How did Matilda Cook survive yellow fever in the book Fever 1793? What was it like to recover from yellow fever?
In the book Fever 1793, Matilda Cook contracted yellow fever while on the road with her grandpa. He brought her to Bush Hill, but her recovery was messy and long. Without her grandpa, Matilda would have died on the side of the road.
Keep reading to learn how Matilda recovered from yellow fever.
Matilda Cook Gets Yellow Fever
When Matilda Cook returned from the stream, Grandpa could barely sit up to drink the water. He shivered and said he was cold, which was remarkable considering the sweltering heat. He handed her a pouch of coins and sent her to find food and blankets at a nearby farm. Matilda didn’t want to leave him, but she feared he wouldn’t make it another night. She set out in hopes of stumbling across some sign of life.
She came across a farmer working in his field. When he saw Matilda, he ran to the farmhouse and locked the door. He turned her away, saying he couldn’t help anyone with the fever. She wanted to keep going, but something told her to get back to Grandpa.
On the road back, she stepped on a piece of rotten fruit. She looked up and saw the source—a pear tree full of dangling fruit. She collected as many as she could in her skirt and headed back to the chestnut tree.
After a while, the tree came into view, but the pears grew incredibly heavy. The tree looked like it was getting farther away, rather than closer. The sun turned from a fireball into an iceball. Her teeth chattered and she grew disoriented. Where was she? Where was her mother? Eliza? Why was she carrying rocks? The last thought she had was sleep, and then everything went dark.
Salvation in Philadelphia
Two days later, Matilda regained consciousness and found that everything had changed. She was no longer on the side of the road but in a bed. She heard a man’s voice ask if she was dead. She could make out carpentry sounds in the distance and moans closer by.
She drifted to sleep, and nightmares plagued her fever dreams. She choked on dirt and dust billowing from carriages in the road. There were too many of them, and their horses fought for space as people fled the city. A group of soldiers appeared and yelled at her in French. Grandpa was with them and ordered them to fire their guns at her. She woke with a jolt. The room was dark except for a streak of moonlight coming through a window.
She was laying in a mess of wet sheets covered in blood and black goo, the same type of mess her mother had made. There was only one explanation—yellow fever. To her left slept a young woman with braids. To her right was a corpse covered by a sheet. Her heart thumped. Was it her mother? Grandpa? She lifted the sheet and saw the smooth hand of a young woman.
The next time she woke up, the shutters were closed against the blazing sun. She could make out her surroundings better. It was a large room like the Ogilvie’s drawing room, but bigger and missing the adorned furniture. The ceilings were high, and a chandelier hung in the middle. A large woman appeared with a bowl of steaming broth. Her name was Bridget Flagg, and she was relieved to see that Matilda had made it through the night.
Bridget told Matilda that Grandpa was waiting to see her. He didn’t have yellow fever, just a cough and heatstroke. She also commented on how handsome and charming he was, not to mention brave and strong for carrying Matilda all the way there. Matilda relaxed. If Grandpa was flirting and telling tall tales, he was just fine.
Just then, Grandpa came into the room. He teased Matilda about being lazy in bed when there was work to be done. Then, he and Bridget started to flirt. Matilda had to interrupt to find out where they were and how they’d gotten there. Her relief turned to panic when Bridget said she was at Bush Hill Mansion, a large property outside the city limits.
Bush Hill Hospital
The city of Philadelphia had turned Bush Hill into a hospital for those with fever when the disease first spread. Rumors of criminals preying on the sick and bodies piling up were heard all over the city. Bush Hill was a dangerous place, and Matilda wanted to get herself and Grandpa out of there. She tried to stand, but Bridget helped her back down.
Bush Hill had changed, Bridget said. A wealthy French businessman named Stephen Girard had purchased the place and cleared out the riff raff and disreputable employees. He fixed the place up and brought in a real team of French doctors, nurses, medicine, and food. It was a proper hospital now. Both Matilda and Grandpa knew of Mr. Girard from the coffeehouse, and Grandpa greatly admired him. He was an astute businessman, with a hand in many ventures around Philadelphia.
Bridget said they were lucky to be there. The French doctors knew how to treat the fever, not like Dr. Rush, whose bloodletting strategy was believed to make people worse. The mention of bloodletting reminded Matilda of Dr. Kerr’s treatment of her mother. She became agitated. What had happened to her mother?
Grandpa went to the house after arriving at Bush Hill, but it was boarded up. They’d been gone for five days, and he assumed Lucille had traveled to the country to meet them. He sent a letter to the Ludingtons and expected to hear back anytime now. At this news, Matilda relaxed and fell back to sleep. She would be at Bush Hill for eight more days.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Fever 1793 summary:
- What the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 in Philadelphia looked like
- How this epidemic exposed the vulnerability of everyone, including the wealthy
- How an epidemic can impact a young person