When I was writing this story, my mother's side of my family had their first ever family reunion. My cousin's wife and myself had been working on the family tree for quite some time, and when we were planning events for the reunion, we decided to so a family search or sorts in the cemetery where most of our ancestors have been lain to rest.
It didn't start out to be a lesson in early communicable diseases, but what quickly became evident was the outstanding number of very young babies and children who were buried in the family plots. When we started taking note of years, and dates, we could pretty much see where epidemics had devastated the small community our family lived in.
We are so fortunate to live in times when most of these diseases have been eradicated, through either vaccination or modern medicine and antibiotics. How different our lives are from those early days when young parents often were forced to bury their babies, long before they should have had to.
I for one, am glad I was fortunate enough to raise my child in the times that I did...
So if you have little ones in your life, hug them close, and say a prayer of thanks for modern medicine...
Now back to our story.....
On the fifth day of their enforced confinement, Anne-Marie became seriously ill. One day she was fine, and the next her little body was assaulted by a hoarse raspy cough, a high fever, and severe chills.
Her condition deteriorated quickly, far more than that of a normal cold or flu, but due to the severe weather there was no possibility of sending to town for the doctor. Karl and Emilie were left with no choice but to tend to her illness as best they could by themselves.
They took turns bathing her small feverish body with freshly melted water from the buckets of packed snow that Karl brought in the house almost hourly. The instant the cool cloths touched her fevered body, they warmed alarmingly. A pan of cool water lasted mere minutes before another would be brought in to replace it. Anne-Marie whimpered and cried while her body moved restlessly on the make-shift bed that Karl had made for her in his bedroom. The two adults who loved and cared for her tried in vain to lower her temperature and ease her restlessness as best they could.
Karl sat through night after long night caring for his youngest child, and as he silently watched the fever suck the life from his spirited young babe, he acknowledged the certainty that he was about to loose his little girl to the relentless fever that was taking her so quickly from him. The cough that tore at her lungs lifted her small shoulders away from the bed with every breath she took, and as he sat with his elbows propped on his knees his head in his hands he prayed, “Please God, don’t take my little girl from me!” over and over again until it almost drove him mad.
Emilie appeared at his side, looking as tired and haggard as he felt. She gently touched his shoulder thinking he was asleep, but he was not. He lifted his head from his hands.
“Karl you should go rest now, I will stay with her,” Emilie’s voice was barely a whisper.
He rose from the chair and offered it to her. “I am going to mix up a mustard plaster for that cough, it will help ease it some,” he announced wearily.
“Show me how’s it’s made, then you can go and rest.”
He shook his head in agreement. “I’ll need some soft flannel if you can find some,” he told her then moved towards the kitchen.
Emilie quietly slipped up the stairs to the trunk in the children’s room, and lifted the heavy lid. There she found the small baby clothes that must have at one time adorned Anne-Marie’s small body. There were tiny woolen sweater sets, in white and yellow, and one in pink. Digging down the through the pile of clothes she found tiny flannel nightdresses, and finally flannel diapers. She grabbed a handful of the diapers, gently replaced the lid and hurried down to the kitchen.
Karl was stirring a mixture of flour and mustard powder in a small bowl to which he added water a little at a time until it formed a heavy paste. He took one of the diapers she had found and tore it into four pieces. He spread the mixture on the clean flannel, and folded it in half. He placed the small bundle slowly in Emilie’s hand, so she would feel the heat that the plaster made.
“Put this on her chest and wrap her up in the blankets. You will have to keep an eye on her skin, because this could burn her if left on too long, but it should help. Keep bathing her with the cool water too . . .”
Emilie’s eyes returned to Karl’s face. He is so worried, she thought and her heart softened as she regarded him closely. “We will get her through this, Karl,” Emilie said softly, as a huge lump formed in her throat. The thought of loosing little Anne-Marie was just not acceptable.
Karl watched Emilie struggling with her emotions, “ I pray that you are right, Emilie,” he said so softly that she almost could not hear him. “We need a doctor or a miracle, and I’m just not sure either will help our little one now . . .”
Emilie spun on her heels and returned to her restless patient. Karl was wrong, Anne-Marie would be just fine once the fever broke and the cough was under control. She would not let this little girl die!
She gently pulled the thin nightgown away from Anne-Marie’s chest and placed the mustard plaster on the child’s chest. She replaced the nightgown and wrapped the blankets tightly around the child as Karl had instructed. She dipped her hands in the cool water in the basin beside the bed and found the cloth that floated there. She wrung the cloth out in trembling hands and after lifting the one on Anne-Marie’s head, placed the cool cloth across the child’s forehead.
She repeated that motion hundreds of time throughout the night. She checked the plaster every few minutes like Karl had instructed her to, and she prayed like she never had before.