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Cruz’s drawing of his own sepulcher, made in 1907. The design indicates that the covering stone should be bronze and inscribed with an emblem that he used on some of his correspondence, where the words “knowledge.patience.ability.will” form a circle around the letters of his first name, stylized like a monogram, along with the dates 1872 and 1907. The urn was supposed to be inscribed: “Oswaldo Cruz + in Berlin 1907. Sciences.” Personal archive of Eduardo Oswaldo Cruz

In 1907, Oswaldo Cruz was working as head of both the General Directorate of Public Health and the Oswaldo Cruz Institute. It was a glorious phase in his career; after all, he had just led a successful campaign against yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro, which hadn’t struck the city in epidemic form since early the previous year.

But while his professional life was going well, the same could not be said about his personal life. That year, Cruz noticed the presence of albumin in his urine—a sign of nephritis, an illness all too familiar to the public health doctor. Fifteen years earlier, it had cut short his father’s life.

It was a disheartening diagnosis and Cruz worried about the future. He went so far as to design his own sepulcher (never built), which he wanted to be placed on Vidigal Beach, where his father-in-law had a home. The place held a special meaning for him, and not just because he had lived there with his wife and children upon his return from Paris. There he had also spent summers with his family—or “tribe,” as he liked to say. Vidigal had long been his refuge.

After Cruz suffered a severe attack of uremia in late 1908, he could no longer hide his illness. The latest crisis prompted him to adopt a strict diet that cut out all salt. He ate very little but would finish off his meals with any dessert placed before him. He had an incredible sweet tooth. On his desk, along with the usual assortment of books and papers, he kept a candy dish filled with goodies that he’d nibble away at all day.

In February 1914, Cruz drew up a will expressing his last wishes. Two years later, at the age of 44, his hair was almost entirely gray and the disease was castigating his body. Hiccups, nausea, vomiting—he had many symptoms. To top it all off, he developed high blood pressure and his sight was failing due to albuminuric retinitis.

At the suggestion of his son Bento, Cruz agreed to take a leave from the institute and move to Petropolis, where the climate was more amenable and propitious to a less troubled life. The family had owned a second home in the mountain city, on Rua Montecaseros, since 1912. It was a roomy, comfortable house with a big yard, where the doctor could devote himself to one of his favorite pastimes: flower gardening.

The idea of appointing him mayor of the newly incorporated City of Petropolis surfaced as a way of giving Oswaldo something to do to feel useful. Nilo Peçanha, governor and therefore responsible for the appointment, named him to the post. Cruz took office on August 1916 but didn’t hold the job for long. A few months later, with his illness advancing quickly, he resigned. His suffering worsened; it was only a matter of time.

Cruz died of kidney failure in his home at 9:10 in the evening on February 11, 1917. He was surrounded by his wife, children, and friends: Salles Guerra, Ezequiel Dias, Carlos Chagas, João Pedroso, and Belisário Penna. The next day, accompanied by a much grieving public, Cruz was buried at São João Batista cemetery in Rio de Janeiro. From the press and many other corners, he received honors and tributes typically reserved solely for national heroes.