I grew up in a medical family on the grounds of a tuberculosis sanatorium in Ninette, Manitoba, where my father was a thoracic surgeon and my mother a nurse. As a kid, I'd tear down the hilly road on my bike, black Lab yapping at the wheels. Patients, both young and old, pressed their faces against the balcony screens and laughed and called down to me to stop to talk. I'd come to an abrupt halt, back up the bike, crane my neck, and then we'd chat. I was lonely. They missed their families. It was perfect.
At the beginning of the last century, tuberculosis caused over one-third of the deaths in young people ages fifteen to thirty-five. Imagine being sixteen years old, contracting TB, and then being confined to a long-term care facility. How would one respond? It was a question I wanted answered, fictionally.
Queen of Hearts takes place a few years before I was born, also at a time just before the arrival of the "miracle drugs," as the first antibiotics were known--streptomycin being the earliest. As a treatment for TB, these drugs seemed to promise a permanent end to the disease and helped many beat back their illness. Up until then, rest and good food were the mainstays of "chasing the cure," as well as various types of "collapse therapy." These were simply the best tools and techniques medical people worked with.
During the three years and many drafts that it took to find my characters and try to catch them in all those revelatoryhuman moments that are the mark of good fiction, I struggled with my own health issues. At one point, I found myself lying in a hospital bed with a traumatically induced collapsed lung. I had almost died, but the wonderful thing was the collapsed lung. I had just written about it in Queen of Hearts and I'd wondered how it felt. Well, what fabulous research! When you read Marie-Claire's own experience with collapse therapy, think of me!
As World War II was being waged overseas, the crusade back home to lick TB presented a fierce challenge. This book is a valentine to the foot soldiers of that righteous war--doctors, nurses, other staff, and especially the amazing patients who sought victory over their disease and sometimes won and sometimes didn't.
Sixty years on, the fight against TB is anything but over. In fact, experts say there is now more tuberculosis than ever before in human history, and new drug-resistant strains of the bacterium have appeared around the world, including in North America. The disease kills about two million people annually, mainly in impoverished third world countries.