Death bringing cholera, Le Petit Journal, 1912
Collywobbles has been in use in English since 1823. It’s either a fanciful formation of cholera morbus or colic (in this case meaning dysentery), depending on which dictionary you consult.
For previous generations in the west, cholera was a common killer. The story of how cholera was shown to be a water-borne illness is wonderfully told in The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. Because of the work of Dr. John Snow (who, with curate Henry Whitehead, isolated the source of an 1854 London cholera epidemic) and waterworks engineers like Joseph Quick, most of the developed world now has ample fresh water. That’s a modern luxury, only available to most of us in the last century or so.
Cholera broadside, 1849. It was not until after the 1854 Broad Street Pump outbreak that doctors understood that cholera was spread by water, not by "miasma."
Cholera still infects 3.5 million people a year in developing countries, and causes 100,000–130,000 deaths a year. Most victims are young children, and the vector is usually raw sewage in the water supply. (Along with cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and dysentery are also prime offenders.)
Paris succouring cholera victims, Antoine Étex, Hopital de la Salpetriere.19th century.
Last year, my favorite model, Michelle Long, went to Uganda to work on the Ugandan Water Project. In the past, I’ve been involved with Project Concern International, which also does fresh-water projects. Organizations like Heifer International and World Vision have similar programs.
A Cholera Patient, Robert Cruikshank, c.1832
As you wrap your gifts, give a thought to a small contribution to one of those organizations, or another of your own choosing. Help make cholera as archaic a concept in the developing world as it is in the west.