The physician from Camp Laurel asks the appropriate questions. “Is he stable?” “Is he conscious?” “Are there any signs of internal bleeding?” “What are his vital signs?” His voice is low and clipped, a Midwestern man.
“Well, if there’s no change for the worse, I’ll come over tomorrow and see the young man,” he decides. “It’s my regular day. Sounds like he’s one lucky bastard and you are too, Major! No death report to fill out!” He chuckles like this is funny. “We had one here the other day. Hell of a thing, one of the lumber crew fell into the saw. Someone said he was drinking. He was dead before he got to the clinic.”
Captain Wolfe catches my eye and lets out a long sigh. It’s clear he thinks the physician is a jerk. I give him a small smile. After the adrenaline surge I’m exhausted, but I still have four hours of my shift to go and there are other sick men who need tending.
“Let me know if anything changes for the worse, Nurse Myers,” Dr. Crane orders. “The medic should stay with him tonight. I wouldn’t give him any laudanum. If the pain gets worse, I want to know at once.” The physician signs off, “Over and out.”
Starvation’s bell rings at the mess hall. “Dinnertime,” says Milliken as he pushes himself up with his pudgy hands. “Thank you, Miss Myers. Ready for some grub, Earl?”
“Would you like to join us, Becky?” the captain asks, using my first name. “You did a heck of a job in there.”
“Thank you. I’ll eat later. I still have to cast his arm. I’m just glad he’s okay. The boy must have crashed into a pine tree or something that broke his fall; otherwise I don’t know what would have happened.” (Actually I do know what would have happened: he would have broken his neck and died.)
I slip back into the infirmary, tell Boodean what Dr. Crane said, and send him off to the mess hall. Since it’s a clean break and the bones don’t need to be repositioned, setting the limb isn’t difficult.
I get out my plaster bandages, soak them in water in a white enamel bowl, and wrap the forearm from elbow to wrist until the limb is encased in a hard white sheath. Linus Boggs is almost asleep by the time I finish.
“How does that feel?” I ask him.
“Fine. Just fine.” The young man yawns.
“Any dizziness? How’s your headache?”
“Not too bad, Nursie. I just want to rest.”
“Okay then, Linus.” I let the Nursie pass. “I’ll be right here.”
The corpsman’s respirations are deep and regular and his color is good. Once or twice he snores. When he tries to turn his head he moans in pain. That is one lucky fellow.
Hero of the Day
An hour later, Boodean returns. “I’m sorry it took me so long,” he says. “The boys had a lot of questions. . . . Everything okay?”
“Fine. Did Starvation save me anything?”
“Of course! You’re the hero of the day!”
Crossing the muddy yard, I notice the balmy air has turned chilly but it doesn’t dampen my spirits. My training stood me well, and once I started the head-to-toe assessment, I knew just what to do.
As I enter the huge room, all the men stand and cheer, and I think about the warnings I got before I came to White Rock. There is nothing shady or rough about these fellows and I realize how fond of them I’ve become.
Wolfe is still sitting with Milliken at the officers’ table and he beckons me over. In front of me is a plate of baked beans, white bread with butter, and collard greens.
“How’s he doing?” Milliken asks.
“Fine. Sleeping now. Did you hear any more about the accident?”
Captain Wolfe shakes his head. “There were four men on the tower, four on the ground. Nobody saw how it happened. Boggs was almost at the top, where they were constructing the cabin, and he must have slipped, maybe the wood was wet. He crashed down the ladder and through the scaffolding and then hit the ground. It’s amazing he lived. The cook left some apple pie in the kitchen. Want some?”
“Sure,” I say with my mouth full.
“Nurse Becky!” A carrot-headed corpsman waves frantically from the main double doors. I look up, trying to decide whether to swallow my pie or spit it out. “Come quick! Boodean says you have to come quick!”
Captain Wolfe and Major Milliken follow as I run across the compound, but I slam the infirmary door in their faces. Whatever’s happened, a crowd of observers isn’t going to help.
“What!” I ask, but I shouldn’t have bothered. Linus is seizing. Mouth stretched wide, he looks like he’s screaming but no sound comes out. His eyes are rolled back, showing the whites. His knees are drawn up and he keeps rubbing the left side of his head with his cast as if he’s trying to pull off a vise.
There’s no way I can get vital signs, nothing I can do but protect him from falling out of bed and hurting himself worse. Boodean is already trying to thrust a tongue blade, wrapped in gauze, crossways in his mouth, something he must have learned in his first-aid class.
“I didn’t do anything, ma’am. I swear I didn’t,” he defends himself, his eyes wide with fear. “I took his vital signs like you said and wrote them on the clipboard. I was just settling down to read the camp newspaper, when Linus made an awful noise. He was holding his head like it was going to explode and then he fell back and started shaking all over.”
The seizure lasts ten minutes and then Linus Boggs from New Martinsburg is dead.
Washing Death Off
It’s dark by the time I cross the Hope River, and the campfires of the homeless under the bridge throw flickering light on the stonework. I’d stayed two hours after the boy expired, cleaned up his soiled underclothes, washed his body, and with Boodean’s help wrapped him in a clean sheet for the undertaker. Then I finished my nurse’s notes, filled out the death report, and called Dr. Crane on the shortwave radio.
“You did what you could,” the physician said, trying to comfort me. “It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d been there. Without a neurosurgeon and an operating room, he couldn’t have been saved. Even if you had tried to get him to Torrington, that’s a three-hour drive and he would have seized and expired in the truck. You did what you could,” he said again. “I’ll contact the next of kin.” And that was the end of it.
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