By Barbara Barrett
2. The Stigma of Tuberculosis
In addition to the pain, the horrific TB operations and the endless monotony of the sanitarium, tuberculars also suffered from the stigma of contracting TB.
The National Library of Medicine notes: “During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tuberculosis (TB) was the leading cause of death in the United States and one of the most dreaded diseases known to mankind. Until Robert Koch’s discovery of the disease-causing tuberculosis bacteria in 1882, many scientists believed that TB was hereditary and could not be prevented. Doctors offered few effective treatments. A new understanding of TB in the bacteriological era not only brought hopes for a cure but also bred fear of contagion.” (Tuberculosis NLM)
For people who had TB, interstate travel was restricted, employment was sometimes denied, and forced confinement to state hospitals and public sanatoria were allowable measures used to protect the public. “Lungers need not inquire” was a sign that was commonly displayed in the windows of boarding houses and hotels that refused to rent to people who appeared to have TB. Beginning in the 1890s and persisting through the 1930s, having TB became such a disgrace that many infected people chose to keep the disease a secret from everyone, including family. (Dyer 56)
Stories of stigma often began at the moment of diagnosis when the new patients immediately offered a lengthy, defensive and apologetic explanation of how and why they contracted tuberculosis:
Overwork was a primary reason. But one young man who kept regular hours and did not overwork, was asked by his mother “Where did you get it, son?” as though it were a sexually transmitted disease. (Rothman 228-29)
Once they were diagnosed, tuberculars became outcasts and lepers in society.
Patients confirmed the wisdom of hiding the disease…Families and confidants were as secretive as the sick themselves. They told friends that family members were taking a much needed rest or vacation or cited other physical ailments to account for sudden departures. (Rothman 212)
When the public learned TB was an airborne germ, the resulting fear and panic produced many laws against tuberculars.
In addition to their own debility, isolation, and possible death, consumptives had to contend with the anger and prejudice of a phobic society. They were shunned, evicted and refused treatment by doctors and nurses…Consumptives and suspected consumptives alike feared for their jobs…Some town fathers suggested that tuberculars be compelled to wear bells around their necks, as medieval lepers had. These frightening stories made consumptives feel outcast, humiliated and helpless. These factors, along with the knowledge that one was a constant danger to oneself and others could make the alienation extreme. Consumptives were urged to live alone. Massachusetts passed a law stating consumptives must sleep alone unless their companions were also consumptives. Even pets were commonly denied them. They were to curb any desire to give or to receive affection; kissing, and even shaking hands was discouraged…Tuberculosis was added to the list of eugenic defects that could disqualify couples from marrying…As one doctor put it, “Marriage of consumptives is often the deliberate creation of a pest house.” There were mentions of having to obtain physical certificates attesting that family histories did not contain feeblemindedness, tuberculosis, drunkenness, epilepsy and insanity. Still others mentioned the possibility of sterilizing consumptives.” [emphasis mine] (Ott 113-115)
Since one of the characteristic symptoms of TB is the hacking cough, it’s difficult to believe that people who were close to Hester did not guess her illness. For those who were aware of the TB symptoms, this could be one of the reasons REH and his father had difficulty hiring women to care for Hester and do the housework.
Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, [emphasis mine] though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)
While the public feared being infected by tuberculosis, the tuberculars who were shunned and outcasts feared “local, state and federal laws put into place to further isolate them. The spread of tuberculosis concerned everyone. “By 1930, 90,000 people a year still died from the disease in the United States.” (Ryan 28)
The legal rights of both the public and the tuberculars were debated.
How far the government could go to carry legal measures designed to control tuberculosis and not infringe upon the natural rights of American citizenship was the question for public officials trying to control the spread of the disease…Over the first decade of the twentieth century the campaign to educate the public gained momentum and as its message spread throughout the country, so did the fear of associating with persons who had contracted tuberculosis. (Rothman 190)
Fear won and many of the laws brought on further discrimination. When in 1893, tuberculars were required to register with the State of New York, (Rothman 213) Insurance companies gained access to the list and cancelled or refused insurance based on it. (Rothman 188) By 1901 six states had some kind of reporting law.” (Ott 129) And, these brought on even more laws.
By 1908 eighty-four cities required both registration of the tubercular and disinfection of lodgings, procedures that led to discrimination in housing and employment. Landlords refused to rent to the tubercular, insurance companies refused to insure them, [emphasis mine] employers refused to employ them plus there were laws preventing them from working in dairies and bakeries and as school teachers. (Rothman 189) There were also efforts to ban travel by tuberculars and while no state enacted such legislation, fear and hostility did not prevent discrimination by private parties. Boardinghouse and hotel owners turned away the sick and town fathers reimbursed railroads who gave a homeless tubercular a lunch basket and a one-way ticket back home. Western doctors did their part to restrict the flow of travel to the west for those seeking a cure, “When will our professional brethren in the East learn that to send advanced cases to the West with no financial means to enable them to supply themselves with that food and environment that really forms a most important part of climatic treatment, is not only a sin of omission, but one of commission. (Rothman 191)
Another compelling reason for hiding a diagnosis of TB was the fear of mandatory confinement.
Public health officials had recourse to one final weapon in their campaign to control contagion: the power to confine anyone found liable to jeopardize the health of others. The goal was to commit persons with tuberculosis to a special facility until they were no longer a menace to public health. The primary goal was to confine the poor but the legislation extended to include anyone not meeting the standards set by the public health authorities. (Rothman, 191-92)
In his article “The Long Road to Dark Valley,” Howard Scholar Patrice Louinet states:
On 03 January 1906, C. E. “Ted” Thomas died in Phoenix, AZ. He was aged 26 and the cause of his death was tuberculosis. “Ted” Thomas was a son of Christina Thomas, née Ervin (and sister of Hester Jane), and he had gone west in the hope of getting better, to no avail. The only reason he is mentioned in this article is because out of the dozens and dozens of Ervin ancestors I have tracked down in the course of my research, he is the only one who died from tuberculosis. (Louinet 5)
It’s possible it was the fear of and stigma attached to tuberculars and not the absence of TB that resulted in no other tuberculars being found in the Ervin family. Death records were often changed because many insurance companies voided life insurance policies should the patient die of TB:
On the death certificates, physicians often misstated the cause of death, listing it as pneumonia or chronic bronchitis in order to protect the policy and thereby provide the family with money for a funeral and perhaps pay their own fees. [emphasis mine] (Rothman 188)
In spite of the efforts of many Progressive Americans to address the conditions that caused TB…the public response to tuberculosis remained mired in scapegoating and fear. (Ott 111-12)
Comparable Stigma and Fear in Recent History: AIDS and Ebola
AIDS and Ebola evoked comparable widespread fears in modern times. In the mid- and even late 1980s, “AIDS hysteria” became a familiar term in the media and public life, and its truth was borne out in shocking examples of prejudice. (Thomas)
Time’s “The New Untouchables” wrote:
There are 946,000 children attending New York City schools, and only one of them — an unidentified second-grader enrolled at an undisclosed school — is known to suffer from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, the dread disease known as AIDS. But the parents of children at P.S. 63 in Queens, one of the city’s 622 elementary schools, were not taking any chances last week. As the school opened its doors for the fall term, 944 of its 1,100 students stayed home.
…[T]he parents of three hemophiliac children — who, though they had “tested positive for AIDS antibodies,” did not have the actual disease — would offer the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee a chilling personal example of the effects of public ignorance. Louise and Clifford Ray, whose children had been banned from their Florida elementary school before a judge ruled they must be allowed to attend class, told senators that someone had set fire to their house just days after the beginning of the school year, presumably to frighten the family out of town (it worked). (Thomas)
The hysteria during the recent Ebola scare is also well documented. The disease reportedly killed approximately 7,000 people mostly in West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. (CDC “Outbreaks Chronology: Ebola Virus Disease”) Within two weeks of the death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Texas on October 8, 2014, the first American death, countries across the world put into effect restrictions for passengers arriving from Ebola areas.
After Duncan’s death in the United States, governors from both parties — N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo have declared that even symptom-free health care volunteers coming home from Ebola duty in West Africa will be considered infected (and infectious) until they prove otherwise [emphasis mine]. This can only be done by not falling ill for three weeks after their return. Three out of four Americans want to seal the nation’s borders against travelers from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa. And, Republican members of Congress were demanding that. (Knox)
Ebola killed about 7,000 people in the thirty-eight years since its recognition. On the other hand, tuberculosis, an airborne virus, between 1900 and 1936 killed just under 2,347,500 people in the United States alone. For a whole decade in the early 1900’s it was the number one cause of deaths in the USA, falling to number seven by 1936. (CDC “Leading Causes of Death 1900-1998.”)
Like Ebola and AIDS, there was no cure for TB although some people also survived. Because it was so widespread, the fear of it was heightened. Although hundreds of federal, state, local and company regulations were passed in order to control tuberculosis, very few of them seem to have been enforced. The most that individual communities could accomplish was the prohibition of tuberculosis facilities, such as boardinghouses and sanitariums within city limits.
San Antonio, Texas passed such a law in 1909. (Ryan 121) In a November 7, 1936 letter to a sister-in-law, Dr. Howard says the following: “I well remember when Robert was only four years old  we spent the winter in San Antonio and the spring months in Atascosa County, some thirty miles south of San Antonio.” (Roehm IMH Letters 131)
Rob Roehm’s subsequent research has narrowed the date of the Howard’s visit in San Antonio to November 1909 (Roehm San Antonio) which was the same year San Antonio passed its law regarding the prohibition of tuberculosis facilities within its city limits. It is unknown whether at this point in time Hester was a tubercular. In order to escape the prejudice, many tuberculars passed as normal, by not declaring their infection. Except for the characteristic cough, it wasn’t easy to recognize TB patients in the early stages when they often didn’t look sick.
3. The Howards and Tuberculosis
The word “tuberculosis” or its shortened form, “TB” are never used in the letters of either Robert E. Howard or Dr. Isaac M. Howard. As far as can be determined, neither of them spoke of it to others either. In view of the stigma and fear surrounding this highly contagious and deadly disease, it’s no wonder. Dr. Howard and REH protected not only Hester but themselves as her caregivers. If his patients became afraid of contagion, Dr. Howard would not have been able to function on his medical rounds. REH never spoke of TB even when it would have improved his relationship with Novalyne.
“You’ve got to understand that, Novalyne. My mother needs me, and I’ve got to give her the best I can, even when it interferes with my dating, or writing, or anything else.”
For a minute, I just looked at him. He realizes how weak and unhappy I am today and that I want more than friendship from him. But his problem is in the way. What he doesn’t know. . . and can’t see. . . is that this problem is as old as the history he loves to talk about, and every man and woman has to decide what he owes his mother and what he owes himself. I had ideas on the subject—definite ideas. I began to try to make Bob see how other people solved this same problem. I believed he could take care of his mother without denying himself love and success. (Price Ellis 196)
But for Bob Howard, the problem was more immediate and personal than Novalyne knew. On June 29, 1936 Dr. Howard wrote to Lovecraft “Last March a year ago, again when his mother was very low, in the Kings Daughters Hospital in Temple, Texas, Dr. McCelvey expressed a fear that she would not recover.” Novalyne’s conversation with REH took place after he returned from Temple. It wasn’t very many weeks before that REH was contemplating suicide. She couldn’t understand his lack of response to her need for something more than friendship. He couldn’t give her that and he couldn’t explain why.
REH’s relationship with Novalyne was only part of what he was putting aside in an effort to help with his mother. It was also affecting his writing. On February 24, 1936, Novalyne’s journal entry records REH’s concern with his mother’s health. “I can’t write or do anything else but take care of her.” (Price Ellis 266) When Novalyne learns he is changing his mother’s nightgown and bedding, she is nauseated “For God’s sake, Bob, that’s not your job.” REH responds:
I do it because I have to. He whirled toward me, his eyes begging for understanding. It’s my job. Damn it, you do what needs to be done. You can’t let her stay there, wet and uncomfortable. You do the damn best you can. (Price Ellis 266-67)
He needed her understanding and could not explain why. He did not tell her that the doctors at San Angelo believed there was nothing they could do for Mrs. Howard and that REH and his father had brought her home to die (Roehm IMH Letters 76-77). Again, Novalyne had no way of knowing how really sick Hester Howard was. And Bob Howard didn’t tell her.
On February 25, 1936, he wrote to Novalyne:
I’m sorry but I won’t be able to keep the date this afternoon. I’ve got to take my mother to a hospital in Marlin. I suppose you’ll find this subject for more criticism, but I can’t help it. When I get settled in Marlin, I’ll drop you a card, so you can write me if you care to do so. Whether I ever return to Cross Plains depends a great deal on whether my mother recovers or not. (Price Ellis 273)
The Howards were not only coping with Hester’s illness, there was also the fear that Bob Howard would commit suicide after his mother died. At least twice before her death in 1936, when he and his father had despaired for her life, REH had put his business affairs in order. Both Dr. Howard and Hester tried to talk him out of it. (see Dr. Howard letters in Part 1, “The Stages of Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s Tuberculosis”) and (de Camp Merryman 15)
However, REH did return from Marlin. Another letter to Novalyne dated March 5, 1936 shows Cross Plains as his return address. REH wrote to Lovecraft on May 15, 1936 that and his father brought his mother home from the East Texas sanitarium (probably Marlin since he mentioned this to Novalyne.) He also tells HPL that his mother was weak but the goat’s milk diet revived her. However, shortly after that she had an attack of pleurisy, and then pneumonia, both of which she survived thanks to the efforts of Dr. Howard and the care she received from REH. Twice before, Hester had come very close to dying. This time there was no last minute reprieve.
Writing “Hester Jane Ervin Howard and Tuberculosis” added depth to my understanding of the relationship between REH, his mother and his father. It particularly changed my view of the Howard family. Not only did it lead to a deep respect for Hester Howard’s courage as well as compassion for her pain and suffering, I also saw Dr. Howard in a new light. In the May 13, 1936 letter to Lovecraft, REH mentions the almost heroic efforts of his father to save his mother’s life.
She seemed to be improving a little when she had an attack of acute pleurisy on her right side, which until then hadn’t been affected. My father handled that and she was definitely on the mend. (Roehm REH Letters CL 3-359)
He saved my mother’s life when they were helpless and we put her in a hospital where at least she’d get good care. (3-458)
…but if she does live, she will owe her life to my father’s efforts and his experience gained by nearly forty years of frontier practice. Again and again he saved her when the experts and specialists were helpless. Just an old country doctor, but he has that qualification so many of our modern scientists lack – ordinary common sense. (3-460)
Like many families across the country, at times, life in the Howard home was difficult. They had their problems. However, when the chips were down, they came together to support one another. In the Howard family, it wasn’t just Hester’s disease. It was a family problem and Hester wasn’t the only one who suffered and fought the TB. In the May 13, 1936 letter to Lovecraft, REH gives details of his day-to-day life taking care of his mother:
She started sweating in January and it’s just the last few days that there has been any appreciable lessening of it. Many a night she had to be changed six or seven times, and that many times a day — sometimes more. Woman after woman we hired, and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, though my father and I did most of it. Sometimes when we could get a couple of good women we’d get a short breathing spell. Again there were times when we couldn’t get anybody, and I not only took care of my mother, while my father handled his wide practice, but did all the housework, washing, and cooking. I’ve gone for nearly a week at a time without even taking off my shoes, just snatching a nap as I could between times.
In this letter he further states “Things are better now, but anything can happen, and I’m not optimistic.” And then he adds:
But whatever happens we have such satisfaction that there is in knowing that we’ve fought the best fight that was in us all the way, without asking quarter from anything or anybody, and doing the best we knew how. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)
Sounds a lot like the heroes and heroines he wrote about.
4. The Diagnosis Controversy
In reviewing the symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis against those Hester Howard exhibited in REH’s letters, the evidence is decidedly in favor of the tuberculosis. Still there are others that disagree with the diagnosis of TB or who have further questions about her cause of death.
Dr. J. L. Montgomery’s October 24, 1978 Letter to Glenn Lord
J. L. Montgomery, M.D. offered another diagnosis in his letter to Glenn Lord in 1978. In it, Dr. Montgomery, who had access to Hester Jane’s 1935 medical file after her [gall bladder] surgery wrote that he “would not be surprised if her death was a result of complications following her surgery and she eventually died of sepsis, rather than T.B. or cancer as is thought to be the case.” (Louinet 5)
Looking at whether sepsis could have been the cause, the first problem is the date. Dr. Montgomery made his statement in 1978. He looked at her 1935 medical record and must have misremembered that she died in 1936 over a year after the operation. Sepsis is a deadly infection that kills very fast.
In April , Rory Staunton, 12, of Queens, N.Y., died from septic shock three days after ER doctors at New York University Langone Medical Center treated him for vomiting, fever, confusion, muscle pain, and dehydration and sent him home. (Calandra)
Hester did develop complications after her gall bladder operation in 1935 as REH wrote in a May 6, 1935 letter to Farnsworth Wright.
We have been at home for over a month, but my mother is far from recovered. An abscess developed in the operation wound, which necessitated her staying for several days in a hospital at Coleman, and it is still necessary to take her there, a distance of some thirty miles, every few days in order to have her wound dressed and cleansed, as my father does not have the proper facilities for this. (Roehm REH Letters 3-306)
It is doubtful that if Dr. Howard had noticed sepsis, he would not have taken steps to treat it before Hester went into septic shock and died. REH said his father did not have the facilities for treating the abscess. If Hester would have had developed sepsis, they would have taken her to the same facility in Coleman.
Possibility of Lung Cancer
Otis A. Kline stated she died from cancer; the late Dr. P. M. Kuykendall, [The West Texas Clinic and Hospital] executor of the Estate after Dr. Howard’s death, stated it was tuberculosis. (Lord 79)
Lung cancer as a possible cause of death also has problems. It was uncommon before the 1930’s although its occurrence increased dramatically in the years afterward due to an increase in smoking. (“Defining Lung Cancer”) Surgical therapy for lung cancer started in the 1930s with pneumonectomies. A pneumonectomy is a surgical procedure to remove a lung. According to Wikipedia, the history of this operation is as follows:
1933: first successful single-stage total pneumonectomy in St. Louis, Missouri by Drs. Graham and Singer
Pneumonectomies were performed on both lung cancer and tuberculosis patients. However, it is extremely unlikely that they were standard medical procedures in Texas during the 1930s. And, as lung cancer itself was rare before that time and there have not been any indications that Hester Howard smoked, it is unlikely that the cause of her death was lung cancer.
REH Medical Form Statement.
Still another item to be examined is the statement REH made on his medical form:
On Robert Howard’s 1930 medical file, on the form about his parents, we can read the following: “Mother / age: 54 / rheumatism, stomach trouble, no cancer or tb.” (Louinet 5)
The statement that his mother did not have TB is not surprising given that REH does not mention his mother’s illness specifically by name anywhere in his correspondence or conversation. While this particular physician and possibly other associates of Dr. Howard might have known or guessed Hester’s diagnosis, to put it down on a form for filing and/or to be seen by office staff would have been disastrous in view of the stigma and fear of TB during that era.
There is also the interview with Mrs. Merryman in which she states she “..never did believe” Mrs. Howard had TB.”
Mrs. Merryman nursed Mrs. Howard during the last weeks of her life. Here’s what she had to say about Hester’s condition. The interviewer is Jane Griffin, who worked with the de Camps:
Mrs. M: Yes, she was [a sickly woman.]
JWG: What was wrong with her?
Mrs. M: I never did know.
JWG: Said tuberculosis on her death certificate.
Mrs. M: I know she went to that – went to that tuberculosis hospital, but I never did believe…
Louinet notes that the conversation gets interrupted here leaving the impression that Mrs. Merryman didn’t think Hester Jane had tuberculosis. (Louinet 5)
According to Mrs. Merryman’s own statement in her interviews, she was not a nurse. (de Camp Merryman 41) although she helped to care for Mrs. Howard during the last two years of her life. Had she been an RN or a medical professional, she would have recognized the symptoms Hester Howard was exhibiting. Also to be considered is the fear of TB. Acknowledging that Mrs. Howard had TB would mean Kate Merryman herself might be at risk of contracting it as a result of her caring for Mrs. Howard.
Arguments that Hester did have TB are compelling.
Exhibited Tuberculosis Symptoms
She exhibited symptoms consistent with Pulmonary Tuberculosis. (For a full description see Part One, “Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s Tuberculosis Symptoms.”)
The most fundamental fact that lends credence to her TB is her death certification (see Part One: “Hester Jane Ervine Howard’s Tuberculosis Symptoms”) which states she died of tuberculosis on June 12, 1936. Glenn Lord supports this with a statement from Dr. Kuykendall “Otis A. Kline stated she died from cancer; the late Dr. P. M. Kuykendall, [The West Texas Clinic and Hospital] executor of the Estate after Dr. Howard’s death, stated it was tuberculosis.” (Lord 79)
“House Renovation” After Hester Howard’s Death
Also supporting the evidence of her tuberculosis is Dr. Howard’s letter to E. Hoffmann Price dated July 11, 1936.
I know very little about this publishers game but I just want to say this, I wish you were here to help me to handle this business awhile and it would be a perfect pleasure to me and Yes more than a pleasure, I would be delighted to furnish expenses both ways from California to Texas and back to California, again should you wish to have a vacation to come to Texas to my home, bring your typewriter and your good wife and write under inspirational skies of the Lone Star State for six weeks or two months or six months as you wish. The house is under going [sic] renovation, all the beds in the house are under-going [sic] sterilization according to the institutional methods as practiced by the State Sanitoriams of Texas, and the house is being put in order and will be as sanitary as it can possibly be made under modern methods. [emphasis mine] (Roehm personal message)
Sanitizing and sterilizing the rooms and personal possessions of TB patients was mandatory in some States. Dr. Milton Rosenau, a popular tuberculosis medical authority reiterated belief in tuberculosis “as a ‘house disease,’ passed along from one family member to another as well as by live infections within the house. He called for thorough disinfection of all rooms in which consumptives had dwelled…” (Ott 137)
Everything a patient wore and touched—including clothing, carpets, bedding, papers, and sputum cups—was separated from others’ possessions, boiled, disinfected, and if practical, burned. One can only speculate on the sadness this must have caused the victims’ families. (Ott 117)
It is not known whether Texas enacted disinfection laws. In any event, Dr. Howard indicated that the entire house had been “sanitized and sterilized.”
Tuberculosis Sanitariums Patient
In a letter to Lovecraft dated February 1936, REH mentions taking his mother to the sanitarium at San Angelo. (Roehm REH Letters 3-415) The online website for Sanatorium, Texas states the sanitarium at San Angelo was for tuberculosis patients only. (see Part Two: “Sanitariums”)
The Stigma of Tuberculosis
The fear and resulting stigma related to TB are the most probable and obvious explanations for no mention of tuberculosis in the letters of Dr. Howard and REH. The panic and possible ostracism are substantial reasons for their references to Hester’s “sickness” or the fact she has been an “invalid” or “semi-invalid” for a long time.
Dr. Montgomery’s evidence of sepsis as a cause of Hester’s death is improbable in view of the date discrepancy and the nature of sepsis. Lung cancer is also not a viable option. This type of cancer was rare at that time. The only operation was the removal of one lung. There is no indication this operation was ever performed on Hester Howard. The statement on REH’s medical form that his mother did not have TB or cancer is not compelling evidence in view of the stigma and fear surrounding TB during that era. In spite of Kate Merryman’s misgivings about Mrs. Howard’s tuberculosis, the TB symptoms were present.
On the other hand, Hester Howard’s weight loss from her normal 150 to 109 pounds, her aspiration procedures for the withdrawal of fluid from the pleura and her severe night sweats all indicate pulmonary TB. In addition there is her stay in sanitariums for TB patients only; Doctor Howard’s assurances to E. Hoffmann Price that the house was sanitized and sterilized and most of all her death certificate which states Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s cause of death was tuberculosis.
Biographers and scholars, as well as many REH fans, have attempted to define Hester Jane Ervin Howard, often much to her detriment. Leo Grin, editor of The Cimmerian print journal remarks on Hester Howard’s reputation among Howard fans:
It’s gotten so bad that a few years ago Steve Tompkins opined to me that trying to humanize Hester Howard would at this late date be “fiendishly difficult,” like trying to rehabilitate “Grendel’s mother.”
The fact that she had tuberculosis has been given very little weight. Yet it overshadows at least the last two years of her life, if not longer. TB and its stigma brought ostracism, and the fear of contagion kept “lungers” isolated from normal relationships with spouses, family, neighbors and friends. The painful aspiration procedures helped to relieve her symptoms only temporarily and when these symptoms returned, TB affected Hester’s quality of life and it shadowed the lives of her and her family.
With every tuberculosis flare-up, Hester, REH and Doctor Howard must have feared for her life. The disease brought excruciating pain at a time when there was no pain medication except morphine and laudanum, both of which were often inadequate. And, when her symptoms were alleviated, the fear of TB’s return was always there. There was no known cure for this devastating disease that wasted the body while it left the mind lucid.
REH was her caregiver, He called her a “wonderful” person. They were close and he probably knew her better than anyone. Yet, his statements about his mother have been consistently dismissed out of hand. Maybe the time has come to believe him, or at the very least, give Robert E. Howard’s opinions a fair hearing. Who was the real Hester Jane Ervin Howard? Perhaps the answer has been there all the time. REH said of his mother, “By God, don’t tell me about bravery, for she’s the bravest.”
I’m inclined to agree with him.
Special thanks to Rob Roehm for his proofreading and for the material he provided for the writing of “Hester Jane Ervin Howard and Tuberculosis.” Rob, your support and assistance is appreciated!
(Note: Any errors that may appear in this article are mine.)
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Article taken from the closed down website REH: Two-Gun Raconteur. Date of the article: September 30, 2015.