In the summer of 1961, Rockford was 24 and could not have been prepared the afternoon his wife tried to reach him at a job site. The homeowner hurried out to tell him, “Rock, Carolyn just called. She needs you to meet them at the hospital. Something’s wrong with Ann.”
He asked, “Did she say what? Ann had a sore throat the past few days but . . .”
“Ann’s fever went higher. She called the doctor who told her to hurry to the hospital. Rock, she’s really scared. Go — please go.”
“Thanks Martha. I’ll call when . . .”
“Shoo! Just go.”
Rockford and Carolyn Jensen, had married right after graduating from high school. They both worked after school, dated then married and quickly started their new lives together. Carolyn dreamed of college, but children happened instead. Rock struggled with academics so never considered college because he could build or fix almost anything. Even with his job at the tile store, Rock was always working side jobs to earn extra money for the family. On this day, their son, Arthur was five and Ann was only three. Rock began to fear as he climbed into his truck. What could be wrong with Ann that we have to rush to the hospital?
When he arrived, Rock was directed to a waiting room where Carolyn and Arthur were sitting. As soon as she saw him, she hurried to the reception desk and told the nurse that her husband had arrived. She ran over to him and into his arms.
“Babe, something terrible is happening. Her fever got so high and they took her from me and wouldn’t let us go with her. The doctor wanted you to be here to tell us both what’s happening.“
The doctor appeared and came to sit with them.
“Hello Rock. I’m sorry to drag you in but need to tell you that Ann is very sick. There are two common bacterial infections. They’re named staphylococcus and streptococcus and they’re both serious. You’ll hear them abbreviated ‘staph’ and ‘strep’. The test cultures aren’t back from the lab yet but we are certain that Ann has had both for several days.”
At this Carolyn gasped and uttered, “Her sore throat and . . . and those blisters on her face. . . .”
“Yes, strep presents as a burning sore throat and turns into rheumatic fever which causes heart damage. Staph is giving her those blisters. It can follow her blood system to damage her lungs or heart or lots of other organs. Her symptoms getting worse fast.”
Rock was stunned, almost unable to imagine his child being so sick.
Carolyn visibly struggled to remain calm but asked,”What can you do?”
“We’ve isolated her to prevent spreading either disease, so she’s scared. And we’ve started her on sulfa antibiotics that fight both strep and staph, but they don’t work as well as they used to. This is why I wanted to talk with you both. You need to understand that Ann’s infections are fully developed and if the sulfa meds don’t work we don’t have anything else to try.”
“Rock, Carolyn, I’m sorry but we could lose her in just a few days.”
Rock was overwhelmed.
Carolyn struggled to contain her tears, but failed as Rock took her in his arms.
“Nurse, please watch Arthur while I take them to their daughter.”
Past some double doors, their long walk through the hospital, antiseptic smells, the echoing sounds, and the bright florescent lights together transformed that hallway into the longest, darkest path any parent could travel.
Rock held Carolyn close as they looked through the window into the isolation ward. Ann was laid out with tubes and machines attached to her tiny body. Her face was now half covered with open, puffy blisters. This was their baby Ann in the middle of a living nightmare.
“One of you can gown-up and go see her.” Carolyn insisted on going, so the doctor took Rock back to the waiting room.
Over the next two days they sent Arthur to stay with family while they tried different sulfa drugs an Ann. She only got worse.
In tears one afternoon, Carolyn reported through the glass window, “Rock, she’s choking on the pain in her throat. She’s lost her voice and those damned sulfa drugs are worthless!”
Rock and Carolyn’s souls were shredding as they helplessly watched Ann’s face disappear behind a grotesque mask of festering blisters and her moving only to spasm through a stabbing cough followed by her weak cries of pain.
One afternoon, their exhausted doctor was trying to give them the latest bad news of how they were going to try even stronger sulfa drugs that might have harmful side-effects. Carolyn was almost empty of tears and Rock barely able to think when an administrator rushed into the room and approached the doctor.
“Sorry to interrupt Doctor, but you wanted to know immediately when we any response from the pharmacy supplier. They called and left this message.”
The doctor snatched the paper and smiled as he read.
“Rock; Carolyn, this might be the news we’ve been praying for. There’s a new antibiotic that has just come available. It’s not another sulfa drug and has been known about for years but production has been limited but now, we have it. Tomorrow we’ll be starting Ann on a new drug with a startling record of success. Finally, this – this is very good news.”
“What is it?” Rock asked.
“You may have heard of penicillin. The newest version is ampicillin and it’s being called a miracle drug.”
= = ( o ) = =
This fictional story was based on actual events.
In the real account, my younger sister was miraculously saved by this just-in-time new drug. Ampicillin was our miracle drug in 1961. Within two weeks after starting on ampicillin, she was home and playing with friends as normal and 60 years later, she’s enjoying a normal life.