They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olson. Please
come down as soon as you can, my daughter is very sick.
When I arrived I was met by the mother, a big startled looking
woman, very clean and apologetic who merely said, Is this the
doctor? and let me in. In the back, she added. You must excuse us,
doctor, we have her in the kitchen where it is warm. It is very
damp here sometimes.
The child was fully dressed and sitting on her father's lap near
the kitchen table. He tried to get up, but I motioned for him not
to bother, took off my overcoat and started to look things over. I
could see that they were all very nervous, eyeing me up and down
distrustfully. As often, in such cases, they weren't telling me
more than they had to, it was up to me to tell them; that's why
they were spending three dollars on me.
The child was fairly eating me up with her cold, steady eyes, and
no expression to her face whatever. She did not move and seemed,
inwardly, quiet; an unusually attractive little thing, and as
strong as a heifer in appearance. But her face was flushed, she was
breathing rapidly, and I realized that she had a high fever. She
had magnificent blonde hair, in profusion. One of those picture
children often reproduced in advertising leaflets and the
photogravure sections of the Sunday papers.
She's had a fever for three days, began the father and we don't
know what it comes from. My wife has given her things, you know,
like people do, but it don't do no good. And there's been a lot of
sickness around. So we tho't you'd better look her over and tell us
what is the matter.
As doctors often do I took a trial shot at it as a point of
departure. Has she had a sore throat?
Both parents answered me together, No . . . No, she says her throat
don't hurt her.
Does your throat hurt you? added the mother to the child. But the
little girl's expression didn't change nor did she move her eyes
from my face.
Have you looked?
I tried to, said the mother, but I couldn't see.
As it happens we had been having a number of cases of diphtheria in
the school to which this child went during that month and we were
all, quite apparently, thinking of that, though no one had as yet
spoken of the thing.
Well, I said, suppose we take a look at the throat first. I smiled
in my best professional manner and asking for the child's first
name I said, come on, Mathilda, open your mouth and let's take a
look at your throat.
Aw, come on, I coaxed, just open your mouth wide and let me take a
look. Look, I said opening both hands wide, I haven't anything in
my hands. Just open up and let me see.
Such a nice man, put in the mother. Look how kind he is to you.
Come on, do what he tells you to. He won't hurt you.
At that I ground my teeth in disgust. If only they wouldn't use the
word "hurt" I might be able to get somewhere. But I did not allow
myself to be hurried or disturbed but speaking quietly and slowly
I approached the child again.
As I moved my chair a little nearer suddenly with one catlike
movement both her hands clawed instinctively for my eyes and she
almost reached them too. In fact she knocked my glasses flying and
they fell, though unbroken, several feet away from me on the
Both the mother and father almost turned themselves inside out in
embarrassment and apology. You bad girl, said the mother, taking
her and shaking her by one arm. Look what you've done. The nice man
. . .
For heaven's sake, I broke in. Don't call me a nice man to her. I'm
here to look at her throat on the chance that she might have
diphtheria and possibly die of it. But that's nothing to her. Look
here, I said to the child, we're going to look at your throat.
You're old enough to understand what I'm saying. Will you open it
now by yourself or shall we have to open it for you)
Not a move. Even her expression hadn't changed. Her breaths however
were coming faster and faster. Then the battle began. I had to do
it. I had to have a throat culture for her own protection. But
first I told the parents that it was entirely up to them. I
explained the danger but said that I would not insist on a throat
examination so long as they would take the responsibility.
If you don't do what the doctor says you'll have to go to the
hospital, the mother admonished her severely.
Oh yeah? I had to smile to myself. After all, I had already fallen
in love with the savage brat, the parents were contemptible to me.
In the ensuing struggle they grew more and more abject, crushed,
exhausted while she surely rose to magnificent heights of insane
fury of effort bred of her terror of me.
The father tried his best, and he was a big man but the fact that
she was his daughter, his shame at her behavior and his dread of
hurting her made him release her just at the critical times when I
had almost achieved success, till I wanted to kill him. But his
dread also that she might have diphtheria made him tell me to go
on, go on though he himself was almost fainting, while the mother
moved back and forth behind us raising and lowering her hands in an
agony of apprehension.
Put her in front of you on your lap, I ordered, and hold both her
But as soon as he did the child let out a scream. Don't, you're
hurting me. Let go of my hands. Let them go I tell you. Then she
shrieked terrifyingly, hysterically. Stop it! Stop it! You're
Do you think she can stand it, doctor! said the mother.
You get out, said the husband to his wife. Do you want her to die
Come on now, hold her, I said.
Then I grasped the child's head with my left hand and tried to get
the wooden tongue depressor between her teeth. She fought, with
clenched teeth, desperately! But now I also had grown furious--at
a child. I tried to hold myself down but I couldn't. I know how to
expose a throat for inspection. And I did my best. When finally I
got the wooden spatula behind the last teeth and just the point of
it into the mouth cavity, she opened up for an instant but before
I could see anything she came down again and gripping the wooden
blade between her molars she reduced it to splinters before I could
get it out again.
Aren't you ashamed, the mother yelled at her. Aren't you ashamed to
act like that in front of the doctor?
Get me a smooth-handled spoon of some sort, I told the mother.
We're going through with this. The child's mouth was already
bleeding. Her tongue was cut and she was screaming in wild
hysterical shrieks. Perhaps I should have desisted and come back in
an hour or more. No doubt it would have been better. But I have
seen at least two children lying dead in bed of neglect in such
cases, and feeling that I must get a diagnosis now or never I went
at it again. But the worst of it was that I too had got beyond
reason. I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and
enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her. My face was burning
The damned little brat must be protected against her own idiocy,
one says to one's self at such times. Others must be protected
against her. It is a social necessity. And all these things are
true. But a blind fury, a feeling of adult shame, bred of a longing
for muscular release are the operatives. One goes on to the end.
In a final unreasoning assault I overpowered the child's neck and
jaws. I forced the heavy silver spoon back of her teeth and down
her throat till she gagged. And there it was--both tonsils covered
with membrane. She had fought valiantly to keep me from knowing her
secret. She had been hiding that sore throat for three days at
least and lying to her parents in order to escape just such an
outcome as this.
Now truly she was furious. She had been on the defensive before but
now she attacked. Tried to get off her father's lap and fly at me
while tears of defeat blinded her eyes.
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