The charming Kula Clinic, where bronchitis has taken me lately, sports a fresh new look these days. The walls have been repainted white, the waiting room an attractive ice green, and peaceful landscapes by J. Hamilton, W. Gintling and Rik Fitch grace the walls. It's nice, designed, I suppose, to give the place an updated look.
I am probably the only person on Maui who rues this development.
I'm dismayed because the large photos of the pioneers who built Kula Sanitarium and faced down the scourge of tuberculosis are gone. The serious visage of the scientific-forward-thinking Dr. Charles P. Durney was one I always inspected when I came in, like an old friend.
He was the first full-time physician hired by the sanitarium in its infancy and, under his watchful eye, Kula San became considered "far ahead of anything else on the islands, and ahead of many institutions on the Mainland for TB," according to Ethel S. Baldwin, one of the institution's great supporters.
Tuberculosis was rampant in my family. My father's parents and sister died from it, leaving him pretty much alone in life to make his way. He did manual labor for the Works Progress Administration under Franklin Roosevelt (if there was sanity in Congress we'd have one of the same), and earned his way through Yale, gaining a Ph.D. in history back in the days when they were rare.
Many on Maui suffer from asthma and lung problems and know what it's like to struggle for breath. We should be grateful that the highly contagious "great white plague" is pretty much gone from us, thanks to the development of a sulfa drug that became available here in 1945.
By the end of the 19th century, TB had destroyed a seventh of the human race. The poor, packed into crowded quarters, were especially susceptible, but the privileged were not exempt. The disease was widespread, "invidious, and invariably fatal."
It stalked Hawaiian communities and plantation camps here and to be sent to Kula San, created in 1909 to combat the epidemic, was considered a death sentence. "Most didn't return," a former patient told me. Having a family member there was a great stigma. Children weren't allowed to visit, and loved ones had to wait outside, waving up to the patients on the balconies.
No one knew how to destroy mycobacterium tuberculosis, a relative of leprosy and one of the world's most serious bacteriological illnesses. The only hope was to keep the lungs as inactive as possible. This encouraged immune cells to strengthen and thicken "tubercules" around the bacilli, keeping them at bay.
Thus was born the "rest cure," the segregation of patients in quiet places with fresh air and nourishing food, with the hope they might eventually return as an arrested case to normal life.
At Kula San, the sickest patients were put on the lower floors, where they were kept bedridden all day, not even allowed to get up to go to the bathroom. Giving the daily sputum sample was about as active as life got. Even radios weren't permitted.
As the bacillus count dropped, patients were moved to successive upper floors, until finally the great day came when admission was granted to occupational therapy on the fifth. There, they made all manner of crafts, an operation that evolved into the earliest form of Ka Lima.
If rest didn't do the trick, drastic measures were taken. Everyone was happy when Dr. Joseph Ferkheny (who later changed his name to Andrews) arrived in the 1940s. He performed pneumothorax, collapsing the lung to allow it to rest, and the dreadful pneumoplasty, sawing through the ribs to remove a diseased part of a lung. (The much-loved Dr. Andrews, I hear, is alive and in Upper Kula.)
All this goes through my mind when I admire the wonderful art deco sanitarium building, designed by C.W. Dickey, opened in 1937, that replaced the old wooden structures. I love the Chinese tiled towers and Rockefeller Plaza-style lettering at the entry.
The Kula Clinic, built in 1932, was a gift of Kula residents and the Atherton family. At least the historic plaque is still there. Maybe they just haven't gotten around to putting the photos of the doctors back up yet.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.