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"Snow" is a short 20-minute movie directed by Isaac Ergas, about the efforts of Dr. Snow to pin the cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London on the Broad Street Pump. I do like that they bring up Snow's experience with ether and anesthesia to explain part of his suspicion of the miasma theory of disease (It's bad air!). But. um, Hollywood treatment, wow. The guy playing Snow runs around constantly full of angst and whimpering about the pump, all on his own, getting beat up by workmen and storming into upper echelons of society uninvited. 

My preferred recounting of the cholera epidemic is the book "The Ghost Map", by Steven Johnson. He does a fantastic job of pulling together all the threads that led to the removal of the pump handle. One of those threads was the involvement of the Reverend Henry Whitehead, who knew the area intimately and was crucial to Snow's fact-gathering that led to the famous map. Another thread was the source of cholera in the well in the first place. It was true the epidemic was dying down when the pump handle was removed, as the amount of cholera in the well dropped, but evidence suggests that the well had just been recontaminated that morning. As with so many other instances of public health, no one will ever know how many lives were saved by the closing of the pump. 

June 2014

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