At first everything seemed fine. I peeked under the dressing on Anne’s arm periodically while she was sleeping and it appeared to be healing well. She smiled and played and ate, giggling at my silly faces.
After a few days, redness developed.
I tried not to worry too much. After all, I had been told that she would develop a sore. This must be it.
The following day it did not go away.
The next day the redness and swelling was worse.
The day after that she started with fever and would wail if anyone touched her.
Should I be worried? I did not want to seem like a fool.
Midday I could take it no longer. I sent a message to the doctor, telling him what was occurring. I sealed the note on stationary and sent it by way of the maid.
The message back was brief and barely legible. I squinted at it, turning in the light to make it out:
Please understand that these reactions are normal and merely a part of the process.
I could not read the signature scrawled across the bottom.
I tried to calm myself down. We were expected at his office the day after next to have the pox measured and a certificate of immunity completed. Surely we could wait.
I made and applied warm compresses, afraid to do much more than that.
Still, the next day it worsened further. Anne refused to take the breast. She was a hot coal in my arms, listless and disengaged.
I called for a carriage and carried her, whimpering, to the man’s clinic insisting that he examine the arm.
I was made to wait as several other people came and went: A laborer with a hand wound, bleeding. An old, stooped woman who walked with a cane and a limp who led a small, disheveled girl of about four. I could not tell which of the two was the patient.
Finally, he beckoned. I followed.
He was exasperated but could see that I would not be turned away. I unwrapped the blankets and pulled back the sleeve of the gown. Anne stirred slightly, eyes fluttering but not opening.
The redness was streaking, extending now almost to her shoulder.
His face blanched as he rushed to cover the swollen, bloated arm again.
“What?” I asked. Admittedly, I was somewhat relieved that I was not simply histrionic, that I was correct to believe something was not right.
“That is bad. Very bad.” He took a step back.
“Well?” I waited. “Bad, how?”
He ran a hand through his hair and shifted uncomfortably. My heart began pounding.
Had I waited too long, then?
“She is very ill. I am sorry.” He sighed. “This happened to the young boy vaccinated before her.”
“What do you mean? Which boy? He is fine now, isn’t he?” I could feel my voice rising.
He shook his head and took another step back.
“She might be saved but I doubt you want to do what it would require.” He paused. “There are some things worse than death.”
“She is going to die? You did this to her, you bastard!” I stepped toward him, speaking through my clenched teeth. “You did this to her, now fix her…” My voice caught and turned into a sob.
He winced and took a deep breath.
“We need to amputate her arm.”
At that moment I was suddenly back in the Crimea, holding down soldiers’ arms and legs feeling the vibrations from the saw as it chewed through bone, the weight of the severed limb.
I looked down at Anne’s feverish face and saw her almost grown up, lovely in a ball gown. I could hear the music start as she turned gracefully, exposing the fact that she had only one arm.
And I knew.