Friday, July 29, 2011
PBS: "Triumph at Carville": a documentary about the only leprosy hospital in the US
“Triumph at Carville: A Tale of Leprosy in America”, directed by John Wilhelm, was aired by PBS in 2004 and is now available from Netflix. The main PBS link is here.
The hospital, run for decades by the Marine Corps, was the only hospital in the United States to treat Hansen’s Disease, or leprosy, and people came from all over the world and lived there for life.
Patients did not have civil rights and were not allowed to leave the hospital without permission, and male and female patients were not allowed to mix. But the disease is not contagious, and the restriction on the movement and activities of patients (and the stigma associated with the disease since Biblical times) would foreshadow the debate on the public health aspects of HIV in the 1980s.
The film does show the dreaded disfigurement of the disease, which results from nerve damage which in turn leads to destructive injuries and infections.
The only known animal reservoir seems to be the armadillo.
One medical anomaly was interesting. Before anti-leprosy drugs were perfected, doctors noticed that the disease tended to become worse in cooler parts of the body, particularly the legs, where in many people hair is lost because of declining circulation with age.
Hygiene and nursing care that prevented limb loss in Hansen’s disease was found to be effective for diabetes.
The hospital, located 16 miles south of Baton Rouge, was turned over to the state in 1999 and the last remaining patients, some of whom wanted to stay in their home there as long as they lived, left to go “on the outside.”
Democratic strategist James Carville, who comes from the town, appears in the film.