Inside Clara's Rib
Clara's Rib is the true story of Clara Raina Flannigan. Clara was an inveterate diarist and, from the time she entered the Royal Ottawa Sanatorium for tuberculosis patients at twelve years of age, until her final discharge from the San when she was twenty-six years of age, she gives a riveting description of growing up in the San. Facing personal life and death medical setbacks on a daily basis, along with frequently standing around a death bed with other patients praying while one of their young friends died, promoted maturing quickly.
Clara has a phenomenal grasp of medical terminology and understanding of the gravity of her situation and that of most of her brothers and sisters and her father, who also enter the San. However, she maintains a rich sense of humour and her anecdotes give rise to frequent laughter. Pranks play an important and ongoing role in the lives of the young patients. As she relates the decisions she faces based on the dire diagnosis and projected hopeless medical prognosis of her youth, we see that her tenacious embrace of unquestioning faith and prayer is a most powerful influence, not only on Clara's physical health, but on her mental health as well and, indeed, governs the outcome of her life.
For a child who loved nothing more than the outdoors, being confined indoors, and often months at a time to a hospital bed, was often overwhelmingly daunting. Clara's Rib leaves little doubt that positive thinking saved Clara's life.
Anne Raina's comments
I am the youngest of ten children, seven of whom spent years in the Royal Ottawa Sanatorium with tuberculosis. My father, my eldest brother and my brother next to me died of tuberculosis. Although I, thankfully, was one of the three children in the family who did not contract tuberculosis, it was inevitable the three of us were certainly still affected by the ramifications of TB and the losses it inflicted on all of us. Born at Billings Bridge, near Ottawa, in 1943, new lasting friendships awaited me when my family moved to a farm near Kemptville, 30 miles south of Ottawa, in 1947.
All our family members were very close and, even though Clara spent so many years in the San, and although she was seventeen years older than me, we really were the best of friends. Shortly before her death, Clara exacted a promise from me."You have to promise me Anne," Clara urged her youngest sibling in May 1998, "that when I die you will sneak my rib into my coffin. If you don't, and it gets tossed in the garbage, just think what might happen if someone spots it in the city dump or a dog goes sniffing it out. Next thing, bulldozers and excavators will be turning the garbage dump upside down searching for the rest of the body that goes with this rib." The imagined headlines and chaos that could follow the discovery of a human rib in the local landfill caused Clara and Anne to laugh heartily.
The laughter, while genuine, was also bittersweet. Anne and Clara both knew that Anne would have to carry out this task within a few days. It was nearly time to lay both Clara and her rib to rest. On May 28, 1998, Clara's body succumbed to cancer. Her spirit, though, was unconquerable and lives on vibrantly in the memories of all who knew and loved her.
Before she died, Clara bequeathed me complete ownership of all her diaries, letters, taped and written versions of her book and all documents pertaining to it. I promised her, in that final conversation about her book, that one day I would fulfill her wish to have her book published. Not only did Clara entrust her rib to me, but she entrusted her life story to me as well. I have seen this gift as a privilege and have treasured it and treated it with care. Accordingly, I have written and added the segments necessary to bring this project to fruition.
Endorsements for the book
"Clara's Rib is a diary of a woman from a family ravaged by tuberculosis when the death rate from tuberculosis was in the range of 40%. Clara and her eldest brother, John, are admitted to the Royal Ottawa Sanatorium when they are 12 and 18 years respectively. John's death from tuberculosis shows the fragility of human life. Tuberculosis denies Clara the chance of attending school. Over time Clara's sister Mary, and her brothers Ralph, George and Jim are admitted to the San."
The disease and the surgical therapy steals the chance of having her own family and also kills her youngest brother, Billy, with TB meningitis at age four, her father, her first love and many of her closest friends. Clara finds the strength and fortitude to strive for and attain a full and complete life.
Clara's life is truly a miracle and an inspiration. One can only marvel at her inner strength. She is a hero in the true sense of the word."
Peter Jessamine MD, FRCPC
The son of Dr. Alexander Gordon Jessamine, Former Superintendent of the Royal Ottawa Sanatorium, is also involved in the treatment of persons with tuberculosis.
"I spent my entire eighteenth year in hospital with Clara in 1945. Clara's account of life in the San brought back vivid memories. Her detailed description captures perfectly our lives as young TB patients. She has transported me back in time to a period that evokes many feelings. I recall the sadness and fear, but also the times of great humour and laughter. There is something in this book that will touch everyone."
Myrtle Jennings Murphy, Former TB Patient
"A remarkable autobiography of the incredible and heroic struggles of a twelve-year-old with lung tuberculosis - in the time before chemotherapy. Fourteen years in and out of the sanatorium on the 'cure'. Major surgery with rib removals to collapse both lungs in efforts to close cavities, with many setbacks and overwhelming disappointments."
"Will there ever be a drug for tuberculosis?
Has God forsaken me?
I need a miracle - my only chance."
"Deep religious convictions.
Dedicated medical and nursing staff.
Loving romance ending in tragic death.
A second romance and marriage.
Adoption of a 2 year old son - leading to a wonderfully happy life.
She lived for her full 3 score years and ten.
She was the MIRACLE."
C. William L. Jeanes M.D. Former Medical Director, Canadian Tuberculosis Association