November 17

Annual Glassblower Exhibit, ongoing at Sandwich Glass Museum in Massachusetts


“Will you be here with me?”

“The whole time.”

Not that Jenny would notice.  In a few minutes her granddaughter would be unconscious.

Thank God.

Some of Jenny’s hair was tangled beneath the taped collar of her gown.   Dr. Rennel scooped her hand lightly along her granddaughter’s neck, lifted the hair free and let it drop.  The gown rustled as Jenny’s hair fell into place.

Dr. Rennel had designed the gown, was Head Researcher on the team that innovated the experimental treatment.   She never expected Jenny would be her first patient.  She tried not to anticipate the imminent discomfort of her only grandchild.

Discomfort?  She was kidding herself.  Pain.

Like traditional surgery gowns, this disposable garment was fashioned from laminated paper.  Vertical cuts scored the length of the garment, separating it into a series of one-inch strips that hung loosely from the collar.  The gown offered little protection to the patient’s modesty, but the multiple openings were necessary.

Jenny’s skin would need room to breathe.

Medical history provided countless examples of treatments nearly as harmful as the disease itself.  Chemotherapy was an obvious example.  Or the series of painful shots to the stomach for cases of rabies.

Even diagnostic treatments could leave scars.  Rennel recalled an allergy test she’d suffered through as a child:  two parallel lines of red circles pinched into the underside of her forearm, each circle tested for reaction to a different irritant.  When the doctor was finished, it looked like a series of cigarette burns in her skin.

Soon, Jenny would look much, much worse.

So far, the virus was rare in the U.S., but the awful images from international news reports threatened daily to strike closer to home.  The Rennel-Davis treatment was the most promising, if aggressive, strategy to combat the virus.  Their treatment introduced an accelerated strain of the virus that intensified symptoms; at the height of this reaction, they countered with a mix of other drugs to control side effects.

These side effects, usually fatal, were best described by the bizarre — and grotesquely poetic — nickname for the disease:

The Glassblower’s Kiss.

Dr. Rennel remembered the feel of Jenny’s hair on her fingertips.  The scalp beneath that hair would thin and swell outward.  Lines of nerves, vessels of red and blue, would map across each new-formed bubble of flesh.  Her features would expand like lines of text on the pink surface of an inflated balloon…