Those of you who know me well will know about a small crush I have on Alan Rickman. Slowly working my way through a catalogue of his work and was recommended to see “Something The Lord Made” is based loosely on the careers of two pioneering men during the 1930s in the southern states of America, a White surgeon pioneering ways to deal with shock, who hires a young black carpenter as a janitor.
It doesn’t take Dr Alfred Blalock (Rickman) long to realise that his assistant Vivian Thomas (Mos Def) has an amazing mind. The pair work on how to help soldiers with shock and are soon looking for a new area to research. It was then that Dr. Helen Taussig, (Mary Stuart Masterson) a female doctor on a Children’s ward approaches Blalock asking him to look into Blue Baby syndrome, a tragic condition that means that there is a default between the babies heart and lungs that means that blood struggles to get to the babies lungs turning them blue. The condition before Blalock and Thomas’ work was a 100% mortality rate for these children.
Astonishingly it is as late as the 1940s nobody dared to operate on the heart. On 29th November 1944, after carrying out experiments on stray dogs in Baltimore Maryland USA, Blalock assisted by Thomas, operated for the first time at the John Hopkins Hospital.
Compared to many of his contemporaries and what history tells us about the southern states of America during the 1930-1970’s, Blalock, although to our eyes today seems like he didn’t fight as hard as he could, was ahead of his time in that he was able to see beyond Vivians skin colour and see the man and his brain. The arrogant surgeon apologised for his bad behaviour, got angry when Thomas was unable to walk through the front door of the John Hopkins hospital and even fought for Vivian to be paid what a white lab assistant was paid, radical for the time.
While in the lab the Blalock and Thomas are working as equals however it’s the lack of public recognition that Thomas finds most hard to deal with as clearly he felt Blalock was different to many white men in the South. The pair part ways after the success of the heart surgery, however its not long until Vivian’s long suffering wife, Clara (Gabrielle Union),encourages Vivian to return to work with Blalock. We join the story in 1964 and Vivian Thomas is the head of the Research Department at the John Hopkins Hospital teaching students about the pioneering work he did with Blalock.
In 1976, Johns Hopkins University presented Thomas with an honorary doctorate. However the title was an Honorary Doctor of Law, rather than a medical title due to the remaining racial prejudices present in Maryland and many American southern States in the mid 1970’s. This did allow the staff and students of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School to call Vivian Thomas Doctor, a title he had more than earnt through his work with Blalock. He was also appointed to the faculty of Johns Hopkins Medical School as Instructor of Surgery teaching the next generation of surgeons the techniques he learnt through operating on stray dogs with Blalock in the 1940s.
The characters of the two men are beautifully played. It’s a heartwarming (sorry about the pun!) period film based on fact. Apart from the scenes showing the experiments on the dogs which I found hard to watch, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and recommend you finding a way of watching this film.