Cassie carried her cup of lukewarm coffee into Doc’s clinic. She didn’t like unsweetened coffee at any temperature, but it was so remarkable that there was any at all that she was forcing herself to drink it. After a restless night like she had, the caffeine was welcome.
She found Doc bent over little Bethany’s foot, murmuring encouraging words. But when Cassie drew closer and looked over his shoulder, she immediately wished she hadn’t. The wound was oozing pus, turning green and black around the edges. The smell made her breakfast of cornmeal mush rise in her throat, and she stepped back and forced herself to drink some coffee.
“Sorry,” Doc said. “I guess I should’ve warned you.” Bethany squirmed and he patted her knee. “I’m sorry, baby. I’ll make it better. But you have to be brave. And no more chasing after the older children. This is what happens when you can’t keep up.”
“We must be out of antibiotics,” Cassie said.
Doc got to his feet. “I have some from an earlier trade, but they don’t seem to be helping. Not all antibiotics are good for the same things and I can’t tell if this just isn’t the right kind, or if it’s no good at all. The Pharms sometimes pass off fakes and expired drugs as the real deal.” He went to a cart and selected a roll of bandages made from strips of hotel sheets. “What I’d really like is to get my hands on some sulfa. A lot of these kids have been so pumped up with traditional antibiotics all their lives that things like ampicillin and erythromycin don’t do much good. And we can’t afford the Pharms’ price for Cipro-class drugs.”
Cassie only partially followed this line of discussion and frowned over the last of her coffee. “I wonder if May—”
“Not without a major lab upgrade and some decent supplies.” He went back to Bethany and began wrapping her foot. “At the rate we’re going, we may have to go with Kayleen’s suggestion, after all.”
While Bethany looked at him with curious eyes, not knowing what he meant, Cassie considered. “There’s got to be some other way. How about we try sunlight? We could take her to the garden and let the wound get some fresh air and light.”
“We have to keep stuff out of it,” Doc said.
“But since it’s already infected….”
They discussed the matter and finally agreed that sunning the injury wouldn’t make things worse. Since Bethany was so small, Doc had no trouble carrying her to the third floor. Cassie tried to make her comfortable on a chaise lounge in a sunny spot among the rose bushes while Doc went back downstairs and returned a little later with a cup of rose hip tea laced with willow. Following him was the teacher, Alaina.
“Drink it all,” Doc told Bethany, holding the tea to her lips.
The girl scowled at the sour taste, but when Alaina sat beside her and nodded, Bethany did as she was told. Alaina had brought a book and read aloud while Bethany was having her medicine. After the girl had drained her cup, Alaina asked to see the injury.
Doc unwound the stained wrapping, positioning her foot so it would get maximum exposure to the sun. Cassie expected fashionable Alaina to be repulsed, but she examined the oozing wound with a thoughtful expression, then said, “Sugar.”
“Sugar. It’s what they used on soldiers in the Civil War when drugs got scarce.”
“I’m sure they would’ve used snake oil too,” Doc said, folding the bandage and putting it under Bethany’s foot like a pillow. “It’s not like they had penicillin. They didn’t even believe in germs.”
Alaina sighed in exasperation. “I’m telling you, when the doctors ran out of stuff to put on wounds, some of them tried sugar. And the ones who got the sugar treatment got better. My dad taught history at the university. I know this kind of stuff.”
“And where are we going to get sugar? I couldn’t even get honey for Bethany’s tea.”
“Caramel is sugar, isn’t it?” Cassie asked. When the others looked at her, she added, “There were some people selling some in the street yesterday. That’s all caramel is, right? Burnt sugar?”
“I think so,” Alaina said. “I was never much for cooking.”
“What did they want in trade?” Doc asked. “And do you know if they’ll be there today?”
Cassie shrugged. “Maybe Julilla noticed something I didn’t.”
“It’s worth a try, I guess,” Doc said.
Alaina handed the book to Cassie. “You going to be here awhile? Read this to her again. I’m going to find Julilla.”
Alaina strode into the building and Doc ran after her, leaving Cassie in charge of Bethany. She said a silent prayer that all the crazy talk going into the streets for sugar wouldn’t lead to another day of trouble.