The other week, Rebecca got scarlet fever: she woke up not feeling her best, and by evening her ears and throat were aching so much that she wouldn't take a sip of water even though she was running a high fever. The following afternoon she broke out in a rash. By then, I'd already heard the doctor's diagnosis.
We've seen illness in this family, and hospitals. I've seen this child of mine in intensive care struggling to stay alive, and I've seen her through countless sicknesses, to a point where, at times, I feel my whole life revolves around disease. Yet when the doctor diagnosed scarlet fever, I panicked. Or almost panicked, because panicking isn't a luxury that mothers of children with chronic disease can indulge in too often, especially me being alone with the kids, and Tom six thousands miles away. But as the doctor was examining Rebecca, I felt fear rising inside me like an ocean wave, threatening to drown me.
This deep fear came from seeing the tears in my grandmother eyes, each time the subject of her three-year-old daughter came up, who'd died of scarlet fever before my mother was born. I'd seen the black&white photos of the little girl with wavy fair hair, and looking at them I'd often imagined a scene where the little girl was dying on the sofa in the living room, my grandmother crying, holding her hand and stroking her feverish forehead.
So scarlet fever has always been a fatal disease to me. Even after Rebecca's doctor had said "Scarlet fever is totally curable!" I still felt that fear deep inside.
Naturally, the doctor was right: 24hrs after starting a course of antibiotics, Rebecca had already improved miraculously - I've never seen a cure work so effectively and rapidly. I couldn't help thinking of the three-year-old girl in our family's past, Rebecca's great-aunt, who was taken by a disease that my girl shook off in just a day with the help of antibiotics. I couldn't help hugging my girl tight, and feeling grateful for antibiotics.
And I couldn't help thinking how senseless we are, throwing so carelessly away the good things that man has made: the antibiotics that save lives, and that are now used widely in agriculture creating the perfect breeding environment for "super bugs" - as antibiotic-resistant bacteria are called. A recent article in the New York Times indicated that for ways to treat super bugs we should consider how infectious diseases were cured once upon a time before antibiotics, and "raid grandma's medicine cabinet". But first and foremost, why not stop abusing antibiotics to the detriment of our own health? Because "grandma's medicine cabinet" doesn't always contain a remedy. Just ask that three-year-old girl with wavy fair hair, who was taken by scarlet fever in 1934.