Friday, November 6, 2009

Caroline Cox's "The Fight to Survive"

Caroline Cox is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She is the author of A Proper Sense of Honor: Service and Sacrifice in George Washington's Army. She has also written numerous articles for history publications and has appeared as a commentator on the History Channel.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes, and the Discovery of Insulin, and reported the following:
In 1919, when Elizabeth Evans Hughes was eleven years old, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At that time, before the discovery of insulin, it was a death sentence. Three years later, she had wasted away to only forty five pounds and lay near death. But in the summer of 1922, insulin was discovered. She became one of the first recipients and her life was saved. During these critical years, her parents, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Antoinette Carter Hughes sent Elizabeth away from Washington DC with her nurse. My book about her life during this time is based on her letters home.

Hers is a more complicated story than courage in the face of adversity. After her diagnosis, Elizabeth lived a Spartan life, keeping herself alive by so-called starvation therapy. The theory of this treatment was that if the body was not processing carbohydrate properly, you simply should not eat any! Thus, she lived on less than 800 calories a day. You would expect someone in that circumstance to languish in miserable isolation but she was continually and enthusiastically engaged with the world around her.

Page 99 doesn’t reveal much about her story, but it does capture her personality. It contains her only real expression of complaint. She wanted to be in charge of her life and was frustrated when she could not be. But neither she nor her family tolerated whining and whatever annoyances came her way, she quickly found ways to deal with them.

I wanted to know where this self-discipline came from. I recreated her family life, found out about her friends, the places she went, and the people she talked about. I discovered that she lost herself in books and took solace from nature. But she also sought out friends and joined them at meals she could not eat and watched them at games she could not play, more comforted by their companionship than she was tortured by the sight of things she could no longer do. She was a dying child who rarely wrote about her illness and who was determined in the face of enormous odds to live well. I found her story of hopefulness inspiring and I hope readers do too.
Video: Caroline Cox discusses The Fight to Survive.

Read more about The Fight to Survive at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue