It’s funny, now that I think of it, how all the males I’ve cared about have been broken men, broken healers; my father who was addicted to booze, David who returned from the war but never left the horror behind him, and now Dr. Blum.
“Sorry, I’m late.” I rush into the infirmary with the box of supplies, close the door, and pull on the white nurse uniform lying over the chair. I’ve brought my own starched nurse hat that I wore at Dr. Blum’s office, but decide it looks silly and toss it in my bag. This is my first day in the clinic and together, Boodean and I (he’s also dressed in white) look quite official when I come out into the waiting room and he leads the first patient in.
“Private Linus Boggs,” he introduces the man. I sit down at a small desk in the corner.
“Welcome, Linus. I’m Nurse Rebecca Myers. What seems to be the problem?” The pale, blond twenty-year-old hides under his bushy white eyebrows, his oversized jaw clenched tight.
“It’s his pecker, miss.” Boodean doesn’t have to consult his clipboard.
I nod toward the door to indicate that I need some privacy with the patient and he should leave, but my new medic doesn’t get it. “It’s crotch rot, is what he tells me. Needs some salve or something.”
I take a big breath. “Ordinarily, Boodean, I’d like a private moment with the patients so they can explain their problem to me, then you can come in when I do the exam, but now that you’ve already offered your diagnosis . . .”
“It’s not my diagnosis, ma’am. It’s just what he told me. Right, Linus?”
The patient’s face is by this time mottled red and I see tears in his eyes. “Mr. Boggs? Can you describe your symptoms to me? When did you first notice the problem?”
Linus turns to Boodean as if to say, “Is this horrible woman really going to make me explain all this?” My assistant looks at the ceiling.
The private clears his throat. “The problem came on last week, ma’am, but it’s getting worse.”
“Itching? Burning when you void?” I realize by his blank expression he doesn’t understand the word void. “Does it burn when you pee . . . piss?”
“Nah, miss. Nothing like that! That’s the clap, VD. This is more like an itch. I thought maybe it was crotch rot or crotch critters.” (Lordy, I was expecting health problems like chicken pox, earaches, and infected wounds, not venereal disease and crotch critters. Maybe people in town were right and this isn’t the place for me!)
“Well, Private, I’ll need to examine you, either way. Can you lie down on the cot and unbutton your work pants. This won’t take a minute.”
I turn and begin to scrutinize the old blue, brown, and clear bottles of liquids in the cupboard behind me while the young man gets undressed. There’s Cocaine Tooth Ache Drops, Hamlin’s Wizard Oil Liniment, and Estonia Seed Oil. Estonia Seed Oil? Now what could that be for?
“Ready.” That’s Boodean. When I turn around, I find Linus lying on his back, pants pulled down, face turned to the wall . . . and the biggest penis I have ever seen pointing right up at the ceiling. Boodean takes a chair in the corner and looks down at the floor.
It’s not that I’ve never seen an erection. I’ve been married, had a few lovers while at school, and I worked at Walter Reed, but this is enormous!
I take a deep breath, pull on my red rubber gloves, and approach my patient, looking first at his protuberance and then at his testicles and groin with my magnifying glass, the Sherlock Holmes of penises. It doesn’t take long to figure it out. There are no creepy crawlies, just a bright red irritated rash on his testicles and inner thighs, so bad he looks like he’s been scalded and I’m actually happy, because now I know what’s wrong.
“It’s nothing bad, Linus, just a simple skin fungus. Luckily, I bought a jar of Blue Itch Cream at the pharmacy and there’s a can of Gold Bond Medicated powder in the closet.
“You’ll need to keep the area clean and dry and I’m going to give you some of the powder. Use it two times a day, sparingly. I have a jar of the salve too, but it’s all I have for the whole camp, so we have to keep it in the clinic.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Linus mutters, buttoning his work uniform khakis. “I’m greatly relieved.”
“I apologize for having to examine you. I know it was embarrassing.”
“Truly sorry you had to.”
I laugh. “As a CCC camp nurse with all male patients, I imagine I’ll have to do things like that from time to time. It’s just part of the job.” For the first time the patient actually looks at me and I see that he has a full set of teeth and a nice smile.
“Come to the clinic next Friday so I can see how you’re doing. If you’re not better, come sooner. The physician from Camp Laurel will be here on Thursday, if you’d rather see him.”
“No, that’s fine, ma’am. The worst is over. No woman’s ever stared at my pecker except my mom and that was ten years ago.”
The rest of the morning is less eventful. Boodean and I see cuts and burns, coughs and bellyaches, but nothing serious and no malingerers, as far as I can tell.
Finally the dinner bell rings. There’s the smell of homemade bread drifting across the compound and just as Boodean and I are getting ready to go to the cookhouse there’s a knock at the infirmary door.
A young man in a CCC uniform, with the motor pool insignia on the arm, walks in.
“Ma’am?” he says, standing at attention. “I’m Drake Trustler from the motor pool.”
I recognize the low voice immediately. Gravel in a stream bed. Who does he think he’s kidding?
“Nurse, I’m Drake Trustler from the motor pool and I’ve hurt my shoulder. Wanted to see about getting some Bayers.”
Drake Trustler, my eye! It’s Nick Rioli, Mrs. Bonazzo’s driver. Baby-faced Nick with the kind eyes, the wide chest, and the gravelly voice. How dumb does he think I am? It’s been months since I’ve seen him, but I don’t forget.
“Boodean, you want to go on to the mess hall and get us some food? Get me some of everything, even dessert.”
“You sure, Nurse Myers? I don’t mind missing a meal now and then.”
“You don’t understand, I mind missing a meal! Now shoo.” The medic backs out the door. “Get lots of everything!” I yell after him.
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