The rest of the trip is about what you’d expect. Snow in the higher elevations and fog as we come over Hog Back Mountain. Captain Wolfe doesn’t say a word except to swear under his breath when we slide in the mud.
“How long has this man been ill?” Dr. Fisher asks me as the hospital nurse and Boodean assist Drake Trustler to back up against the cold glass plate mounted on the X-ray machine. It’s a shock to see how weak Drake is. His once muscular body is skin and bones and his forehead is beaded with sweat.
The doctor’s assistant is dressed in a white surgical gown with a white puffy hat, and I’m glad I wore my army nurse’s dress and white shoes so I look somewhat professional. Boodean is also dressed for the part in his crisp CCC uniform with the medic patch on the shoulder. The captain stays in the waiting room reading the Torrington paper.
“He’s been sick about a month, maybe longer.” I hand my report to Dr. Fisher, a tall man, about six-foot-three, with coal-black hair that is greased down and combed straight back. He tosses the file on a desk without looking at it and stuffs the earpieces of his stethoscope into his ears.
“Lungs sound like shit!” he announces in a voice too loud.
My face turns red, but I remind myself that I’ve heard much worse language at Walter Reed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dr. Fisher is an ex-military man. He has that way about him.
“Yes, rales and rhonchi when he inspires and exhales,” I respond, but the man cuts me short and motions his nurse to position the patient.
The intimidating X-ray machine is about six feet high, a steel frame with black metal in back and black glass in front. The nurse positions Drake behind the glass, and I must admit, the fearsome medical equipment looks like a medieval torture device.
Dr. Fisher, wearing elbow-length black leather gloves, turns a knob next to a red blinking light and sits down. With a whir, a motor moves the sheet of dark glass against Drake’s chest, pinning him in, and all I can see are his eyes, boring straight into mine.
I know what he’s thinking. My mother said never, EVER, get an X-ray!
Break in the Weather
“There’s a nakedness to the land when the snow melts off,” Patience muses. “Have you ever noticed? The yard is littered and muddy, a tin can here, a pile of tomato stakes there, chips of firewood and blown-down branches, but already the grass is greening; the green of Ireland, Mrs. Kelly would say.”
We sit with Danny on the front porch, drinking cold milk and eating gingersnaps. It’s only fifty-six degrees by the thermometer but feels like summer, and the men are in their shirtsleeves out in the garden clearing tall weeds.
“I always listen for the bird sounds. To me, that’s the first sign of spring,” I answer.
A few minutes later, Patience starts up again. “So, how was your trip to Torrington with Captain Wolfe? Did you talk to him about the way he’s been treating you?”
“Tense. The road was bad on the way there, so we didn’t talk at all. Even Boodean, my medic, was silent.”
“So? Is it TB?”
“I don’t know. The physician wasn’t sure. There’s some scarring of the lungs, he said, and some pleural effusion, so he’s sending the plates to a specialist in Pittsburgh and wanted to keep Drake at the hospital until he gets the results.
“I felt so bad. Drake really didn’t want to be admitted, but the report should be back in another three days and we’ll go get him. It’s going to cost the camp an arm and a leg.”
“What will you do if the report says tuberculosis? Weren’t all the boys tested before they enrolled?”
“They were all tested . . . all but Drake! Remember, I told you he just climbed in the CCC truck around Hagerstown and no one even noticed he hadn’t joined up at the processing center? I’m worried about him, but not just him—I also feel responsible for the rest of the corpsmen. When I hid his secret, it never occurred to me that he hadn’t gone through the usual health screenings. Now, if TB spreads through the camp, there will be hell to pay, and think of the reaction in Union County. The locals don’t like the CCC boys much anyway.”
“Try not to worry so much, Becky. Even if he has TB, it doesn’t always spread. Most of the things we worry about never happen.”
I take a deep breath and let out my air. She’s probably right. Most of the things we worry about never happen.
“Look, Danny,” Patience says. “There’s a robin sitting on the fence post, his red chest shining, his yellow beak open. . . .”
I am furious! I’m so mad I could spit. Today, after leaving three messages I finally spoke to Dr. H. A. Raymond, radiologist at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.
“So sorry,” he said, “for not getting back to you sooner. I was in Boston speaking at the New England Roentgen Ray Society’s yearly meeting.” (He waited to be sure I was properly impressed.) “Can I give my report to the camp physician?”
For god’s sake! We have no physician! I wanted to shout, but I kept my temper. “This is Becky Myers, RN. I’m the nurse for the camp infirmary.”
There was a long pause with only static on the line, and for a minute I thought we had lost the connection.
“You don’t have a supervising physician? Well then, who’s in charge? There must be someone.”
“I’m in charge. We had a part-time doctor, but he went back to Ohio. Meanwhile I deal with all the medical emergencies and illnesses, nothing my medic and I can’t handle.”
“Well, I can only give the report to a physician . . .” he says, as if it’s a federal law.
“All I need to know is, does Mr. Trustler have TB?”
“Trustler, you say? I thought you were calling about William Taylor at Camp Wolf Rock, in Pennsylvania.”
“This is Camp White Rock in West Virginia,” I explain. “I’ve been calling every day. We have reason to believe Drake Trustler has tuberculosis. He’s hospitalized at Boone Memorial in Torrington, West Virginia, until we have a definite diagnosis, and it’s costing the CCC camp a bundle.”
“Did you do a sputum culture?”
“Of course, but the lab at Johns Hopkins said it would be two to four weeks until we have the results.”
“Well, I haven’t seen Drake Trustler’s images yet and, regardless, you will have to find a supervising physician willing to talk to me.”
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