Friday, July 23, 2010
“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.
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.”
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.
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.