Friday, February 08, 2013

A piece of my childhood is gone

Have you seen the news? It turns out that Mary Ingalls, of Little House on the Prairie fame, probably did not go blind from scarlet fever. A new article in the journal Pediatrics proposes that, instead, Mary suffered from meningitis or encephalitis. The article's author, Dr. Beth Tarini, looked through medical records from the era and studied Laura Ingalls Wilder's memoir Pioneer Girl, which was the basis for the Little House books. She also looked at the records from the school for the blind, which Mary attended as a teenager. According to the records, Mary went blind due to a "brain fever." 

This has turned my world upside down. It also reminded me of one of my favorite posts ever. I wrote it back in 2010 for a now-defunct site called Deep South Moms. 


My youngest daughter recently had croup (which I call THE CROUP, complete with jazz hands). When I posted on Facebook that the baby had croup, my sister's immediate comment was "get the ipecac." I laughed out loud, because I knew exactly what she was talking about.

In Anne of Green Gables, which was our favorite book growing up, Anne saves Diana's little sister from the croup by dosing her with ipecac.

Elizabeth was sick enough that we ended up at the doctor's office. After he had finished the exam and confirmed my diagnosis, I asked him about the whole ipecac thing. He laughed when I told him about Anne of Green Gables and said that he had seen that particular episode while watching the mini-series with his daughters. Then he told me that giving kids ipecac really was standard treatment for the time. When he was in medical school, he went to a Q&A session with an old pediatrician, and one of the other med students asked the doctor how he would treat croup. The doctor's immediate answer was ipecac. Go figure.

My doctor said that there are two theories on why it worked. First, it's chemically similar to an opiate, so the baby probably gets good and relaxed, which stops the coughing fits. Second, it may just make the baby throw up enough that the coughing stops. Either way, it's not recommended by anyone anymore.

But all of this reminded me of the time I diagnosed my oldest with scarlet fever, which I told the doctor about. Ella, who was three at the time, had already been in to see him and had tested positive for strep and started antibiotics. But that night she broke out in a rash all over her chest. I pulled out my trusty Dr. Spock and decided that it looked like scarlet fever, and I freaked the heck out.

I immediately phoned the on-call pediatrician, who explained that there are several types of strep and a few of them produce a scarlatina rash, which is commonly called scarlet fever. This is the rest of our conversation.

Me: But Beth in Little Women  DIED from scarlet fever.

Doc: (long pause) Yes, but that was before they had antibiotics. Ella has already started taking hers. She'll be fine.

Me: But Mary in Little House went BLIND from scarlet fever.

Doc: (another long pause) Again, that was before antibiotics. Ella will be fine. I promise.

My doctor laughed at the story, but he also made me promise to stop diagnosing my kids through children's literature.

When my sister first read Little Women she got to the end and asked what had happened to Beth. When we told her that Beth died, she looked perplexed and said, "The book said she went to a better place. I assumed that meant the beach or something."

I fully expect the next literary medical discovery to be that Beth did, indeed, go to the beach and lived quite happily in a better place. 

And speaking of beloved children's classics, have you seen what a publisher has done to Anne Shirley? Just.No. 
Updated to include a note from my sister: This totally leaves out that I was seven or eight and the copy of Little Women I had was abridged and the fact that Beth died was NOT well explained. Mom immediately bought me the full version. I feel like my reading comprehension skills are under attack when you tell the story without all the details


knittergran said...

And don't go see "Little Women: the Musical."
Trust me on this.

Ann in NJ said...

I took William to the emergency room with gas pains. In my defense, it was 4am, I called the doctor because he woke up screaming, and she told me to go. We hung out for a couple of hours, then got sent home.

But I was terrified one of my kids would burst an appendix and they would die because THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS IN BOOKS!!!

rebecca said...

I just laughed so hard at the idea of "Little Women: the musical" that I almost coughed myself to death. I will not be having the Ipecac chaser, thanks :-)

Susan said...

I think mother's instinct is born out of all ur reading...