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Anna’s hands tried to soothe the baby Esther in her arms. Rachel drove, and Jonah sat between them on the bench seat of Rachel’s husband Daniel’s truck. Daniel was a farmer, like most of the men in the community. Harvest time had just started so he was out with the others in the fields long hours, and wouldn’t be back until nearly sunset. Anna looked down and saw that Jonah’s feet were bare. She began to feel foolish for her haste. This was probably just the pox. She had always had an active imagination, and now she was endangering the four of them to sin and vice and wickedness by leaving the community in search of a hospital.
Rachel reached the edge of the community and stopped. Anna handed her Esther, hopped out of the truck, opened the country gate separating them from the world. After Rachel passed through, Anna closed the gate and climbed back into the truck. She took Esther in her arms once again and jiggled her gently. Esther started rooting for a breast and Anna had to turn her to face the other way. They turned down the country highway connecting the community to a nearby town with a small hospital.
About an hour later they arrived. Anna carried Jonah and Rachel carried Esther inside the blinding white lobby of the hospital. People in brightly colored shirt and pant sets ran past them down an equally bright hallway. An amplified voice said something about a code. There was a buzzing noise in the air. Anna had never been somewhere that was so too much before. She had never left her community, never left its soft fabrics, warm fires, and quiet serenity. She felt she was being rushed upon on all sides, and clung tighter to Jonah. Looking behind her she saw Rachel a few steps back, frozen in fear. People hurried past different ways. Anna knew hospitals could sometimes do what midwives couldn’t, but she had no idea how to make them.
“Can I help you?” a steady voice asked. Anna turned to see a young woman, smiling and holding a pad of paper and pen. “The boy,” Anna held Jonah up for explanation. “He has a rash and his sister has spots in her mouth. It may be measles.” The smile disappeared from the woman’s face and she grabbed up the phone on a nearby desk to request immediate assistance. Her voice echoed down the hallways.
Suddenly lots of people were talking to Anna. “How long?” “When did it start?” “What’s his temperature?” “Has the baby traveled?” “Oh god, the mother is pregnant.” Someone took Jonah out of her arms and someone else whisked Esther away. Rachel ran down the corridor with them, wailing for her children. Anna felt a tap on her shoulder. “What’s his insurance?” a bespectacled man asked her.
“His what?” Anna asked, struggling to make out his words over the din of beeps and buzzes and running feet. “Insurance,” the man repeated. “How are you going to pay for his care?”
“Pay?” Anna was out of her depth. Love of money was the root of all sin, which is why her community lived without it. Farmers grew crops and raised livestock for everyone. The minister served everyone. The midwife treated everyone. They lived in harmony as God intended, as each other’s keepers. Anna tried, and failed, to understand how money came into the equation. A different man came up behind the first.
“What pediatrician do they usually see? We’ve asked the mother but she’s not saying anything and keeps crying.” He wore an exasperated expression and wrinkled clothes.
“I’m their midwife,” Anna explained. “Well, not yet, but I will be. When they’re sick, the midwife and I take care of them..”
“So they don’t have a primary care physician?” he asked incredulously. “I guess not,” Anna answered. She was starting to feel dizzy. Her hands didn’t know what to do in this strange place, what to touch or hold onto for comfort. It was all too overwhelming.
“Why haven’t they been vaccinated?” a woman asked sharply, appearing at Anna’s elbow. “We’ve not had a case of measles in a hundred years. I’m not even sure that’s what this is. We’re clean people.” The woman frowned and opened her mouth to say more, when another woman interrupted her.
“The mother won’t consent to treatment!” she practically shouted. The four of them stood around Anna, bombarding her with questions she could not answer. “What’s their insurance? Where are their shot records? Who is their doctor? What do you mean you don’t understand?” Anna’s breaths became shallow and Anna thought she would surely faint.
“Why don’t we take a walk and you can explain why you came in today,” a soothing voice suggested. Anna looked up to see a woman about her age, wearing a matching shirt and pants set like many of the people rushing by. She took Anna’s arm and steered her away from the questioning mob. Once they reached a hallway free of people, they stopped and Anna took a minute to control her breathing. She was still shaking.
“You’re from that religious group outside of town, aren’t you?” the woman asked. “Yes,” Anna answered. “I don’t know why everyone’s so mad. They’re going to be mad at home too. I should have asked first. I shouldn’t have just taken off like that. But I know measles can spread like sin, and I don’t know how to stop it on my own.” Hot tears splashed down Anna’s cheeks.
“Hey, take it easy. I’ll make them back off. You tell me what they need to know and I’ll get them to stop pestering you, okay?” She pulled a paper handkerchief from a small packet in her pocket and handed it to Anna. “I’m Katie.”
So Anna told her about the house call, the rash, the spots in Esther’s mouth. “How did you know it was measles? You said there hasn’t been a case in a hundred years?”
“Oh, well I study the journals,” Anna told her.
“Medical journals?” Katie asked.
“Midwives’ journals. Records of all the births, accidents, illnesses, and deaths in our community, going back to the founding. It’s my job to read the journals and know what they say.”
Katie’s eyebrows raised. “You recognized symptoms for an illness that hasn’t been seen in a century because you’re good at your homework? You should be a doctor.”