In The Olive Tree, Heini Hopkins is a nurse specialising in tuberculosis. As the story opens she is tending Mari, her sick mother.
Tuberculosis, commonly known as T.B., is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. Classic symptoms include: a chronic cough with blood-flecked mucus, night sweats, fever and weight loss. T.B. was also known as ‘consumption’ due to the weight loss.
In Britain, the infected poor were encouraged to enter sanatoria. However, these places resembled prisons more than hospitals. The upper and middle classes received better care and attention, yet 50% of them died within five years of contracting the disease.
For centuries, tuberculosis was considered ‘the romantic disease’ because it ‘assisted artistic talent’. Major artistic figures including John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Brontë, George Orwell and Edvard Munch either had the disease or were surrounded by it. People believed that the fever and toxaemia associated with tuberculosis helped artists to see life more clearly and that this clarity of mind liberated their creative muse.