On July 4, 1885 in Alsace, France, nine-year-old Joseph Meister was doing an errand for his father. It was early morning and the day was beautiful. As he walked through the peaceful village, a rabid dog knocked him to the ground and then severely bit him 14 times on the arms, legs, and thigh. The wounds were deep and bleeding. He struggled to get up and was finally able to start walking towards his house, but it was difficult. Fortunately, neighbors realized he was in trouble and helped him home.
Several hours later Joseph’s parents got him in to see the doctor, who did his best to treat his injuries with carbolic acid and cauterization of the more severe wounds. This doctor then had the unpleasant task of informing the parents that the dog had rabies and both parents knew what that meant. At this time in history rabies was a disease that was feared, and everyone knew that being bitten by a rabid animal led to a certain death. You can imagine the anguish that gripped these concerned parents and the desperation they felt knowing the probable fate of their beloved son. The doctor could give them just one glimmer of hope. He told them that he had heard of a man in Paris, Louis Pasteur, who was working on a treatment for rabies and having some success with his experiments.
With this news, these good parents immediately left for Paris with their son. Upon arrival they started looking for Dr. Pasteur and, after searching for several hours, they found his home. By then it was night, but they knocked on his door, and when Pasteur opened it, little Joseph’s mother pled with him to help their son. Obviously, Pasteur was surprised by this visit and this plea. Patiently he explained that the work he was doing was not ready to be tested on a human being. It was true he had some success with preventing rabies in dogs, but his technique had never been applied to humans.
Pasteur was touched by this caring family in dire need of help and compassion. He told them that he was a chemist and physicist, not a physician. Legally he couldn’t administer the vaccine, but he promised them he would look into the matter and find out what he could do to help them. He consulted two physician friends, and when they heard Joseph’s story, they likewise felt compassion for the boy and agreed to be present when Pasteur inoculated the boy. Working under the watchful eyes of the physicians made it legal for Pasteur to give the potentially life-saving injections.
The science behind the new vaccine was to take attenuated (weakened) virus that Pasteur had taken from a rabid rabbit and dried in his laboratory. He injected it into the abdomen of the boy, gradually giving him more and more virulent forms of the virus over a period of days until the thirteenth and final dose. This sample had been taken from a severely afflicted rabid dog and was the strongest and most potent of all the injections. The risk paid off; Pasteur’s vaccine worked! Young Joseph did not develop rabies, and a month later young Joseph went home healthy.
Later Pasteur talked about this incident, “Since the death of the child appeared inevitable, I resolved, though not without great anxiety, to try the method which had proved consistently successful on the dogs.”
Pasteur had developed the cure for rabies, and the world would recognize and appreciate his efforts throughout all history.
Joseph Meister lived another 55 years and died in Paris in 1940.
This story of hope is delivered at a time in our history when the COVID-19 virus is pandemic, creating fear and havoc around the world. People are getting sick and dying, jobs are being lost, there is widespread uncertainty about what is going to happen next, we are quarantined in our homes, our children are getting bored, and we are being asked to trust the medical profession and support them the best we can. We have faith (which, by the way, is a powerful resiliency skill) that together we can come through the current challenges and grow stronger than ever. Throughout history, humanity has consistently found the persistence, ingenuity, and creativity to overcome the dangers and hardships before us.
Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to teach our children to pull together, be brave, and strengthen our relationships. Let’s help them understand that “this too will pass.”
FROM THE PAGES OF THE PAST WE LEARN THAT WE ARE FORTUNATE TO BE LIVING TODAY!
Here’s to ‘failing forward’ with our children through this and every challenge,
Calvert and Anne
Share This Article: