At the sight of the fourteen wounds of the little boy from Alsace who is walking with difficulty, he is suffering so much, Pasteur is deeply moved. What to do? Can he risk giving a child the preventive treatment which had succeeded on the dogs? Heavy decision. If only the cauterization had been done with a red-hot iron! But what good is a cauterization with phenol twelve hours after the accident? He makes an appointment for the child and his mother at five o’clock in the afternoon, after a seance at the Institut. He wants to consult Vulpian, one of his colleagues on the Commission contre la rage, whose judgement he appreciates. Vulpian gives his opinion that the experiments on the dogs are sufficiently conclusive to authorize hope for the same success with humans, and that it is more than probable that the child is condemned, if he is not treated. If there is a chance of snatching the little boy from death, might as well seize it.
Escorted by Vulpian and Doctor Grancher, Pasteur goes to the child. It is decided, with regard to the gravity of the bites, to innoculate that same evening with fourteen day marrow, the one with no virulence, then gradually progress to fresher marrows. Pasteur, who is not a Medical Doctor, does not have the right to accomplish a medical act on the child, therefore it is Granger who will perform the injections. As for him, he busies himself with all the rest: he goes himself Boulevard Saint-Michel to buy a metallic bed for little Joseph Meister and he organizes a bedroom for the mother and child in the former Rollin College. Each day, a more virulent marrow is innoculated. Pasteur is worried, he doesn’t sleep, his wife reassures him: the little boy seems, in fact, to be feeling better and better, and the scholar is able to write to his son-in-law:
“One of the greatest medical feats of the century is perhaps being prepared and you will regret not having seen it.”
The treatment lasts ten days, little Meister is innoculated ten times, finally, Pasteur goes as far as injecting, on 16 July 1885, at one o’clock in the morning, a one-day marrow, the one that gives rabies to rabbits every time, after only seven days of incubation. On the evening of this redoubtable test, the little boy, after having embraced his “dear Monsieur Pasteur”, goes to bed calmly. Pasteur would pass a cruel night.
Thirty days later, he will be able to sleep peacefully again, the child is saved. And in 1886, he would be able to write to the little miracle boy:
“I received your last letter with great pleasure, because I saw that for writing, spelling and reasoning, you have made very marked progress. […] That by your work and your obedience to listen to your parents’ and your schoolmasters’ advice, you are making them all happy.”
He would say:
“I carry him in my heart, this dear child, who was for me, for long weeks, the subject of so many alarms.”
A Service for the preventive treatment of rabies after having been bitten must be organized, that is his project. An event is going to force him to accelerate this organization. Six little shepherds from the Jura have been charged in a field by a rabid dog. While the children were running away, the biggest of them, then in his fifteenth year, Jean-Baptiste Jupille, faces it with his whip. But in one bound, the dog throws itself on him and bites him on the left hand. A fight then takes place, the child is again bitten, this time on the right hand, the whip falls into the grass. He seizes the dog by the neck, calls his little brother to bring him the whip, then he muzzles the dog with the leather strip. Then taking his wooden clog, he knocks out the animal which is frothing at the mouth and drags it along to a stream which flows along the field, and finally, drowns it. The autopsy practised by two Veterinary Surgeons is clear, the dog is rabid. Pasteur asks that the child come from the Jura. But six days have already passed since the accident, is it still possible to save him? He would save him like the little Meister.
Three months after the vaccination of the little boy from Alsace, on 26 October, before the Academie, Pasteur describes a new method for healing rabies. It is the text of a combat, for he is attempting an experiment on Man without having succeeded in isolating the agent responsible for the illness. But he is in a hurry, in a hurry to save other lives. He cleverly ends his communication by the story of young Jupille’s adventure, leaving the learned assembly moved by the impression of this child who sacrificed himself to save his companions. Bouley, the President of the Academie then speaks:
“We have the right to say that the date of the seance which is happening here at this moment shall ever remain memorable in the History of Medicine and forever glorious for French Science, since it is that of one of the greatest progresses which have ever been accomplished in the order of medical things: the progress realized by the discovery of an efficient means of preventive treatment for an illness of which the centuries, in their succession since the beginning of time, have always leagued the incurability.”
As the chronicler of the newspaper Le Gaulois would report it:
“The passers-by who were traversing yesterday the vast solitudes of the interior courtyards of the Institute stopped in their tracks, astounded, upon hearing salvos of applause.”
After Jupille, it is Louise Pelletier, ten years old, bitten on 3 October, vaccinated from 9 November. But it is too late, the ill had already made great progress in the little body. Pasteur goes to the dying child’s bedside, Rue Dauphine, where he had found a lodging for her with her parents. He will remain for the whole day to watch over her, and when all hope becomes lost, would say:
“I wanted so much to save your little girl!”
Then, on the stairs, he would burst into sobs. His opposers react:
“It’s your virus-vaccine which awoke!”
A test is made on a rabbit: the virus-vaccine is still attenuated.
To be continued.