The case of Harry Lambert
The man was plainly dying. For more than six weeks they had been fighting to save him. But now his temperature soared. He tossed and mumbled in the throes of a vicious fever, wracked by agonizing spasms and uncontrollable hiccups. And then from time to time he was drowsy, falling into a coma.
To Alexander Fleming, standing by his bedside, there was no doubt that Harry Lambert had little time to live.
He, like the other doctors in St. Mary's Hospital, London, knew what was wrong with Lambert. Microbes - microscopic living organisms - had invaded his body. Diseases like this were usually caused by some form of microbe taking over and weakening or poisoning a person's body, sometimes to the point of death.
They had tried to treat him with the only drugs they had. He had simply become much worse.
And all the time Alexander Fleming had been trying to track down the microbe. Without knowing which it was, the doctors could not hope to save Lambert's life. And so in his laboratory Fleming had worked on determinedly.
At first Lambert had seemed to be suffering from a kind of influenza. But as his condition deteriorated, all the terrible signs of the disease known as meningitis began to show themselves. And meningitis, an infection of the waterproof sheath of membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, was too often fatal.
Using a hollow needle and a syringe, Fleming drew off some of the watery fluid surrounding Lambert's spinal cord. If he had meningitis, then the microbe must show itself in that spinal fluid.
And this time Fleming saw it. It was one of the round microbes, which grow in chains, called a streptococcus, virulent, fast-spreading, and often