Anna’s hands gently probed the raised red rash on little toddler Jonah’s chest. “It’s the pox, eh?” his mother Rachel asked from the other side of the well-scrubbed wood table. Rachel held in her arms a baby and was starting her second term of pregnancy with a third. Her face was bruised and she looked defeated. Anna didn’t want to embarrass her with questions, and besides, Jonah was the reason she’d been called.
“Looks like it,” Anna answered her, “but I want to be sure.” Anna coaxed open his mouth and peeked inside. “I’ll need to look at Esther too.” Rachel hesitated a moment before handing her baby over to be examined. There was no rash under her clothes, but Anna frowned when she saw small white spots inside the babe’s mouth. “I have to talk to check something in one of the journals at my cabin. I need you and your children to stay inside. Can you do that for me?” Rachel nodded and Anna practically flew out the door toward home.
She got to her cabin out of breath. Anna’s hands flitted along the spines of the journals until she found the one she wanted. Anna took it to her table. She was sure she’d red about a rash that was not the pox, a rash that started the same but progressed differently, and that started with little white spots in the mouth. She found the page, written in a long-ago midwife’s hand.
Seven adults and sixteen children ill. Flat red rash overtook body. Rash starts with white spots in the mouth, small red spots, then everything red. Diarrhea in all, fits in two babes and one child. Four babes, two children, and three adults dead. “Measles”.
Anna knew people died. It was part of life. She’d lost both of her own parents by adulthood. But losing nine members of the community in a single week to illness was not common, at all. If the illness afflicting Rachel’s children was this measles, then Anna did not know if she could save them. Everyone knew fits were untreatable and there was only so much you could do to get a babe with diarrhea and upset stomach to take enough milk.
Joanna had asked Anna to handle this house call on her own, because she’d been called to the fields to attend to an injured farmer. Joanna doubtless had her truck with her. Anna groaned as she ran back up the road toward Rachel’s house once more. What should she do? What would Joanna do? If this were the pox, and it probably was, bed rest, fluids, and staying indoors were the treatment, with some herbs for pain, and a poultice for itch. Rachel and Anna had suffered the pox together as children, so Rachel was unlikely to get sick from it now. But what of the babe she carried?
Anna rapped her knuckles on Rachel’s door. “Can you drive?” she asked as Rachel opened it.