A Mountain To Climb Chapter 6: Approaching the Heights

This is where the real plot begins. The entire reason this book was written.

One day in May, Pearl and the other young women who worked in the broom shop dyeing department were having a jolly time laughing and talking.

“You can’t sort and dye a bundle as fast as I can,” Florence said to the others.

“Oh yes I can,” exclaimed several of the girls, including Pearl, as they accepted the challenge.

“Ok. Let’s race-and see who wins.”

We are working with dangerous chemicals without proper footwear. Let us try and work as fast as we can and hope we don’t all die. Florence, what the fuck are you thinking?

I want to make a little note here that this incident took place in… I think 1938 by now. And I understand that things were different back then. I understand that back then, nobody thought it was a big deal to let college students work with dangerous chemicals without proper footwear.

But just because it was widely done and not seen as a big deal doesn’t mean it was right. While I do not think that those responsible are horrible people, I still don’t think what they were doing was right.

Pearl attacked her bundle. She wanted to be first. Surely these younger, inexperienced girls couldn’t beat her. Quickly she sorted the broomcorn–good, better, best. Then she dipped the straw into the green dye.

Your mileage may vary on this one– I wish these details would’ve been given to us in the chapter wherein we are first introduced to Pearl’s job in the broom factory. But I also understand that I’m probably the only one who cares about the exact details of broom making in the 1930s, so I will move on.

Quickly Pearl pulled her straw out of the dye and set it to dry. A few drops of the dye sprinkled onto her left foot, but she was so intent on winning that she didn’t even stop to wipe it off.

Is Pearl not wearing close toed shoes? Doesn’t dye get on her feet all the time? Shouldn’t she have shoes she specifically only uses for work, mainly for this reason? Is she actually barefoot?

I get that there were less rules about safety in the workplace back then, but I would think that “wear shoes when working with dangerous chemicals”  would be rather obvious.

Anyway, Pearl wins the race. She is gracious about it, and tells the other girls that once they’ve been there as long as she has, they’ll be able to win races too.

If I were Pearl’s boss, I would ban such races after this. Yes the boss is aware of it, because it becomes a big ass deal in the next chapter.

Later that evening when Pearl took her shower, she noticed the green dye on her toe. She tried to scrub it off but couldn’t. “Guess I’ll just have a green toe for a while,” she said.

The following morning when she woke up, Pearl’s left foot hurt. She slipped out of bed. As she stood up, the pain increased. Her green toe was swollen. When she dressed, she could hardly get her shoe on over the swollen toe.

So, what’s going on here? Well, after a lot of research, we’re not sure. The person who donated the book, who I’ll call “S,” said that there might have been a chemical in the dye that created a wound. But neither she nor I have been able to find out anything about it from googling.

This seems like a very important detail to have left out. We get a lot of detail about Pearl’s other symptoms, but not about exactly what causes them.

S said that it is possible the dye had nothing to do with the problem at all, and that Pearl had some other condition that happened to have coincided with the incident. I’m not sure I agree with this, though it does seem a lot more plausible than an infection setting in this quickly. In fact, the more I read about infection, the more likely this explanation seems. While infection can set in right away, what I’ve read so far suggests that symptoms like this would take a few days to show up.

It is possible that, in reality, it did take Pearl 2 or 3 days to get this bad, and that the author took some creative liberty with the details in order to move the story along.  And I can’t really find fault with that.

TL;DR: the infection may or may not have been caused by the dye. We don’t know.

In any case, Rosalind, Pearl’s room mate, notices that Pearl is hurting and asks what’s wrong. After being told that Pearl’s toe is “just a little swollen,” Rosalind tells Pearl that she should see the school nurse.

“Oh, no. It’ll be alright.” And Pearl tugged until her foot moved into her brown oxfords.

At first I thought Pearl was an idiot. Clearly she needed medical attention. Then I remembered that women often have the problem of not being believed when they tell a doctor about their pain. Then I realized it may be worse than that.

I do not know Pearl’s financial situation. But I can hazard a guess that, as she’s trying to pay for college at a job that pays pennies, it’s probably not good. I don’t know how much doctor bills ran back then, but I’d be willing to bet that Pearl and her mother might not have good insurance (if insurance as we know it even existed in that time and place, which is another thing I don’t know.)

But seeing the school nurse is free at most institutions, so, I don’t know?

But her foot hurt so badly that she limped noticeably on the way to breakfast.

“Girl, you really must see the nurse,” Rosalind said.

I like Rosalind. She is the smart sensible and caring one.

“I’ll just change in to my sandals,” Pearl said. “And then it won’t bother.”

We are told that Pearl felt much more comfortable in her sandals, and that she then wore them to work.

She wore her sandals to work. Her sandals.

Even in the 1930s, I would think that the whole “you must wear proper shoes when working with chemicals” was a no brainer.

We are told that Pearl grows steadily worse as the morning progresses, and that by the end of the workday she has difficulty standing. She gets permission to leave work early and go back to the dorm.

When Rosalind came in to the room just before the dinner hour, Pearl was crying….Rosalind lifted the covers, looked at the swollen toe and hurried out. She soon returned with the school nurse.

I just want to point this out because, in Christian books, sometimes the authors have trouble writing likeable characters. I like Rosalind. I am supposed to like Rosalind.

I am not sure that I can say the same for Arthur, the school principal, or the doctor.

Pearl tells the school nurse what happened, and that she thinks she has an infection. The nurse agrees, and gives Pearl “Some medicine.” I want to know exactly what the nurse gave her. Antibiotics weren’t widely available till after WW2, which this story pre-dates. So what are they using?

The next morning Pearl was worse, flushed and feverish. Rosalind ran for the nurse. The nurse called for a faculty member to take Pearl to Port of Spain immediately.

Silly me. I had to look it up on a map to find out that Port of Spain is not actually in Spain. It’s a city in Trinidad and Tobago, but it does look like it’s by the ocean, so it could be an actual port.

It is not stated which hospital they took her to. Was it an Adventist hospital? Does it still exist? I googled. There is currently an Adventist hospital in Port of Spain (it gets really shitty google reviews), but it looks like it wasn’t built until 1948. Because of this, I am inclined to believe that Pearl was taken to a real hospital, if only because the Adventist one didn’t exist yet.

We are told that it was a ten mile drive to Port of Spain over really bumpy roads, which made Pearl’s already high levels of pain utterly unbearable.

At the general hospital an old doctor examined the toe. “Just a little infection,” he said as he painted the green toe red with Mercurochrome.

Mercurochrome! Now that I can look up. Per the all-knowing Wikipedia:

Its antiseptic qualities were discovered by Hugh H. Young in 1918, while working at Johns Hopkins Hospital as a physician. The chemical soon became popular among parents and physicians for everyday antiseptic uses, and it was commonly used for minor injuries in the schoolyard.

The sale of Mercurochrome is banned in the United States, France and Germany in part because it contains mercury. Back in the 1930s, I do not think that we understood that mercury in general wasn’t safe. It sounds like Mercurochrome was widely used to treat infection, and is consistent with the time period.

And so, while I can not blame the doctor for this one, he was essentially putting poison on Pearl’s already poisoned foot.

The road back seemed longer and dustier than ever. Troubled thoughts chased through Pearl’s mind. She could hardly agree with the doctor’s diagnosis. What would happen to her? Would she lose her foot?

Foreshadow, clunk!

At this point, I am wondering why the doctor did not have Pearl remain at the hospital overnight.  Pearl already seems bad enough that you’d want to keep an eye on her, and she’s 10 miles away from the hospital and she has to travel over a bumpy road to get there. I wonder if what we’re not seeing is that this was a financial decision. Perhaps the doctor knew that Pearl could not afford a hospital stay unless it was absolutely necessary.

Or maybe the doctor was just an idiot, I don’t know.

The next day, we are told that Pearl’s foot is even more swollen, that she has a fever, and that she has no appetite. The school nurse gives Pearl a sponge bath to try and treat the fever, and uses “hot and cold water” for Pearl’s foot.

Tylenol was not invented until 1955. They may or may not have had painkillers/fever reducers that existed before Tylenol, I don’t know.

It’s possible the school nurse did try something like Tylenol and it didn’t work. Either way, Ellen White was a huge fan of water treatments, sometimes in lieu of modern medicine. So I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here. Did they not have access to anything like what I know of as modern medicine, or were they just ignoring it because Ellen White? Modern Adventists use mainstream medical science, so I am inclined to think the former rather than the latter.

The day after this, the nurse sends Pearl back to Port of Spain.

The ten miles of bumps and ruts sent pains up Pearl’s leg until she thought she would pass out. At the hospital the doctor took one look at the foot and ordered the nurse to prepare for lancing.

I’m not entirely sure what “lancing” is. We don’t get a clear explanation, and it would have been nice to be told. I also want to know why the doctor didn’t lance it straight away if it was this bad. This is not the most incompetent thing the doctor has done, so again, we will not dwell on it.

The nurse assisted Pearl into the chair in the doctor’s office. A cool breeze blew through an open window nearby. It felt good to her hot tired body. She sighed, refreshed.

But when the doctor started lancing her toe without giving her any anesthetic or pain killers, Pearl broke out in a cold sweat….it felt as if they were slicing her toe to pieces….as the pain tore through her body and perspiration dripped off her face and arms, the breeze chilled her. But the old doctor didn’t seem to notice.

If Ms. Maxson hadn’t grown up on Planet Adventist, she could have learned to be a good writer. She shows some potential throughout the book, and I really like the contrast here. That’s done well, but set it aside, because this is horrifying.

Why  THE FUCK is the doctor not giving Pearl anesthetic or painkiller? We aren’t told, and I feel like this is an extremely important detail to have left out. Is there a medical reason Pearl can’t have painkiller? I know that certain ones are a terrible idea before certain procedures, and that it is always a good idea to bug your doctor before you take any. Do we really need to be told that here? Yes. Because otherwise, I’m just going to assume that the doctor is a huge dick, and woefully incompetent.

I know he’s woefully incompetent because I’ve read ahead and I know what’s coming. But here he also looks like a dick. Again, is this a financial thing? Is it required that Pearl pay up front, and she can’t afford anesthetic? Is there a medical reason she can’t have any? Or is the doctor that much of an asshole that he just didn’t think about it?

Oh never mind. I’m going to spend enough time harping on this wretched excuse for a doctor in the next chapter, so we will move on for now.

At this point, if I were the doctor, I would insist on keeping Pearl overnight for observation. But no, this incompetent fuckwad just sends her back on to her dorm. We are told Pearl still feels like shit, and that Mrs. Lindsay stays the night in Pearl’s dorm room.

All the next day the nurse and Mrs. Lindsay worked to bring down Pearl’s fever. But nothing helped. By the next morning Pearl’s condition was so much worse that they decided to take her back to the hospital.

At the hospital the doctor said, “Pneumonia-bad case!” and so began the fight for her life.

Wait, what? Pearl has pneumonia? And the doctor didn’t notice? WHAT THE SHIT.

No wonder Pearl was reluctant to seek medical attention. This doctor is crap!

How did Pearl get pneumonia from the dye? Yes I do need to know the answer, dammit, and we don’t get any.

In any case, that’s the end of the chapter. One thing I will say for Ms. Maxson: she knows when to end a chapter, and seems to have a basic understanding of how to build tension in a story. It’s really quite a shame she didn’t live in an environment that would have nurtured these skills. Instead of writing real books, Ms. Maxson was stunted and reduced to writing shitty ass books about incompetent doctors and weird–

I am getting ahead of myself. It’s really hard, because I really want to sit here and rant about–but that’s coming. However, if you think I am being too hard on the doctor, you need to keep reading. Because it gets way way worse from here.





One thought on “A Mountain To Climb Chapter 6: Approaching the Heights

  1. Lancing is cutting open an infected area–usually a boil–then removing the pus. It’s painful when living tissue is cut. In short, doctor was cutting Pearl’s leg open without anesthetic.

    Anesthetic from ether to opium derivatives were widely used and more easily available than today because drug regulation laws are stricter now.

    Shame on that doctor!

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