The value of believing in yourself: the story of Louis Pasteur

Are doctors born or are doctors made?  My first (remembered) career aspiration was to work at McDonald’s.  I was fascinated beyond belief by the register and all its colour-coded buttons.  I wanted to push those buttons so badly.

Thankfully I grew out of that.  I must admit that I still love all the buttons and dials and knobs on the anesthesia machine and on patient monitors.  I love gadgets – not so much computers – but honest to goodness gadgetry.  I love trouble-shooting pressure transducers and EKG leads and temperature probes and the automatic ice-cube maker in my freezer at home.

For my sixth birthday, my father bought me a stethoscope.  It wasn’t an expensive one but it wasn’t a toy one either.  It was probably an entry-level nursing stethoscope.  I loved it.  I listened to my cat.  I listened to the fridge.  I listened to myself.  I tried to use it to spy on people by listening to the wall.  I tried to use it like a cat burglar by listening to the back of a padlock.  I had no idea what I was listening for but I’d seen it on TV.  My mother stole it and put it in the first aid box.  When we got sick she would pull it out and listen to our chests.  I think she got this idea because our family doctor let her listen to us the few times we were wheezy or possibly had a pneumonia (which, to be honest, was more likely to be viral bronchitis than pneumonia anyway).

I’m still angry that she commandeered my first stethoscope.

The first time I wanted to be a doctor was after being given this book:


Probably a few of you had this book too.  In it, a boy teases a dog through a fence with a stick.  The dog, who is rabid, somehow bites him.  I forget how that happened.  The little boy gets rabies and his parents are very distraught so they rush him to the city (probably Paris?) so that he can receive this new treatment from Louis Pasteur.  The sense of urgency is tense with all kinds of people and objects chanting, “hurry hurry!”  Each rabies virus is illustrated as a monster.  I think they were black with lots of pointy teeth and they ran rabid (pun intended, sorry folks) through his body, making him very sick.

Louis Pasteur is the guy who came up with germ theory, pasteurization (seems he was interested in keeping beer from spoiling, a man after my own heart) and who had been working on a rabies vaccine using attenuated virus collected from rabid rabbits.

His vaccine is depicted as a bunch of soldiers in a syringe connect to the most enormous needle that you could imagine.

He injects the boy, the soldiers and the rabies monsters face off, many soldiers are tragically killed…but eventually they win the day and the boy lives.

One of the last pages, as I recall, was a nice illustration of Louis, the boy, the rabies virus, the dog and a soldier or two all standing together either waving or smiling or something.  The poor rabbits were neither mentioned nor thanked for their contribution.

I was fascinated with this book.  Louis Pasteur was depicted as a very smart man, who knew he was right even though others didn’t believe him.  He saved a boy even though the boy was depicted as a horrible puppy-abusing child and he was lauded as hero.  I wanted to be Louis Pasteur.  He was a good dude.  And he had an enormous syringe with an even more enormous needle filled with magical soldiers that could save you from death.

The book, however, might have departed slightly from the truth.  Louis Pasteur wasn’t a doctor and could legally treat anyone at all.  He gave his vaccine (live attenuated) to a boy who had been mauled by a rabid dog.  The boy wasn’t sick yet and, according to Wikipedia which we all know is a unimpeechable source, had only a 15% chance of catching rabies from that exposure.  Had the boy come to harm or gotten rabies anyway, Louis would probably have been arrested for practicing medicine without a licence.

But whatever.  Louis was one of my childhood heroes.  Still is.  He keeps my milk fresh, my dog rabies-free and his theories on germs paved the way for antiseptic precautions and antimicrobial and anti-viral therapies.  I give him partial credit for saving my life when I came down with childbed fever.

Now I have my own enormous syringes (and sometimes enormous needles) filled with my own magical soldiers.  My soldiers take away pain.  My soldiers fight fear and anxiety…they keep my patient’s fundamental physiologic processes stable during the most shocking surgical insults and they even save people from death.

Have any of you read this book?  What did you think?  I need to ask my mother if she still has it somewhere because it is out of print and I really want to share it with my child when he is old enough.



  1. We had the whole series of those books when I was a kid – they were great! I’m sure my mother has long disposed of them, but if I could share it with my kid, I would. I wonder if there’s an iPad app like there is for many of the Dr. Seuss books…

    1. I note that it looks like amazon has some…

      1. And eBay seems to also have some (at potentially better than amazon prices)….

  2. Laural · · Reply

    Totally remember this book. Pasteur was also a childhood hero of sorts for me, this idea being nurtured by my father who was also the one who shared the book . You have definitely kindled a desire to dig up that old gem. I’m totally not spoiling it with that wiki-truth you shared until my kids are older!

  3. Very Bad Mom · · Reply

    Holy nostalgia, batman! I remember these books well. I had the Helen Keller one, which taught the value of determination. I think I remember the Christopher Columbus one, too (curiosity). Pasteur’s a good childhood hero; sounds like your interest in science was well nurtured.

  4. VeryBadMom said it best, “Holy nostalgia, batman!” I hope this book is hiding on the shelf at my mom’s house. I want it for my son.

  5. miriam · · Reply

    I got mine from amazon. Margaret Mead, Johnny Appleseed, Jackie Robinson… good stuff.

    1. I’d love it if they came out with an updated series to include some more recent “heroes” who deserve to be as well known as those who inspired the series.

      An iPad app along the lines of what they’ve done for Dr. Suess books would be fantastic!

  6. Ha! As soon as I saw the title of your post, the first thought that came to mind was, “I totally remember that book!”

    I wish you’d written this a year ago. My grandparents had a whole bunch of those books (the Louis Pasteur one was always my fave), but they sold their house last summer and all the kids’ toys and books got donated. Boo.

  7. C Monroe · · Reply

    I’m 42 years old and I still remember when my mother bought this book (or received it free with purchase) from the local grocery store. My brother and I must have reread the book a 1000 times! It was filled with so much kid friendly information, that most of it has stuck with me to this day!

  8. dentie · · Reply

    Wow. We also had the whole series growing up. The random factoids I have gotten from them have won me many a trivia game. I am now looking into getting the series for my own kiddos…

  9. […] The Adequate Mother Book Review Homegrown Learners Book Review […]

  10. Lori C · · Reply

    I LOVED this book as a child! I recently came down with a bad infection after surgery. I had to give myself IV antibiotics at home twice a day. My 4 year old was so curious about the medicine going in me and I told him there were tiny soldiers that were marching in to fight the bad infection…..which then prompted an internet search for this book….which I found! I cannot wait for it to come in so I can read this to him! He has just been fascinated about these soldiers since I told him the story! Lol! Can’t wait to read this book again!!!!

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