More Virulent Than Disease
“More Virulent than Disease” is a chapter from the historical novel, Painted Butterflies. This excerpt is written through the voice of Santiago Ramon y Cajal (1852 – 1934), Nobel Prize Winner, who is credited with being “The Father of Modern Neuroscience.” In this piece, Santiago is in his mid-twenties recounting the four years since his return from the Separatist War in Cuba (Ten Years War), where he served as a head physician in a remote jungle hospital. Here, he ruminates about his recovery from illnesses which he acquired in the tropics, from which he barely survived. His hopefulness, his need for artistic expression, his passion for the natural world and the courage he observed from others brought Santiago through one of the darkest periods of his life. Painted Butterflies follows the life and scientific work of Santiago Ramon y Cajal through his journal entries. His story is expressed through his 19th century lens, but is also seen through the eyes of a modern, fictional neuroscientist, Rebecca Calhoun, who is navigating graduate school in the United States. Across two centuries and continents, these scientists discover themselves and what drives their passions for living deeply and the excitement of discovery. When Santiago’s journal falls mysteriously into Rebecca’s hands, they become connected by a scientific theory, spurned by Santiago’s prescience into how memory works. As if Santiago is whispering in her ear, Rebecca pursues her idea on how to enhance the brain’s capacity for memory (and succeeds), but there is a caveat that takes her findings to an unexpected and more personal place.
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