A Mountain To Climb Chapter 7: Surrounded by Mountains

We last left off with the doctor telling Pearl she has Pneumonia, and that at this point she is fighting for her life. It is debatable if this could have been prevented. I am not a doctor, so we’ll move on.

The doctor ordered a sponge bath every hour until her fever dropped. “And ever 3 hours she’s to have this medicine. If there’s any change, call me.”

What are they giving her? More Mercurochrome? Does this medication fight off infection? If not, why are you waking her up every 3 hours? No, scratch that, they are waking her up every hour for a sponge bath? People heal in their sleep.

Pearl’s temperature at this point is 104.5 degrees. Isn’t there some kind of pill they could give her to reduce the fever?

I wonder if the reason we don’t know what medicine Pearl is given is because a lot of time passed between the incident and when Ms. Maxson wrote about this in 1976. Pearl probably forgot a lot of the “little details” over time. The name of the medicine she was given probably didn’t matter to her as she was going through this, and so she forgot. The author might not be leaving this stuff out on purpose, she might honestly not have known.

After giving the nurses these directions, the doctor comes in the next morning and is pissed.

“Have you given her the sponge baths every hour?” He asked.

“Yes, doctor, and the medicine every 3 hours as ordered,” the nurse said.

“She should be better,” he muttered, examining her chart. Then he turned to the nurse. “Continue the treatments. If her condition worsens, get in touch with me at once.”

It is unknown, at this point, if the doctor is just an idiot, or if he is honestly doing the best he can with the resources he has available to him. I’m going to cut him a little bit of slack and say that, as he didn’t have our modern options available to him, he probably didn’t know what else to try.

However, if something has not been working, I feel like you do not do more of the same thing. You try something different. What else was there to try in 1938? I don’t know, but I feel like the doctor just doesn’t seem to even care.

Lest you think I am being too hard on the doctor, just you wait until we get to…. I think it’s chapter 9. There is an event coming where we will spend a lot of time talking about how incompetent this doctor actually is. For a good reason. Reading this a second time, I can see the incompetency woven throughout. But up till chapter 9 you could write it off as “the 1930s medicine not being 2010s medicine.”

But I am getting ahead of myself. For now we are exploring chapter 7.

Two days later the doctor, at the nurse’s request, examined Pearl’s foot. It was still swollen and inflamed.

It seriously looks like the nurses are the only ones concerned about Pearl. The nurses had to convince the doctor to look at it again two days later?

“It will get better soon.” Then as an afterthought, “don’t permit her to walk on it. Soak it in hot water twice a day.”

As an afterthought? I wonder if the author is conscious about how horrible she’s making the doctor look, and if she’s doing it on purpose. Is there only one doctor in this hospital? Maybe they should get a second opinion? There has to be something else they could give her.

Or maybe there wasn’t, I don’t know. I’ve been reading a bit about pre-antibiotic era medicines. There’s Prontosil, invented in 1932. Not effective against everything, but might have helped with some things. I’ve done some reading about “sulfa drugs,” but those were invented in 1937 and might not have been widely available. Tylenol wasn’t invented until 1953, so what would they use to bring down the fever?

In any case, we are told that nothing the nurses were doing was helping, and that the doctor didn’t seem to care. He seemed to think that “if it doesn’t work, keep doing it till it does” is a good idea.

About a week after Pearl had entered the hospital, the nurse noticed small red streaks reaching up Pearl’s leg from her foot. She informed the head nurse. After a hurried look the head nurse called the doctor. He examined the leg and shook his head in surprise.

Well duh. What did you THINK was going to happen to her if the treatments didn’t start helping?

You know what, I bet I’m going about reading this “the wrong way.” We’re probably supposed to see the fact that Pearl’s medical treatments weren’t working even though they should as a sign that something supernatural was going on here. That God was just giving Pearl her mountain by not letting her body respond to the medical treatments. We’re probably not supposed to try and find anything wrong with the medical treatments themselves. We’re probably not supposed to see the doctor as an incompetent asshole. We’re probably supposed to view all of this as the hand of God.

Which makes for one horrifying picture of God.

Now, I’m not 100% sure the target audience would see it this way. I merely want to note that that is the vibe I am getting from the writing in this book.

In any case, Pearl is clearly showing signs of what the doctor recognizes as “blood poisoning.” It is my opinion that, at this time, it would be a good idea to amputate the foot. If he doesn’t, the infection could spread, and Pearl could lose a lot more than a foot. Either way, now is the time for something to be done.

Several days later the red streaks on Pearl’s leg had climbed noticeably. At this the doctor became really concerned

Finally, jeez!

and  ordered an X-ray examination.

Wait…. they had access to X-ray technology and didn’t think to perform one until now? I could see not doing it right away, but at the very first sign of blood poisoning, I would have been on it. Why did it take several fucking days for that worthless doctor to decide, “oh, I think I should be concerned about this?”

The doctor tells Pearl’s mother that they will be doing an operation right away, but not a major one. Just a minor one “to stop the blood poisoning from spreading.”

Pieces of bone were removed during the operation.

Wait, what? The doctor was trying to cure the infection by removing parts of Pearl’s bone? Why didn’t he try that before?  Why didn’t he try these surgeries at the first sign of blood poisoning?

Actually, maybe his first step should have been to amputate the toe to keep the infection from spreading. A missing toe is better than a missing foot or leg. Maybe it was already too late by the time Pearl had come to the hospital, I don’t know. But I feel like the doctor wasn’t even very concerned until it got this bad.

After the wound was closed, a sticky tar substance was applied to reduce the stench. However, this substance made dressing changes extremely painful. Each day when the dressing was changed, Pearl couldn’t keep from screaming.

If this is just to reduce the stench, I would take away the “sticky, tar substance.” All it seems to be doing is causing pain, with no real medical benefit whatsoever. There is, therefore, every reason to remove it.

Her foot swelled to 3 times its normal size. The fever remained high.

Serious question: how long can Pearl have a fever in the area of 104F or so and not suffer some form of brain damage? I feel like this is a really long time to have an excessively high fever.

Pearl begs the doctor to skip the dressing changes, and he apologizes, but says the dressing must be changed every day. We are told that the doctor’s sympathy offered Pearl some comfort. Which…. bout fucking time, Mr. I’m-gonna lance-your-toe-with-no-anesthetic-or-painkiller.

Day after day passed, but there was no improvement. The doctor performed two more minor operations, removing more of the bone. The blood poison was still present. Pearl grew weaker.

At least the doctor is trying at this point. I feel like if these interventions had happened earlier they might actually have been helpful. But whatever, maybe not, I’m not a medical doctor.

Mrs. Lindsay, Pearl’s mother, has a serious talk with the doctor one day about the options. Mrs. Lindsay asks the doctor if he’s consulted anyone else. This should have been done in the beginning. Gah. We are told that the doctor has talked to only one other doctor, and Mrs. Lindsay decides that it is necessary to bring in more doctors.

Well no shit lady!

More doctors are brought in. We’re told that a visiting teacher receives the news of the consultation before Pearl’s family does. Which, um, were privacy laws a thing back in the 1930s in Trinidad?

In any case, Pearl has developed gangrene, and is going to have to have her leg amputated.  Is gangrene the same thing as blood poisoning? I thought they were two different things.

Mrs. Lindsay fasts and prays all Sabbath, and decides to let Pearl have the operation. She and the principal sign the paperwork and–hang on, why is the principal signing anything? I could maybe see Mrs. Lindsay, as Pearl’s mother, being allowed to make some judgements while Pearl is too sick to, but the school principal? Goodnight!

When Pearl is told of the need for the surgery (which, mind, you, is done after Pearl’s mother and the school principal have already signed the paperwork) Pearl says that she is willing to do anything to make the pain go away. At this point, she doesn’t even care. Poor Pearl.

The doctor patted her hand. “I’m sure, Pearl, that this will take away the pain. I know you’ve suffered more than your share. But if we left your leg on, you’d die.”


Also, cutting off Pearl’s leg, while it may solve the problem, will not be a painless procedure. Even under anesthetic and painkillers, it’s still going to hurt for a while afterward as it heals. It’s not going to immediately remove the pain, and that’s before we get into phantom limb pain which is totally a thing.

The doctor tells her he’s praying for her, so if this hospital is not religious, it is at least run by a religious doctor.

After the three left, Pearl turned her face to the wall and cried. A cripple for life! “Just let me go to sleep, God, and not wake up.”

I could understand having that reaction right after you’ve gotten this news. I’d probably say the same thing, even if I didn’t mean it.

I also understand that being disabled in the 1930s was way different than being disabled in the 2000s. That being said, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this. It indicates that it’d be better to be dead than “a cripple for life.” So, while I’m sure Pearl did think this at some point, I’m not sure I like that the author included it. At the very least, Mrs. Lindsay could overhear it and say something like, “Girl, it is better to be alive without a leg than to be dead with one.”

Now, let’s talk for another minute about why I am extremely uncomfortable with this story. I am extremely uncomfortable with this whole, “Pearl prayed for a mountain and boy did she get one!” thing.

Because The way it is presented in the story, Pearl brings this tragedy upon herself. It’s not just something that happened that was a tragic result of making underpaid students work with dangerous chemicals. It’s not presented as something like, “this is how things used to be, here’s why that was a bad thing.”

It happened, or so the author and Pearl believe, because Pearl decided to pray for trials so she could have a better Christian experience. It’s presented as Pearl’s fault that this happened, not, say, as the result of anything that needs to be changed in the way they run the broom shop.

I’ve already talked at length about my issue with this whole “pray for a mountain” thing, so I won’t go on about it again here. But what I will say is that what happened to Pearl was a tragic accident that could have been prevented. It was not Pearl’s fault at all, and the fact that it must be framed as Pearl’s mountain that she prayed for has disturbing implications about exactly the type of God Seventh-Day Adventists worship.










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