A few days ago, as my wife and I were out doing a long list of errands, a thought entered my mind from nowhere. And I spoke about it to my wife. “Nobody seems to talk about hydrophobia anymore. I remember when discussions of hydrophobia were as common and predictable as the sunrise.”

I went on to explain recollections of conversations about hydrophobia, memories from my very early childhood in the city of my birth, where I lived only until I was five years old. Those conversations are ancient history, but I recall them. There was quite a lot of talk about hydrophobia back then.

My wife looked at me as if I were hallucinating. “Hydrophobia? Fear of water?”

Yep, that’s what I recollected it means. But my memories of the conversations suggest that hydrophobia was related to rabies. I asked her if she had never heard the term used in reference to rabies. “Never.”

So I inquired of Father Google, who offered some clues as to my recollections of hydrophobia and rabies. Father Google explained that hydrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of water and that fear is symptomatic of rabies in humans. Further investigation revealed that hydrophobia used to be (and perhaps in some contexts remains) synonymous with rabies, perhaps because people who contract rabies have painful throat spasms when trying to swallow.

Now, I cannot recall the circumstances surrounding these very common discussions of hydrophobia. What might have given rise to those conversations and why, nearly sixty years later, did their memories pop into my head? I tried to find out by inquiring further of Father Google about hydrophobia and the city of my birth, thinking an outbreak of rabies in humans might have taken place in the city in my early years. My search yielded nothing. But further efforts revealed that, many years earlier, three Texans (two of whom lived in the city of my birth) had traveled to France so that one of them could be treated for hydrophobia by Pasteur. The patient, bitten by a wolf on March 9, 1888, was admitted to Pasteur’s institute on March 30. When the three men returned to New York City on May 6, 1888 they were, according to an article published in the New York Times the following day, firm believers in Pasteur’s treatment.  One of the men was Dr. A.E. Spohn of Corpus Christi, Texas. Spohn Hospital, now CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital, was named after the man.

None of this explains my recollections of common discussions of hydrophobia, nor why those memories popped up of late. But, in line with mining memories (which was among the topics of today’s Village Writers’ Club presentation by Janis Kearney), I thought I’d better write a little to help jog my memory. I had planned to write this post, anyway, but Janis’ comments made more emphatic my commitment to do it. And so I have. But, as you might have surmised by reading this far, I tend to get sidetracked when doing my “research.” But I do so enjoy wandering down those odd little rabbit holes.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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