To put it bluntly, the entire Keller family is at their wits end. Right before Annie Sullivan arrived, the family is finally considering the unthinkable: putting Helen in an asylum.
James: You really ought to put her away, Father.
James: Some asylum. It's the kindest thing. (13)
And further along, after suggesting they confine her somehow, although no one believes it would be right to put a human in a cage, there is more dialogue on the subject of the asylum:
Keller: Answer me one thing, is it fair to Mildred here?
Kate: Are you willing to put her away? . . . She wants to talk, like--be like you and me. . . . Every day she slips further away. And I don't know how to call her back. (16)
Luckily, the family isn't quite that far gone yet. Kate does convince the Captain to write to "this very famous oculist in Baltimore" named Dr. Chisholm. Of course, it isn't until the very last mention of the asylum that the Captain agrees saying, "I'll write the man, Katie" (16).
Thank God he does, . . . for it is that letter that calls Annie to the Keller household.