Friday, July 23, 2010

Memento Mori

The doctor read aloud: The RNA extracted from the formalin-fixed brain tissue identified a viral variant in the nucleotide sequence-

“Please,” Ann interrupted. “What is it?”

He looked at the mother of his eight-year-old patient with compassion evident in his heavy-lidded young eyes and shook his head. “It's rabies,” he said after a exhalation of breath, and watched as she hunched forward and brought one hand to her mouth while gripping the metal arm of the chair with the other.

Rabies?

Several weeks after her daughter returned from a happy vacation at her best friend's summer  house in the mountains, she complained of pain in the knuckles on her left hand. Ann had not wanted to let Janie go, but the other girl's family promised to take very good care of the children. Since Ann's childhood summers had meant working on the family farm and her adult summers as a single parent now meant working long hours in a hot city, she pushed aside her worries and agreed to let her daughter spend the two weeks with them. Janie had shouted “Yessss!” and hugged her before running to phone her friend with the good news. Ann smiled as she heard Janie laughing and discussing possible activities. Apparently swimming and telling ghost stories were part of “Plan Fun.”

Rabies?

The throb in Janie's hand progressed to acute pain and infection throughout her body and later, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, and depression. Alone at home, Ann lay awake night after night while Janie's doctors treated one possible diagnosis after another. Hopeful one moment, despairing in the next when the day's remedies proved false.

“You will need post exposure prophylaxis immediately,” the doctor said, and walked over to help her get up from the chair.  “But...there is nothing we can do to stop the disease for her. I am so very sorry.”

Ann stood and brushed her hands against her silk skirt, smoothing down the pleats. She looked at the doctor's hand stretching to touch her shoulder and turned away. “I know it's not a diagnosis anyone wants to hear,” he said as he lowered his hand and tapped the file on his desk.

“Never.” Ann walked out into the hall and left the door open behind her.

“Goodbye, Mommy!” Janie said all those weeks ago as she ran to the car and climbed in the backseat where her friend waited. She looked out the window and waved. “Don't be sad. I'll bring you back a present. I'm not going away forever, you know,” and blew a kiss to her mother, who put out her right hand in a pantomime of catching and rubbing it against her cheek. 

Rabies.

Ann now leaned her forehead against the door to Janie's hospital room, where she lay in a coma, and did not wipe her eyes before she went to the nurse's station to receive the first in a series of injections.

59 comments:

  1. I think I stopped breathing, hating the diagnosis and you surprised me even more by the last paragraph. You are one of my "must read" authors. I'm glad the award landed on your blog.

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  2. Good tension throughout, and the ending was something else! Good story!

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  3. Oh wow, Marisa, this is awesome. I'm with pegjet. I think I stopped breathing too.

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  4. Wow. As a mom this got me in the gut. That poor baby. :(

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  5. Maria... This awesome piece was like a blow to the gut. massively effective.

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  6. Oh goodness! Very well written, I have a tear in my eye after reading.

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  7. Wow. Indeed. This gets to the heart of any parent. It makes me want to keep mine in a bubble and not let them out until I am too old to know their outcomes. Fabulous. Peace...

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  8. Rabies?
    How did you come up with this one? Holy moly, incredibly well done, Marisa. Tragic, weird, sad, everything. Gold star!

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  9. Oh, my heart. It aches. This was extremely well written. I'm wondering where this idea come from as well.

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  10. A gripping tale Marisa.

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  11. I have to admit, I had to reasearch rabies before I could really understand the story. (In Europe, rabies has been extinct almost 100%.)

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  12. Nice research. Extra gripping for parents to read. Great idea for a story. Don't see many rabies stories these days. The rarity of rabies increases the tension.

    Whenever I see this title, I always think of the brilliant short story written by Jonathan Nolan, which sidetracked me a moment.

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  13. A terrible disease. One hopes they caught it soon enough.

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  14. The Uk only got rid of its rabies quarantine laws in the last decade or thereabouts, so this had a real resonance. Powerful, heart-wrenching, so beautifully pitched. A terrific job of craft and pacing.

    marc nash

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  15. Brilliant story. Something like this happened near where I live when a thirteen year old girl picked up a dead bat in a church and the fang scratched her finger. They did induce a coma and she ended up living through it. So maybe there's hope for this character. Wonderfully written as usual.

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  16. Marisa, this is amazing. I felt every nuance of this as a parent of an eight year-old child. I saw his face in my mind's eye and mine on the mother's as the story unfolded, and I trembled.

    The ending tore me open.

    You are amazing.

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  17. Oh my, this is powerful! I often feel I am overprotective of my kids, but this story makes me want to increase my protectiveness. How tragic, and yet, so many similar conditions take children down.

    Excellent story-telling. I will be thinking about this one for awhile.

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  18. I'm not a mom yet but this still hit me in the gut. I'm teary-eyed.

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  19. Oh that made me want to cry.

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  20. You've expressed their emotions perfectly! Now I'm all teary eyed, but hope she lives through it.

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  22. i iike, it is part "Little Women' and "The Witch that Bakes Gingerbread Kids"

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  23. Like the others, this hit me in the gut as well. Powerful story, Marisa. You can really evoke emotions!

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  24. Well written, Marisa. Having kids, like others here, I find this frightening. One decision--either done in good faith or just a moment of poor judgment--could spell disaster.

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  25. It's official.You ripped my heart clean out of my chest.
    I'm looking at it on the floor right now.
    Gawd. That was riveting and horrifying in equal measures.

    "I'm not going away forever, you know"

    Gut punch.
    So well done. It needs a warning disclaimer.

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  26. Wow, this is a gut-punch of a read. I love how you used repetition to show the mother's shock as well as her thought processes. Well done.

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  27. As a parent of a nine year old, I've got a new nightmare now. Your story hit on a parent's worst fear - that as we're struggling not to smother our children by protecting them too much we fail to protect them enough. This was heart wrenching.

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  28. Rabies is one the last things you'd think of and its something we are so frightened of! Good job drawing out that fear and presenting in such an emotional manner (mother, daughter). I hope her girl makes it. Great story, Marisa. I need to get over hear more often.

    In google reader I always think this blog belongs to an Alice, and I can never recall an Alice I know. I need to remember that Alice belongs to Marisa. Have a great weekend!

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  29. I like the fact that you tell us enough about the present, but not about how she got it. That's not important - what's important is the raw emotion, and you nailed that perfectly. Wonderful work, as always.

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  30. That was a condensed dose of devastation. The thing is, as a parent you simply can't protect your child from everything. Random strokes of bad luck can come from anywhere. This story highlights that unsettling fact. Very well done.

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  31. Damn! That hits hard. Really hard.

    I loved the structure, the repetition of the "Rabies?" until the final one without the question mark. Doubt (and hope) was gone.

    Excellently done.

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  32. Beautifully done! Wow!

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  33. Just fantastic. Powerful storytelling.
    Adam B

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  34. Emotional tale, you bring it out well with so few words. It reminded me of the this american life story (see act one).

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  35. One of those things you don't expect to happen to you, until it does. You did a great job of telling the story. I like that we don't know how she got Rabies, and I like the interwoven backstory. And definitely an emotional kick in the gut, especially for a mother like me.

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  36. Anonymous12:27 AM

    As I live alone w/daughter, this is my worst fear. I didn't let her go camping with the school this year!

    Penny Goring

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  37. Yes, I agree with the crowd. This tugged at the heart strings. I can't think of anything more heart-wrenching than having to deal with your own child's mortality, in some way or another. Especially if you, as a parent, feel partially responsible. This was a great read, despite its difficult subject.

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  38. Ouch. This is a killer one for me. It's hard enough to let your kid go and do things away from you, but them to "never" come back or to come back the way Janie did. My kids aren't leaving my side ever again.

    and...

    When they ask me why, I am going to tell them to come talk to you (hehe).

    Scare me to death.
    ~2

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  39. I guess I'm different from the rest 'cause I'm wondering why no one reported the bite. Or was it contracted some other way?

    Guess I'm just spoiling for a fight 'cause I want to be angry at the doctors for not asking where the daughter had been before this started, and angry at the host family for, like I said, not reporting the bite.

    From where I sit -- and yes, I'm a mom -- the mom's off the hook. She entrusted her kid to this other family and THEY let her down.

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  40. Catching my breath....! beautifully done!

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  41. Fantastic piece Marisa, and what a title to go with it. The last paragraph, and the "Rabies." before it with no exclamation mark - wow.

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  42. Heh, I had made a mental note before coming to your blog to let you know that your story wasn't in Jon's collector, but forgot while engrossed in the story :-)

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  43. Wow, that diagnosis was like a slap in the face. She must feel so helpless as her daughter is in a coma. Very emotional story.

    Well done

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  44. Sad story, very well done. And congrats on your award.

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  45. Beautifully written and deeply engrossing.

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  46. Wow, what an emotional story, Marisa.

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  47. These are the moments I'm glad I'm not a mother yet. If I read this story being a mom, I think I'd become even more protective that I know I'll be.

    Wonderful tale Mari-girl!

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  48. Man, that story is a kick in the stomach. It truly made me hurt. It would hit any parent that way. Artfully written.

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  49. Yep, I'm quite late, but I'm still getting caught up and didn't want to miss your story, even if it is last week's.

    This is such a heartfelt, REAL story Marisa, it sounds as if you've been there yourself. Superb job!

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  50. wow tragic
    wow catching breath!

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  51. Such a powerful story, and so sad.

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  52. hello alice....

    i believe although it is 'rabies'--- it can be read to be anything that is of that seriousness: HIV to countries that still have no cure for something as easily curable as malaria!

    stylistically, in my humble opinion, the 4th paragraph can be broken down, stretched out. There is a lot in it. Dialogue as well as exposition. I believe the effect that is found in what follows can start the momentum at that point instead.

    well done to explore an unexpected subject.

    ~a.

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  53. You capture the randomness of life so well. You just do not ever know, do you? Heartbreakingly good writing.

    (I've missed your work and will be back to catch up on more later)

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  54. wow.

    on a some what personal note, my late uncle had a brother, Sonny, who died of rabies.

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  55. Breathtaking.

    There is so much depth to this story. The emotions evokes are universal, especially to parents. Your greatest fear -- whether it is rabies or some other serious illness or disease.

    Well-crafted and evocative. Fabulous job!

    Congratulations on your award!I'm not one bit surprised :)

    ~n

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  56. How did I miss your award? I am so out of the loop!

    You know I have to struggle daily with being a 'helicopter parent' but the idea of letting go my little girl scares the crap out of me. You captured that fear very well!

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  57. Shudder. Rabies is one of those things that scares the bejesus out of me. A parent's worst nightmare realized. Well done.
    ~jon

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