Remember Tiny Tim? His Diagnosis May Be Found
Even though it is far from Christmas time, this is an article I read from Huffington Post Science about “A Christmas Carol” that I found interesting to share with you guys. Remember Tiny Tim, from Charles Dickens’ novella? Now, a medical doctor thinks he has the answer to his illness, although Dickens never explains why Tiny Tim wears leg braces and uses a crutch. According to Russell Chesney, a physician at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tiny Tim suffered from a combination of rickets and tuberculosis.
Chesney made his diagnosis based on Tim’s deformities described in the text, along with the story’s insinuation that the boy’s disease would be curable if his father had more money. Rickets is a bone disorder caused by a Vitamin D deficiency or calcium deficiency. Lack of these nutrients softens the bones, and leg braces would have been the solution back in the 1840s, at the time of the novella, Chesney says. Since vitamin D-fortified milk and infant formula was introduced decades ago, this disorder is rarely seen in the United States now. Tuberculosis was also called the “white plague” during Dickens’ time, and was known to run rampant in this era. Tiny Tim’s life in cramped, polluted London would have set him up for both rickets and tuberculosis, Chesney said. At the time, 60 percent of children of working-class London families had rickets, brought on by poor nutrition and lack of sunlight. London’s very polluted skies (oftentimes from the coal of such an industrial city) often blocked out much of the sunlight.
I think this article is extremely interesting, because I don’t know how accurate a diagnosis can be for a fictional character. While Chesney’s diagnosis makes plenty of sense and seems to be medically backed up, who knows if Dickens wrote Tiny Tim with any kind of actual disease? Perhaps he wrote him in this way to set up his story, without a real disease in mind. Thinking this, it would almost be kind of pointless to try and diagnose a fictional character, when we have no way of knowing any of the circumstances or actual symptoms. Despite all of this, I find it extremely interesting to give a diagnosis to a fictional character, and the next time that I read “A Christmas Carol,” I’ll have in mind Tiny Tim’s illness and possible diagnosis. To me, it makes his character come alive more, and I can now sympathize better with the plight of this young boy.