Thursday, November 07, 2013

1867: Is it the measles, or something else?

Dr. Abbots is pulled out of A Tale of Two Cities by a pounding on his front door.  Before he has a chance to rise from his chair, the door opens.  It's a boy of around twelve who looks ruffled.

The boy says, gasping, barely able to speak, ""Dr. Abbotts, sir!"

"Yes," the doctor said, as if to give the boy permission. He swiped sweat of his own brow.

The boy continued: "There are three boys at the school, and Mrs. Smith thinks they might have the measles and there might be an epidemic.  Please come quick!" 

Without hesitation Dr. Abbotts hurriedly opened a cabinet above his chair, and pulled from it a couple bottles.  He then knelt beside his chair and opened his brown leather medical bag, set the medicine inside, and zipped it shut.  He grabbed the handle, and said, "Let's go!"

The boy rushes from the house, followed closely by the doctor.  The screen door slams shut as the doctor lets go of it.  They both climb into the doctor's buggy, and as they did so an audible sound could be heard from the two stallions.  After a short, bumpy, and dusty ride the two arrive at the little red school house.

You rush into the school where there's complete silence; all the boys and girls, mouths agape, eagerly stare at the doctor as he enters the building.  In the front of the room he sees a teacher holding a rag over a boy's forhead.  The boy sitting on the teachers chair behind her dest.  Two other boys are sitting on the floor just under a chalk board covered with math problems. 

Mrs. Smith says, "Do you think it's the measles?  He says he's had runny eyes and nose for two days now. 

"The weather's been hot," he says on his way to the patient, "So I suppose it could be.  But let me see." He crouches before the boy, and feels his forhead."

"So, what's ailing you?" he says to the boy.

The boy sneezes, and wipes snot on his sleeve.  "That!" he says.  "I've been sneezing, my dose is sduffy, and my eyes..." He sneezed again, and rubbed his eyes.  Mrs. Smith removed the rag and stepped back.  "So what do you think?

"Does he attend to recess?"  Dr. Abbotts asks.

"Yes, he plays on the playground with the other kids," Mrs. Smith says.

"When was the grass cut?"

"Three days ago." 

The doctor looks at the boy.  "Have you ever felt this way before?"

"Yes, sir!" The boy answers.


"Last year."

"Was it May, or June?"

"Yes, sir!"

There is a brief pause, then Dr. Abbotts smiles, and says, "I don't think it's the measles, Mrs. Smith, so at that you can ease your mind."

Mrs. Smith sighs. 

"I think what he has is hay fever."

"Hay fever?" Mrs. Smith says.  "I never heard of it.  He gets a fever from hay?"

"Well, sort of.  It may not be a fitting name, but that's what they call it."

Dr. Abbotts stands up, and continues: "As you can see there's haymaking in the immediate vicinity.  As I arrived I observed there was grass in the field next to the playground, and it looks recently cut.  Where the lad plays I can smell newly-made hay, and I can smell it in here too.  That's his problem, and I suppose the problem of these two boys as well."

"Whew, well that's a relief," says Mrs. Smith.  "So what can we do for these boys."

"I'll take them to my office.  I have a couple options for them."

Dr. Smith takes the boys to his office where he has a remedy, and returns the boys to their homes.  He treats the boys by correspondence, and all three recover in ten days. 

Coincidentally, it was only a few days earlier that Dr. Abbots read a book about the newly defined affection called summer cararrh or hay fever.


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