“So,” asks Walter, clearing his throat. “What do I owe you?”

“Twenty dollars for the surgery.”

“Whew! I ain’t got that kind of cash, Dr. Hester. Things are pretty tight.” The farmer rubs his face.

“I know,” Daniel responds. “I figure this time, we did the surgery for the fun of it. What do you say, Blum?”

Daniel’s kindness shames me. Why wasn’t I like that when I used to practice medicine? It’s not like I worshipped the Almighty Dollar; I just didn’t want to be taken advantage of . . . that’s how I was raised.

Now I see the other side of things. Being poor makes you more sympathetic to the poor.

Fall from Grace

The weather has cleared and it’s unseasonably warm for February, almost balmy, so I’m in a good mood until, on the way into camp, I’m almost run over by a covered CCC truck speeding out the gate. Somebody ought to be reported for reckless driving, I think, but when I recognize Captain Wolfe at the wheel with Boodean at his side, I know there must be trouble.

Mrs. Ross stands on the porch of headquarters with her hand over her mouth staring up toward White Rock Ridge.

Normally when I arrive in the morning, the men have already been at work for several hours in the garage, the carpentry shop, the kitchen, the sawmill, the forge, the stables, or out in the woods. Today, clusters of corpsman stand in groups smoking, all looking toward the mountain.

“What is it?” I ask Mrs. Ross, hurrying up the porch steps.

“An accident.”

“What sort of accident? I saw Captain Wolfe and Private Boodean speeding out of camp. They almost ran me off the road. Are they taking someone to the hospital? What happened?”

“We don’t know yet. That fellow over there . . .” She points across the compound. “The one with red hair sitting on the bench with the superintendent came down with the report that someone fell from the tower. Someone fell.”

Oh shit! I almost say, but I bite off my words before they jump from my tongue. “Did they take the stretcher? Should I try to go up there? I could get Private Trustler or someone from the motor pool to drive me.”

“No. The captain said for you to stay here. They did take the stretcher, and he wants you to be ready.”

Be ready. Be ready, I say to myself, but ready for what? I decide to pull out gauze and bandages in case there’s a wound. I also lay out casting material to prepare for broken bones, and a bottle of laudanum, which I most likely will need, in either case. Then I go back out on the porch and pace.

Major Milliken comes over and salutes me. “Nurse Becky. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Who is it? What happened?”

“Don’t know him. The kid who came down the mountain with the message is so upset, all I could get out of him was ‘A fall! A terrible fall!’ He gave me a name, though: Linus Boggs. Mean anything to you?”

“He’s been a patient here.” The white-haired guy with the giant pecker!

Five minutes later the sound of a vehicle speeding toward camp and honking its horn alerts us that the men are back. They screech to a stop in front of the infirmary.

Broken

“Nurse Becky,” Boodean yells. “Probable fracture of the left arm, head injury, and contusion to the torso. Pupils equal and reactive. Patient semiconscious but in pain.” His report is so organized and lucid he could be a physician in the emergency room of Massachusetts General.

“Bring him in. Boodean. Be gentle, there may be more injuries than are obvious.”

Captain Wolfe, Boodean, and a few of the others slide the stretcher out of the truck.

“You’ll have to fill out an injury form,” the supervisor calls. “This won’t look good. There’s been too many damn injuries in the CCC camps lately. You’ll have to fill out the DA128.”

“I’ll take care of it.” That’s my medic. Wolfe and Milliken stand back by the door.

“You know, gentlemen, I think Boodean and I will be fine now. As soon as I’ve made a full assessment I’ll come out and let you know the extent of his injuries so we can decide whether to get the physician at Camp Laurel or head for the hospital in Torrington.”

The two leave without comment and the room feels bigger.

“Mmmmmmm,” moans the patient, his straight pale hair matted with blood. “What happened?” He’s coming around and that’s good. He can help me figure out the extent of his injuries.

“You’re here in the infirmary at the CCC camp. Do you know your name, sir?”

“Sure, Linus Boggs from New Martinsburg, West Virginia. How’d I get here, what happened? I feel awful banged up . . . My arm! God, is it broke? And the back of my head? Hey, why’d you cut my shirt and trousers off, Boodean? Are you playing a joke on me?” He tries to sit up. “Oh, shit, that hurts.”

“Lie back down, Private. I need to do a full examination. Just lie there and be quiet. Do you need some pain medication?”

“Couple of Bayer wouldn’t hurt.” The medic gets up and gets the man two aspirin and with shaking hands gives him a sip of water. Boodean seems strong, but he’s just twenty years old, a kid, facing disaster and doing a great job.

“Okay, Boodean. I’m going to start my examination at the top and work toward the bottom. You make notes. First the head.” I pull up Linus’s eyelid and look at his very pale gray-blue iris, the color of the sky at dawn. “Pupils equal and reactive to light . . .” I feel his skull through the thick blond hair.

I move on down, checking both arms. I think I feel crepitus in his right forearm so I will probably set it. He can move both his legs and his reflexes are fine. I palpate his liver and kidneys and then his pelvis. That’s all I know to do, and while Boodean cleans the blood off him and attends to the young man’s scraped torso, I check his exam notes, add a few of my own, and then go out to Milliken’s office.

“Is he okay?” Mrs. Ross asks.

“I think so.”

Milliken and Captain Wolfe are sitting in the major’s office smoking their pipes. “He has a broken arm but it’s a closed fracture and not displaced, so a simple plaster cast should do it. Bruises will show by tomorrow.

“He needs to be observed, because he hit his head and we want to be sure there’s no concussion. Right now he’s lying in there talking to Boodean. He must have asked five times, ‘What happened?’ Short-term memory loss is common after trauma, but it’s Dr. Crane’s decision if he should be transferred. I guess we’re ready to call him. Can you get him on the shortwave radio, Mrs. Ross?”

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