This is a tale about the worst monster of all.
They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olsen.
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 blond 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 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 he 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 the 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 behaviour and his dread
of hurting her made him release her just at the critical moment
several 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
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 of diphtheria?
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. It tried to hold myself down but I couldn't. I
know how to expose a throat for inspection. And I did my best.
When I finally 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 with it.
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 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 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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