Chapter 61 - Everyone's Together, Try Not to Worry

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∞ 61 ∞


Valentina was off work for the rest of the week. The older Shnellbrot-Thomas children were home from school for the Easter holidays and Emily had casually mentioned the morning before that the one that hadn't been feeling well, had chicken pox. (When Emily said the little girl wasn't feeling well and asked her to collect her tray from her room, Valentina had assumed it was an ordinary cold.) Now it seemed all the children had it. Valentina had never had chicken pox! Emily assumed everybody had chicken pox when they were children. 'Hadn't they? No, she was certain Valentina had had the illness and had just forgotten.' Valentina assured her that she had not.

While they may have been lax about formal documents related to the outside world, her guardians were painstaking in involving her in the issue of and her own health and responsibility she had towards it. There was probably added concern due of her childhood heart condition and perhaps also because they took their duty to her parents so seriously (or possibly because none of the women had had children of their own and therefore viewed them as more 'breakable' than real parents might... or maybe just because she was the closest being to offspring any of them had ever had and they loved her so dearly). Whatever the reason, every illness Valentina had ever had was met with alarm, discussed in detail and even recorded.

There were rules: she was not to go outside without her throat covered until mid spring, at least. She always had to wear a slip and an undershirt – even in summer (and they checked). Everything she came in contact with had to be washed THOROUGHLY. She was neither to drink nor eat after another person... and so on. They would be horrified to see how she was living now! Thinking back about it all, it was lucky she hadn't developed some major type of phobia! (She was probably ready for the loony bin by now, but that was another story.) The concern was to the point that if she got a fever or a sore throat there was near panic in the monastery. The guilt that arose from 'allowing herself' to become ill actually felt worse than the painful effects of most of the illnesses themselves.

Initially she had been a bit of a tomboy. However, the bruises and scrapes that other children got were met with such scolding and (much worse) silent disappointment that the natural wildness in her quickly waned. The lectures and fuss that followed eventually finished the job – all long before her parents died and she moved in with the nuns on a permanent basis. She fell out of a tree once on early summer visits and she was rubbed down with aromatic alcohols and put to bed on sugar water and teas of bitter herbs for two days! Everyone was so upset, she scarcely wanted to climb a ladder afterwards. (The tree was promptly cut down.) And so, the habit of viewing her own wellbeing with enormous gravity was instilled in her from an early age. (The lack of it was of course the main source of her current overwhelming anxiety.)... The outcome to all that coddling had been that she went from being the fairly clumsy and adventurous child to being an unusually graceful and precautious, if not excessively self-aware and annoyingly fastidious, youth. The exacting conscientiousness spread out into the other aspects of her life, where it was often misunderstood as judgement against others, rather than the stringent demands on one's self that it was and would work to ruin of many of her adult acquaintanceships.

At any rate, whether the coddling had been to her benefit or to her disadvantage, she could say with certainty that she would have known if she had ever had chicken pox.

Emily 'felt terrible'... for a little while (a very little while). Her concern instantly turned to annoyance when Valentina said that she could not come back while the children were still contagious. Emily needed certain things done before they left for the Easter holiday in Scotland and felt very hard done-by that Valentina was being "such a bore over such a silly thing". With Emily's insistence, Valentina spoke to her doctor. Blanchard was very brief: he confirmed that if she hadn't had the highly contagious illness before, she was indeed likely to get it and that it was often quite severe in adults. From the tone of his voice, she could tell that the doctor found it completely idiotic that she was even considering exposing herself to the illness, especially with her weakened immune system. She was too ashamed to explain to Blanchard how she had come into contact with the infected children to be able to further explain that she hadn't really had the choice. Emily questioned Valentina on who her doctor was and what exactly he had said and wondered if she could speak to the man herself. 'It was only chicken pox after all; it might do her some good. Anyway she was sure the girl had had it before and was just being awkward. It was all such a bore – quite inconsiderate really.'

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