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Life Sciences Magazine

Can Stories Save Lives?

The year was 1966, and I was seated at my desk in Mrs. Ross’s third grade classroom when my mouth began to fi ll with saliva faster than I could swallow it.

Bending low so no one would see, I tore off a sheet of paper from my handwriting tablet, drooled the river of spit onto the center of the page, folded the paper carefully, and pushed it into the cubby beneath my desk. Within minutes, I needed to repeat the process.

Suddenly exhausted, I laid my cheek on the desktop.

I heard Mrs. Ross’s voice directly above my head: “Orianna, I want you to go to the nurse’s office.”

At the nurse's office, the school nurse nudged me onto a paper-covered daybed, poked an alcohol flavored thermometer into my mouth, and prodded the sides of my neck; I cringed.

She clicked her tongue and scribbled on an official-looking form attached to her clipboard. She peered into my throbbing eyes and asked, “Do you usually walk home from school?”

“Yes,” I responded with a slurred voice.

“Well, get walking. Go straight home. Do not return to your classroom for your things.”

Mama, with an anxious face and a quick step, met me as I began to drag myself up the hill to our home. She touched my forehead and frowned. Once inside, she undressed me, pulled my nightie over my head, and tucked me into bed.

I wiggled miserably beneath the covers as Mama pulled shut my pom-pom fringed drapes. The blankets felt too heavy. My neck hurt. I was too hot. I was too cold. There was a drum booming in my ears. My eyes burned and my mouth gushed saliva. My head ached unbearably.

I tossed and turned and groaned and moaned, but I couldn’t escape the pain. Mama’s cool hand rested lightly on my forehead.

“You have the measles, honey.”