As the play opens, it is evening and Captain Keller, his wife, and the doctor stand around a crib in the lamplight; there is relief in them as the nineteen-month-old has survived what the doctor calls "acute congestion of the stomach and the brain." (This may have been Scarlet Fever or meningitis.)
As Captain Keller escorts the physician out, Kate Keller comforts her baby; then, she moves her finger in front of the baby's eyes, but the child does not follow it. Snapping her fingers gets no reaction from her child, nor do her shrill screams. When her husband rushes into the room, she tells him to look as she passes her hand before the baby's eyes. Keller does not understand her movements, but when she holds the lamp before the baby's face, Keller sees that there is no reaction.
KELLER [hoarsely]: Helen. Helen!
KATE: Or hear. When I screamed she didn't blink. Not an eyelash--
The parents are devastated; Keller's face has "something like fury in it," while Mrs. Keller nearly faints, stifling her cry of dismay with her knuckles in her mouth. Their normal baby has lost eyesight and hearing both.