Their ride to Doc Thorton’s was quick while taking care to aggravate Fred’s wound as little as possible, arriving just past 9:30PM, nearly full dark. Doc’s office was next to the Sheriff’s and E was confident that by the time they had returned Doc would be ready for them.
They were fortunate enough to have a real, honest to god doctor in their community. Throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, as “the slide” continued to gather steam, most medical schools ended up closing. Not for lack of need – but from lack of desire on the part of young folks to become doctors. Gramps had described how the late teens fundamentally changed healthcare in the US. A move to socialized medicine lead to caps on everything – the amount of care given, the price of medicine and treatment, the demand to reduce the price of hospital stays. And, while it sounded good on paper – no one was willing to jump into a career field that demanded 10 years or more to acquire the title “Doctor” that ultimately paid little more than a waitress in a restaurant – nor could they afford it. By 2040 the number of doctors available in the US was a mere quarter of what was available as the new millennium was rung in. Doc Thorton was a rare breed indeed. He entered one of the few medical schools left, conveniently located nearby and graduated as a General Practitioner in ’70. Along the way he picked up an ER nurse – Sandy. As husband and wife they had settled in the community.
He saved their collective asses during the last of the swarms, there was no other way to put it. From the most atrocious wound to broken bones – he saved the majority. And helped ease the passing of those he couldn’t save. Last year he had taken on Fred Johnson as a protégé. Fred, as his apprentice, was learning medicine as it had been done for centuries – at the hands of a mentor. Fred was a natural. He was intuitive, bright, fiercely dedicated to his new craft . . . and young. Only twenty, he had only a year under the Doc and was already an excellent medic. His life had grown to include Willie this past spring. All was well in his world!
Well, with one tiny exception . . . . the gaping hole in his right leg put there by the raider scout that had been waiting for them back on the rise!
“What the FUCK WERE YOU DOING BOY!!!” screamed the Doc as E and one of the returning guards from post six helped Fred through the door!! “Damnit – I’d hate to think I’d pissed away all my time this past year training you up only for you to get your silly ass blown away!!”
Fred winced a bit as they turned him to set him down on the exam table. “Who the hell wrapped a 1911 mag in your leg???” asked Doc.
“Willie – it’s all we had for a windless Doc” responding to Doc while looking over Willie’s handiwork. “It seems to have worked OK, the bleeding is down to just a trickle.”
Doc shook his head – “She’s a quick little critter, reasonable job there. You two been playing doctor together Fred?” Doc chuckled a bit, E let out a loud snort and Fred did his best to flush every color from his body but red! “No Sir, just the usual training I’m giving to everyone.”
“uh huh . . . well let me look at it! Just stretch out on the table here.” Sandy removed his boots and right sock, carefully cut his pant leg just below the tourniquet and gently pulled it off his leg. “Looks like a new pair of shorts for you this summer bud!” she said, trying to lighten the mood just a bit.
His right thigh had a sizable gouge taken out but it was shallow, no more than three-quarters of an inch deep and a couple inches long. It would leave a scar and put him on lighter duty for a bit. Still, no arteries cut and no bones broken. Now if they could keep any infections at bay – he’d be in good shape to help with crops in October.
“The slide” had brought medicine to a truly unique point in its thousands of year’s history. Doc had all the knowledge of modern medicine. His library rivaled that of E’s Grandma. He knew exactly how to treat the wound, what antibiotics to give Fred, what the content of the IV should be . . . . yet he had none of those marvelous materials at hand. Seventy years into the slide saw pharmaceutical companies nearly nonexistent, the availability of magical components that had been drawn from across the world had been reduced to what could be harvested within a couple hundred miles. Compounding pharmaceuticals was once again within the hands of the Doctors scattered across the country and the rest of the globe.
That’s not to say that the treatment of patients was reduced to that of the 1800 – just the raw knowledge of how viruses and bacteria affected a sick or wounded person increased their chances of survival a hundred fold. But, that said – reality was reality. The primary antiseptic was alcohol, distilled and processed locally. Instruments were sterilized in boiling water; gowns were sterilized in the sun. Simple masks insured any unknown viruses remained with the owner and carefully used and sterilized rubber gloves were gently cared for because there were no more available.
Stiches were stiches – completed with sturdy cotton thread that would be removed in a week to ten days. And, while Doc had compounded some semblance of an aspirin compound from local willow trees – pain pretty much simply had to be endured. There were no shortcuts – the wound needed to be cleaned, sterilized and closed. Then watched and cleaned until Fred’s body completed healing. Doc shook his head . . . “We’ve lost so much.” he thought as he began on Fred’s leg.
“Always good for a future Doctor to experience a bit of pain Fred.” Doc started a light banter to keep Fred’s mind off what was coming. “Screw you doc!” – Fred gritted his teeth in anticipation.
“Alright, here’s what we’re going to do. Pay attention Fred – you will undoubtedly have to do this for someone someday down the road. I’m going to leave Willie’s tourniquet in place for the time being. That’s why I have you teach them to put it about three inches above the wound; it gives me room to work. I’m going to flush out the area with sterile water. I just use rain water that we have boiled and bottled. Don’t be stingy!” Doc grabbed a canning jar filled with clear, sterile water. Slowly he poured it over the wound, flushing out dirt and grit. Fred “sipped soup” and Doc hushed him. “Don’t be such a baby! We need to get it clean as best we can. Next we need to apply an antiseptic to the area. I use a ten percent solution of sterile water and alcohol. It’s going to sting a might.” As Doc again flushed the wound fire exploded in his leg! “Damn it Doc . . . Damn it!!”
“Language boy, language, there are ladies present! Almost done. All that’s left is closing the wound. Ain’t gonna lie, it’s going to hurt like a bitch, but we can’t leave that open like that.”
“I know Doc, I know.” Fred’s face was turning just a bit white and the Doc was concerned that shock could still set in.
“Where the hell is my dumbassed boyfriend??” hollered Willie as she came through the door.
“Boyfriend??” asked E – raising an eyebrow just a bit with a smirk growing across her face.
“Well, everyone seems to know we’ve grown sweet on each other. I consider him my “sweet sixteen” birthday present – I’m just declaring him a day early! Figure I’ll keep him provided he doesn’t get his ass shot every other day!” By now she was standing by Fred’s side. For all her strong language and huff and puff – her face showed the true level of her concern.
“Just as well you’re here kiddo, I was just about to start stitching him together. You might be able to keep his mind off what little discomfort he might feel. Think so boy?” Doc was already threading the suture through his needle.
“You’ll be OK baby, I’m right here.” Taking his hand, looking him square in the eye, Willie held him as Doc started.
No need for details here. Surgery without the benefit of anesthetic was the norm for hundreds of years – and it was again. Perhaps that would change – but the world still needed to settle more. Until then – personal strength and the love of another person was all people had to get by on.
Soon enough Doc announced he was done and Sandy had wrapped his leg firmly. Fifteen minutes later Doc slowly began to release the tourniquet and watched the wound’s covering. Nothing. Another fifteen minutes, another turn came off – again, nothing. Finally Willie’s tourniquet was fully removed and no bleeding appeared through the bandages. Willie returned the cord and magazine to her pocket and then looked at the Doc. “What’s next Doc?”
“Well, he’s going to stay right where he is for an hour or so. Then we’ll move him to the “hospital” (which consisted of a half dozen beds at the rear of the clinic). I’ll change his dressing in an hour or so, see how we’re doing. We’ll keep an eye on him overnight, then decide what to do next in the morning.”
Willie looked at E – “I’m staying with him tonight grams. Make sure he doesn’t damage himself anymore.”
“I figured as much child, no problem.” An hour later Doc and Sandy moved him to the hospital and got him settled. Sandy found a comfy chair for Willie and she and Fred were left in peace.
“Damn it Fred, thought I might lose you there today.” A small tear ran down her cheek as she looked over this man she suddenly knew was the love of her life.
“And I thought that scout was going to make that a certainty – sure glad Mr. Thorton decided to go deer hunting today! Still, we’re alive! This was nothing compared to what our parents lived through – just our turn in the barrel kid.” His eyes blinked, the day’s efforts were beginning to take their toll on him.
As he began to drift off, an old clock began to chime. He counted and when it reached twelve he looked at the love of his life – “Happy Birthday Willie, I love you more than anything I can think of.” And with that the day finally won . . . . and he was asleep.
Willie found a blanket and curled up in the chair, welcoming sleep as well. Neither woke up as Doc and Sandy checked Fred’s wound and changed the dressing. Doc was grateful that it looked as though it would heal closed by morning. A couple days of bed rest and a few weeks of light duty . . . it would appear his young apprentice would live to fight another day.