I give the man with the dislocated arm a sling, some Bayers, and a pallet on the floor. Then I turn to the burn victim. Phil Otter is his name, though I have no time to write any nurse notes.
“A burning branch was about to crash right down on the three of us and I reached up my hands to toss it aside,” he recounts. You can tell he is proud of his action. Snake, my new assistant, gently cleans and dresses his blistered hands. Then we wait, wondering who the reinforcements could be.
An hour passes on the cuckoo clock and it’s now ten P.M. Captain Wolfe moans in his opiate-induced sleep, and I sit down next to him to take the saline-sugar dropper from Mrs. Ross. The water is all we have to keep him alive.
I have always wanted to touch the scars on the captain’s handsome face and I do now, touching them with one finger. “If you make it until morning and we can get you to the hospital there’s hope,” I whisper as my tears fall on his pillow. “As bad as it is, there’s hope. I know you’re a fighter. Hold on.”
“Incoming!” Snake announces, sounding like a soldier in a war movie. He’s referring to the sound of a horn blaring over the music.
“Ready.” I stand up and shake myself to get the blood stirring. “Mrs. Ross, take over Captain Wolfe’s drops.”
This time an extra man is with Boodean, the Reverend Miller, and the two of them assist a young carrottop over to a chair and give him a wooden box to support his foot. “It’s his leg, maybe a break,” Boodean tells me. “How’s the captain?”
“Still with us. Mrs. Ross is trying to keep him hydrated. . . . Hello, Reverend. I’m amazed anyone could get in here.”
“Nice to see you again, Miss Becky,” the preacher says, tipping his hat. “Brought Daniel Hester and some of our faithful from Hazel Patch in the hack, even a couple of the homeless fellows I found under the bridge over the Hope, anyone I could round up in a hurry. Had to come clear around through Delmont. Left the recruits with the CCC men, but I’d be no good fighting fire. I’ve had lung problems since I was a boy.” He rolls up his sleeves and looks around for something to do. “Figured if nothing else, I could help around here or ride with the ambulance man.”
“We got to get back,” Boodean says, looking out the window and pulling on the pastor’s arm. “I think we’ve almost got the fire licked but no one can find Lou Cross and his men. I’m getting worried.” Here Loonie Tinkshell sits up from his place on the floor.
“I’ll go look for him,” Loonie says. “I’m fine now, right, Nurse?”
Stepping forward, I listen to the mechanic’s heart and lungs. “You’re fine. Just be careful!”
“Need some joe, Boodean?” Mrs. Ross holds a mug of steaming coffee.
“Thanks.” The medic paces back and forth, his hands around the cup to keep them from trembling.
“Are you okay?” I whisper.
“I mean it. Are you okay?” He shakes his head no. “Then stay here. Loonie and the Reverend can make a few runs.”
Boodean looks at me hard and shakes his head no again. Then goes out the door.
With Mrs. Ross’s help, I have five more pallets set up in the waiting area and I stand on the porch, nervously looking up at the cliffs that glow white against the scarlet sky. It’s then I remember that I forgot to ask Boodean where Drake Trustler’s body is. It shouldn’t be alone. I don’t want it to be alone, but there’s no time to think about that now.
The ambulance arrives with horn blaring again, followed in the distance by the wail of a siren. Boodean and Reverend Miller jump out of the cab and run around back. “We got a leg wound here! Awful mess. Hemorrhaging!” Boodean shouts as they carry in one of the cook’s crew, a copper-haired fellow I’ve seen in the kitchen.
“Hang in there, Rusty!” the Reverend pleads. “The Lord is with you.” Then turning to me he whispers, “He was run over by one of the CCC trucks. Driver backed right over him, felt the crunch, then pulled forward and drug him for thirty feet. Couldn’t see a damn thing in the smoke and confusion.”
Boodean’s face is white and the Reverend’s ash gray, and I instantly see why when I get a look at the injury. The foot at the end of Rusty’s leg is turned inward at a ninety-degree angle. Bones protrude through the torn flesh, the toes are mangled, and blood is spurting from a major artery in the ankle.
“Tourniquet,” I command, and when no one responds I pull on Snake’s pants. “Your belt! Your belt! We’ll use it for a tourniquet.” I’m sure my eyes are wild. I haven’t seen this much blood since Patience abrupted, and if we don’t stop it soon the man will expire. Mrs. Ross covers her face and runs from the room.
“Get vitals, Boodean.” Outside, the sound of the siren gets louder, and I realize where I’ve heard it before. It’s Sheriff Hardman from Liberty.
Doors to the squad car slam and several people enter the infirmary, but I don’t look up. I’m too busy tightening the belt, trying to put pressure on the boy’s leg just above where the torn flesh begins. As hard as I pull the belt, the bleeding doesn’t slow.
“Prepare for surgery,” a familiar voice says. It’s Dr. Blum.
Gates of Hell
In our little clinic, the night from hell is just beginning. Around nine P.M., a violent rainstorm moves in, which dampens the flames, but the thunder is so loud and close to the camp that it rattles the window glass. Lightning jabs the still-smoldering mountainside and then in the middle of everything the camp’s generator goes out.
“Shit!” curses Blum, a needle and needle holder in one hand. He waits, thinking the power will come back on, looking at me over his cloth surgical mask across the superintendent’s desk, our makeshift operating table. The power doesn’t come back on.
Snake has to hobble out into the storm on his crutch to look for a kerosene lantern, but it takes at least five minutes before he gets back, looking like a drowned rat. Meanwhile, I have both gloved hands deep in Rusty’s torn flesh, trying to reduce the open fracture and Sheriff Hardman is mopping up blood. “Good thing I got you here when I did, Doc.”
“Praise the Lord!” That’s the pastor, who helps Snake through the door, grabs the Coleman, and lights it.
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