Arthur to John, October 3, 1947
532 Arbor Road
Oct 3, 1947
Rather than embarking upon another long letter upon general subjects, this particular occasion is a special one, and I am sorry to say that the subject is not a cheerful one. The situation is that our sister Eleanor is gravely ill.
As you know, she left Vermont and took up a job at the University of Penna. When you were east last summer we noticed (as I imagine you did too) that she looked rather haggard and not at all as she should. This deterioration has been going on for many months. Of late she has exhibited a dry cough which has grown steadily worse. Unfortunately she has proved a bad patient, insisting that there was nothing wrong and refusing to consult an M.D. Finally, while Esther and George were away vacationing, young Eleanor, who is medically trained, practically bullied her into consulting a doctor. He expressed himself as being "utterly horrified" at her condition and ordered her into Bryn Mawr Hospital for tests. They regard her condition with grave misgivings, in fact, the hopes they hold out are very meager and cautiously expressed.
The condition is cardiac. The exact nature is still under discussion. They fear a pus infection of the valves of the heart. Until quite recently this was regarded as fatal, but there is some very late therapy with streptomycin which is available which eases the 100% death sentence.
Final decisions are still pending, even final diagnosis. We can of course postpone giving up hope for the present, but we are at the very best confronted with a considerable period of deep anxiety. It may well be that that period could be for a long spell during which little change can be expected, for better or for worse. Or a fatal termination might come suddenly.
I wish I could be more definite. I cannot even promise (as you can see) any early news. I will of course let you know as soon as there is anything to tell. Perhaps the best I can do is to leave it on the unsatisfactory note of "no news is good news."
She herself has not been told the full seriousness of her condition. It was necessary to frighten her into cooperating with the doctors, but I cannot feel that she has acquiesced fully to their opinions. Consequently, if you write to her, do not spill the beans. She knows she is a sick woman and that she is faced with a long siege. She has not lost her sense of humor nor her ability to adjust herself to circumstances. Perhaps therein lies the clue to our own plan of behavior. If she can stay cheerful we can do no less.
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