Marie Curie would have been 144 had she lived so long. As it was she died from the results of exposure to radiation. Marie Skłodowska Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934). 67 was only a little young to die back then, for anyone who actually survived the first world war, educated and city-protected people tended to look to their 3 score and ten (plus a little bit).
I remember being told about her at school and not understanding just how special she was, not only for the era, but as a scientist knowledgeable and competent in many ways.
She was for her day, extremely fortunate. Women tended to either have a career or get married. Juggling both was quite a trick really.
What reading about her today reminded me of was something – but I can’t quite place the source of in my memory.
My somewhat fuzzy memory goes along these lines:
In one of the James Bond movies, there is some reference to his watch with radioactive hands that could be seen in the dark. I remember some male in the family having one of those as well. My parents’ bedroom alarm clock also had hands that glowed in the dark. Back then the dangers of radiation were only starting to be told to people. As a young child I remember being taken to the shoe shop for a proper fitting. One of the things they made us do was put a foot (or was it both feet) into a boxy-machine-thingy so they could look inside at our bones. These days we would be horrified at exposing anyone unnecessarily to an x-ray – back then even the shoe shops had the equipment!
Anyway let’s re-collect the tiny mind that has somehow wandered off from the story into personal reminiscences.
Well, the type of watch was being assembled in Japan, as that was a source of cheap labour in the post-WW2 era. That was the start of getting low-wage countries to manufacture for those who could then afford to pay for MORE! Oops – there’s that detour again.
Some years later when it was realised that the paint used on the hands that made them glow-in-the-dark was radioactive and dangerous. So they eventually stopped making them. Too late for the women who had worked in the factories painting the watch and clock hands, delicate work with fine brushes. Many of them accustomed to brushwork for calligraphy and traditional painting. Unfortunately they had developed the habit of licking a brush to make it ‘streamlined’. The consequence of all that was years later the majority of them developed cancer of the tongue, mouth or throat. Of course the companies didn’t take responsibility for what they had caused, and this was only discovered as a cause by some intrepid medical researcher who put the clues together, and realised what had happened.
How horrid, to see or hear about people you worked with die and knowing it was likely to happen to you too.
Some years ago in a stained glass class, I met a woman who worked for hospice. It turned out she was helping someone I had worked with some years before. He grew up on an asbestos mine where his father was an engineer. In turn each of his siblings had died from a specific cancer associated with the inhalation of asbestos. Then it was his turn. How very sad, to watch the others die and then to find you too have it, and will also die.
Yesterday evening I was thinking it may be good to die soon, get away from it all. This morning thinking about these things, I decided maybe I want to live after all. The threat of death is enough to make the fighter in a human come to the fore and say “oh no, not to me!”