Recalling the Past » Jessica’s Diary
By Jessica Munn
Monday, May 18th, 1888
Today wasn’t one of the most pleasant of days. For starters, I awoke several times in the night with an itchy tingling feeling all over my skin and a pounding in my head. My skin felt as if it was boiling, and my head was pounding. My first thought was that I was going crazy because I thought I could feel little lumps on my skin forming… But as luck would have it, I was not going crazy.
This morning I asked Father if he would mind taking me to see Dr. Keiller out in Blackville. He quickly agreed once he saw the uncommon droopiness of my eyes and how I kept complaining about a severe pain in my back. My head was pounding and I could feel a cold sweat forming on my body. Normally my parents would not let me stay home from school when I asked them, but they could tell that I would have to because many of the people in our village were suffering from them. My parents could already see some flat spots appearing on my face. Soon enough I realized that I would probably have these uncomfortable, irritating spots all over my body… including my bottom. That isn’t exactly something that I was anticipating.
Once father got one of our horses saddled up, we set out for town. Blackville was full of hustle and bustle, as it usually is every Monday morning. As we carefully crossed the Main River Bridge I thought about how the bridge seemed to be there forever. I wondered if I’d ever see it be washed away, torn down or just decay over the years someday. I wondered about if I would ever live to see that day. We passed by the Credit Union – the very first one ever built in New Brunswick. When we passed by it I felt a certain sense of pride in my soul.
Our short trip by horse to see Dr. Keiller seemed to take ages, even though it couldn’t have taken any more than 20 minutes. Once we arrived at Dr. Keiller’s residence at the Grindlay Store, I asked my father what the doctor would do. Father gave me the same old spiel about how Dr. Keiller would likely give me some sort of medicine to get me back to my normal self. Dr. Keiller seemed like a nice enough man to me; I couldn’t understand why my younger twin siblings (Marcus and Juliette, 4 years of age) were so frightened of him. I sat down on a modest looking wooden stool situated in the far corner of a sparsely furnished room. The room only held a ratty looking desk and a few wobbly looking shelves.
Dr. Keiller came in with a stethoscope and a worn out leather medical bag. After a little while of sizing me up and contemplating my symptoms, Dr. Keiller gave me a confirmed diagnosis of smallpox. The name itself had caused me to shudder. Rumours had spread throughout town that he had a vaccine to cure smallpox that he hadn’t vaccinated anyone Blackville with yet. I didn’t have the slightest clue that I was going to be the first patient in our area to receive this vaccine. My father agreed the vaccine because he didn’t want to see his little girl suffer from this sickness as many people in the village had. I felt quite fortunate to receive such a vaccine, because I had heard of people suffering from this sickness. I’ve heard that some people have even went blind from it, or even died, but the folks around here try to keep that stuff quiet. We’ve still yet to see whether or not it will take effect in time before my other symptoms arise.
Dr. Keiller told me that the only thing that we can really do now is wait for about three days to see how the vaccine would react. He said that it all depends on how long that I’ve been exposed to the smallpox disease. The treatment other than the vaccination is mainly supportive. So if any wounds appear Dr. Keiller said that to treat them I should just keep them clean, and not to scratch or to irritate them.
Father and I headed back home. At our supper table my family gathered around for a great meal of corned beef and cabbage. We joined hands, said grace and said a prayer that my sickness would pass. Now as I sit on my bed, I realize that the flame of my candle is slowly melting and burning out. Dr. Keiller insisted that I need my rest in order to get well again, so it would be best if I get to sleep shortly. Mother always says that problems look smaller after a warm meal and a good night’s sleep. Hopefully tomorrow my symptoms lessen and I will feel well again.