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The Detective of Science

The Detective of Science

A Typhoid Epidemic in 1931

circa 1937



NOTE: Published script from the May 1937 issue of The Health Officer.





THE DETECTIVE OF SCIENCE


A TYPHOID EPIDEMIC IN 1931


A FIFTEEN MINUTE RADIO DRAMA BASED ON AN ACTUAL OUTBREAK AND PREPARED BY THE U. S. OFFICE OF EDUCATION, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR FOR THE UNITED STATES PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE, OFFICE OF PUBLIC HEALTH EDUCATION



CAST

NURSE: Merely a young feminine voice, very soft and low.

DOCTOR: A grave voice, very deep.

MRS. TOBIN: Sad voiced, and mournful

COMMISSIONER: A heavy voice of an executive, dignified.

MR. FRANK: Higher voice than doctor. Flat. Nervous and defensive, sometimes solicitous.

MRS. KINGSTON: Older woman than Mrs. Tobin. Warm, eager to help, kindhearted, possessing a sense of humor.

MRS. FRANK: A woman of sixty, kind, sensitive, thin voiced.

NURSE STONE: Young woman. May be same character as above Nurse, though not identified as same. Curt, intelligent.


MUSIC: (THEME - UP AND FADE FOR...)


ANNOUNCER: "The Detective of Science"


MUSIC: (UP AND FADE)


ANNOUNCER: Presented by the United States Office of Education.


MUSIC: (THEME - SEGUE INTO SLOW TRAGIC MUSIC RISING SLOWLY UP TO BACKGROUND UNDER ANNOUNCER....HOLD)


ANNOUNCER: One of the least known, but most important agents of public health is - the man who solves the mystery of the epidemic - He traces its death-dealing course back to its origin and prevents loss of human lives. Your Public Health Officer works tirelessly to protect you from disease. When epidemics occur, he warns and advises us - and never rests until the disease is under control. It is 1931 - in a little home in the Park Heights residential section of Metropolis, a great seaport of the United States.


MUSIC: (UP THEN FADING TO BACKGROUND....HOLD)


MRS. TOBIN: (AD LIB SOBBING OFF MIKE - "OH, JERRY - MY BABY" - ETC HOLD IN BACKGROUND OVER MUSIC)


NURSE: (SOFTLY) I'm ready, Doctor - the name?


DOCTOR: (SOFTLY) Gerald Tobin


NURSE: Sex?


DOCTOR: Male.


NURSE: Race - white.


DOCTOR: Yes.


NURSE: Age?


DOCTOR: Seven and a half years.


NURSE: Cause of - death?


DOCTOR: (GRAVELY) Typhoid fever.


MRS. TOBIN: (SOBS GROW LOUDER APPROACHING HYSTERIA)


MUSIC: (UP AND COVERS SONS - ENTIRE EFFECT OUT)


ANNOUNCER: (DRAMATICALLY) Typhoid fever! Sixteen cases have been reported in Park Heights in the short period of one month! Five dead! How many more would contract the disease? Where had the typhoid epidemic originated? Where would it strike next among the millions of inhabitants of Metropolis? These were the problems facing health authorities who were trying to wipe out the disease.


MUSIC: (THEME BACKGROUND)


ANNOUNCER: After all efforts had failed to stop the spread of the disease, the City Commissioner of Health assigned one of the doctors of the Department of Health to the case....


COMMISSIONER: (FADING IN) Well - it's your case, Doctor.


DOCTOR: I'll do my best to trace it down, Commissioner.


COMMISSIONER: How will you begin?


DOCTOR: There must be a clue somewhere in these reports.


COMMISSIONER: (SIGHING) I'm afraid you won't find anything definite.


DOCTOR: Judging from these reports, Commissioner, we can eliminate a few false leads. The ages of these sixteen cases range from 7 1/2 years to 70, and the class of people is varied, indicating a general random distribution of the disease. That means no particular group is affected.


COMMISSIONER: (THOUGHTFULLY) Hmm....Yes. But the outbreak is limited to Park Heights...


DOCTOR: ...Which proves clearly that it is a local epidemic. (PONDERINGLY) Now let's see - the first case was discovered on May 18. Allowing a week for the first stages of the disease, the epidemic began around May 10.


SOUND: (RATTLES PAPERS AS HE EXAMINES THEM HURRIEDLY)


DOCTOR: Hmmm...! What's this? These reports show that in each case, merchandise had been purchased at the same delicatessen store. Look at this Commissioner!


COMMISSIONER: But the report shows a thorough examination of the merchandise and the employees of the store. The proprietor was examined and questioned. We found nothing there.


DOCTOR: Anyway I'm going to begin at the most logical point. I'm going to that delicatessen!


MUSIC: (THEME UP AND OUT)


SOUND: (RING OF CASH REGISTER)


MR. FRANK: (OFF MIKE) Thank you. Call again. (IN MIKE) Can I help you?


DOCTOR: Are you the proprietor of this delicatessen?


MR. FRANK: Why - yes.


DOCTOR: I'm a doctor of the City Board of Health.


MR. FRANK: (NERVOUSLY) Oh - it's about that typhoid business again.


DOCTOR: Yes, Mr. Frank. Mind if I look around?


MR. FRANK: Uh - no. (ASSURINGLY) But you'll find everything absolutely sanitary. That's how I keep my business. Everybody says....


DOCTOR: (INTERRUPTING) Yes, I see that, Mr. Frank, but the typhoid germ can exist even in sanitary places, in water, food, milk....Shall we look around?


MR. FRANK: (RESIGNEDLY) All right. But you'll see that everything's in good order.


DOCTOR: (OFF MIKE) This is a nice show case, here.


MR. FRANK: It cost me two thousand dollars. It's an ice-box too. We wash it thoroughly inside and out with soap and hot water at least once a week.


DOCTOR: Yes, it looks it. It shows up your merchandise very nicely. (PAUSE) That loose cream in the dairy counter, next to the large platter of potato salad — do you sell much of that?


MR. FRANK: (DEFENSIVELY) No - not so much. Anyway, it was checked up by the other doctors and they found it all right.


DOCTOR: Yes, I know. And I see by the reports that the lettuce you use came from a farm that uses chemical fertilizer so that eliminates that.


MR. FRANK: Why...?


DOCTOR: The type of fertilizer used is very important. Infection can often be traced to it.


MR. FRANK: I see.


DOCTOR: What about the potato salad? Do you make it here or buy it?


MR. FRANK: We make about thirty pounds each Friday or Saturday for the week-end business. Mike, that clerk over there, peels the potatoes, cuts them up, and adds the onions. Then it's all put on a big platter inside the cold showcase. It's all made in the kitchen.


DOCTOR: Then let's take a look at the kitchen.


MR. FRANK: (GOING) This way, doctor.


SOUND: (WATER RUNNING - NOISE OF DISHES BEING WASHED - NOT TOO LOUD)


DOCTOR: How long has this man been working for you?


MR. FRANK: Two years now - in fact all my help have been with me for a long time, and they were all examined by the Department of Health.


DOCTOR: Uh - Yes - and I see that you do keep flies out. You have your windows screened - and the garbage pail covered.


MR. FRANK: Of course. There is nothing here to start a typhoid epidemic. It must have started somewhere else.


DOCTOR: (WITH RESIGNATION) Possibly - I'll just have to interview the patients again.


MUSIC: (THEME - UP AND OUT)


DOCTOR: (GENTLY) Would you mind, Mrs. Tobin? I'd like to ask you a few questions.


MRS. TOBIN: (MOURNFULLY) You mean - about the death of my Jerry?


DOCTOR: (HESITATINGLY) Yes - I must know how he became infected with typhoid.


MRS. TOBIN: (SOBS GENTLY) Oh - my Jerry.


DOCTOR: You must be brave, Mrs. Tobin - other lives are still endangered.


MRS. TOBIN: (BROKENLY) All right, doctor, I'll try to help you any way I can.


DOCTOR: There are just a few questions.....According to this report, you went into the delicatessen store on May 10th. Is that right?


MRS. TOBIN: Yes, doctor.


DOCTOR: Will you tell me once again, just exactly what you purchased there?


MRS. TOBIN: Well - let me see. I was planning to have corned beef and potato salad for dinner - and that's what I bought there.


DOCTOR: (REFLECTIVELY) Potato salad again....


MUSIC: (CHANGE OF MOOD - FROM TRAGIC TO HOPEFUL)


MRS. KINGSTON: (CHEERFULLY) Yes Doctor, I'd be glad to answer any questions. Come in!


DOCTOR: Thank you, Mrs. Kingston. How is your husband today?


MRS. KINGSTON: Oh, much better, doctor.


DOCTOR: Well, that's good news, Mrs. Kingston.


MRS. KINGSTON: And how can I help you, Doctor?


DOCTOR: You deal at Mr. Frank's delicatessen store?


MRS. KINGSTON: All the time! I know them well, and Mr. Frank and my husband are lodge brothers. And I know Mr. Frank's mother. In fact, I talked with her for a half hour in the store on Mother's Day.


DOCTOR: Just a minute - you say you talked with Mr. Frank's mother?


MRS. KINGSTON: Yes.


DOCTOR: Let me look at this report!


SOUND: (RUSTLE OF PAGES BEING TURNED)


DOCTOR: Hmm - not a thing. (PAUSE)


MRS. KINGSTON: Why...? Is anything wrong?


DOCTOR: I - don't - know! I'm going back to see Mr. Frank.


MUSIC: (RISES HOPEFULLY AND FADES UNDER...)


SOUND: (RING OF CASH REGISTER)


MR. FRANK: (AS IF COUNTING CHANGE) ...Fifty - seventy-five - one dollar. Thank you - call again. (PAUSE - THEN SURPRISED) Oh - hello - doctor! You want to see me again?


DOCTOR: Yes, Mr. Frank. About your mother.


MR. FRANK: (SURPRISED AND NERVOUS) My mother.....?


DOCTOR: Yes, when was she last in this store?


MR. FRANK: Why - she doesn't come here. She lives across the river.


DOCTOR: But I understand she was here on Mother's Day.


MR. FRANK: No, she wasn't. It's a mistake. The last time she was here was in the middle of April sometime.


DOCTOR: Then she has been in the store.


MR. FRANK: But she has nothing to do here. She's an old woman. She's sixty years old.


DOCTOR: I'd like to have her examined.


MR. FRANK: (INDIGNANT) Examined - my mother? She's the cleanest woman in Metropolis. She had nothing to do with this typhoid business.


DOCTOR: Possibly not, Mr. Frank. But she must be examined anyway. You see, there are certain people known as carriers. They are people who have had typhoid and recovered, but their bodies still carry the germs.


MR. FRANK: But my mother hasn't been seriously sick in her whole life.


DOCTOR: She may have had a mild attack and not have known that it was typhoid. I've got to have her examined.


MR. FRANK: But you can't!


DOCTOR: Why not?


MR. FRANK: She's leaving for Europe. I just said good-bye to her. My brother Dave's going to pick her up any minute now and take her down to the dock.


DOCTOR: (SHARPLY) What's your mother's address?


MR. FRANK: (FADING SLIGHTLY) Uh - one fourteen Newton Place - Apartment B....


SOUND: (DIALING OF TELEPHONE)


MR. FRANK: What are you going to do?


DOCTOR: (CONTINUES DIALING) I'll explain later....Hello! Miss Stone? Drop everything and rush out to Newton Place and take specimens for a typhoid test — right away....(PAUSES)....The name is Mrs. Frank. Her address is - (FADING) 114 Newton Place - Apartment B - and rush!


MUSIC: (QUICK EXCITING - THEN FADE UNDER.....)


SOUND: (TELEPHONE RINGING)


MRS. FRANK: Hello - Oh Dave! Yes, everything's ready - the baggage is all on the floor - (LAUGHS)...I didn't think I had so many clothes to take with me on the trip to Europe....


SOUND: (KNOCKING ON DOOR)


MRS. FRANK: Oh there's somebody at the door....You'll be right over?....All right......


SOUND: (KNOCKING - LOUDER THIS TIME)


MRS. FRANK: All right.... they're waiting at the door....goodbye!


SOUND: (CLICK OF TELEPHONE RECEIVER)


SOUND: (KNOCKING - REPEAT)


MRS. FRANK: (OFF MIKE) All right! I'm coming - I'm coming!


SOUND: (DOOR OPENS)


MRS. FRANK: Oh - hello, young lady.


NURSE STONE: Are you the Mrs. Frank whose son is the proprietor of a delicatessen in Park Heights?


MRS. FRANK: (FEARFULLY) Yes - has something happened to him?


NURSE STONE: (CALMLY) No, nothing, Mrs. Frank. I'm a nurse from the Department of Health. I'm here to take specimens for a typhoid test.


MRS. FRANK: Typhoid!...Why me? I've never had typhoid.


NURSE STONE: I'm sorry, but those are my instructions, Mrs. Frank. It seems that you've had something to do with your son's store, and we're trying to find the cause of the typhoid epidemic.


MRS. FRANK: And you think that I'm the cause? (SLIGHTLY INDIGNANT) I keep myself and my house spotless. I've always been a clean woman. How can you say such a thing?


NURSE: But you have been connected with the store, Mrs. Frank, and we've traced the epidemic back to there.


MRS. FRANK: I don't work there. My son is a good boy. He takes good care of me. He doesn't want me to work there, he's even sending me to Europe for a trip. And my boy keeps his store clean. He's like me.


NURSE: I'm sorry, Mrs. Frank. I know that you're ready to leave for Europe. So I must insist that you do as I ask.


MRS. FRANK: (YIELDING) All right, Miss. I want to help if I can - I'll do as you say.


MUSIC: (THEME - FADING FOR...)


DOCTOR: Well, Miss Stone, let's see what the microscope can tell us.


NURSE: Here are the slides, doctor.


DOCTOR: Well, let's see now.


SOUND: (CLINKING OF GLASS)


DOCTOR: A little twist - now. Just in focus - there - (PAUSE) Just like typhoid bacilli. Want to take a look?


NURSE: Thank you, doctor - (PAUSE) - Hmm....So I see - millions of germs. And yet we're not certain, are we?


DOCTOR: No - but we'll know from the Widal agglutination test. Let's open the incubator and bring out the test tube containing a culture of the organisms isolated from Mrs. Frank with a known anti-typhoid serum.


SOUND: (CLICK OF A METAL LATCH)


NURSE: Here you are doctor.


DOCTOR: See that white deposit at the bottom of the tube?


NURSE: Yes, doctor.


DOCTOR: That proves it definitely! Mrs. Frank is a carrier of typhoid!


NURSE: Then she's the cause of the epidemic?


DOCTOR: Unquestionably. But I can't prove it. She doesn't fit into the evidence as to contact with the patients, either directly or indirectly. Her son assured me that his mother had nothing to do in the store.


NURSE: Wait - doctor - perhaps this might help you.


DOCTOR: What?


NURSE: After the examination, Mrs. Frank told me what she thought was an amusing incident. She'd stopped into the store on Mother's Day to see her son and thank him for the Mother's Day gift he'd sent her.


DOCTOR: Yes - yes - go on....


NURSE: Her son wasn't in then, and the store was busy - so as she was waiting, she decided to help him and clean up the place. She washed the platter and spoon used in preparing the.....


DOCTOR: (BREAKING IN EXCITEDLY) Potato salad!


NURSE: (SURPRISED) Yes - how did you know?


DOCTOR: Miss Stone, the case is closed!


NURSE: Why?


DOCTOR: You see, Mrs. Frank is a typhoid germ carrier. When she cleaned that dish, she unknowingly transferred the typhoid germs to the dish - and eventually to the potato salad. Sixteen came down with the disease - and five died. 


NURSE: How terrible! And the proprietor's mother only wanted to be more sanitary.


MUSIC: (THEME - UP AND FADE)


ANNOUNCER: This is the story of an actual typhoid epidemic in 1931, and how a Health Officer traced the epidemic back to its source. Typhoid carriers are a constant menace to public health unless discovered and kept under careful supervision by your Department of Health. In all modern communities, carriers are examined regularly, and above all, strictly forbidden to handle food. But carriers are not the only source of typhoid fever. It may be spread by infected water or milk, and in many other ways! If you have a modern, efficient health department, you are safeguarded against typhoid - but some communities have little if any protection and are at the mercy of the disease. If you live in such a community, you should take every precaution. For instance, when you go on picnics this summer, don't drink water from unprotected springs, streams, or wells. Avoid food establishments that do not observe the rules of cleanliness. Do not buy unpasteurized milk. And now - listen carefully - There is something of great importance that you should remember. No matter where you live - whether you are protected by a modern health department or not - disease can not be stomped out without your cooperation. Help and support your local health department - or if you have none - observe rules of sanitation and inspection, and urge your neighbors to cooperate with you - and results are assured. To help you in this service a publication on typhoid prevention has been prepared by the the United States Public Health Service and you will want a copy. It is absolutely free. All you have to do is write to the Office of Education, Washington, D. C. A post card will do. Just say - "Please send me publication about typhoid fever." Remember the address - Office of Education, Washington, D. C.


MUSIC: (THEME - UP AND FADE)


ANNOUNCER: This program was a presentation of the Office of Education, in cooperation with the United States Public Health Service.

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