vicious lung disease. Consumption ravaged the world during the 19th century, although it has been around far longer. It was easily spread whenever a patient coughed in the presence of others, and the droplets from their diseased lungs easily infected those exposed.

In 1882 Dr. Robert Koch discovered that consumption was caused by a bacterium, which was then named Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria targeted the lungs and led to a slow and excruciating death. The bacteria burrow into the lungs and begin to eat through the tissue working its way from the inside of the lungs to the outside. The bacteria reduced lung capacity and function. The patient's chest begins to fill with blood as the destroyed lung tissue turns to liquid. The lungs eventually liquify, robbing the patient of oxygen as the patient drowns and respiratory failure follows.

When consumption came to Chaska, Dr. Jones gave stern advice to Papa Kerker, and the entire choir, to stop singing as this contributed to the spread of consumption. Nonetheless, according to his death certificate on file at the Chaska Courthouse, Papa Kerker died of consumption in 1883.



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