Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It was around noon on Sunday when Tricia got back to Spearfish Lake. The Neon was loaded moderately full, although there was room to spare; she’d dumped a good deal more than a couple of dresses she wanted to forget about.
In all her years she’d moved God knew how many times before; there was no counting them, but lots, enough to have it down to a science. But this time was different; though she was probably going to have to move again sooner or later, this time she was moving to her home, not just a place to crash while she was doing something else. It felt strange, but it felt good.
There was no question she could have managed to move what things she had inside by herself – there wasn’t that much – but she felt like she wanted to share the moment with someone. As she sat outside the duplex, just staring at it in slight disbelief that this was finally happening to her, she remembered that Heather had offered to come over and help her move if it was necessary. Well, it wasn’t necessary, but it would be good to have her. She grabbed her cell phone out of her purse, along with the notepad where she’d jotted down Heather’s phone number, and gave her a call.
As luck had it, Heather answered the phone herself. “Hi, I’m back,” Tricia told her. “If you still want to come over and help me move in, I can probably find something for you to do.”
“Dr. York!” Heather replied. “I was starting to wonder. I’ll bring Lee so we have an extra set of hands. Russ can watch the rest of the kids.”
“Heather,” Tricia smiled. “I may be Dr. York at the office, but when we’re moving stuff, I’m Tricia. I’m still getting used to being called by my title.”
“All right, Tricia,” Heather replied. “I should have known, but habit, I guess. We’ll be over in a few minutes.”
Tricia was just getting the first load from her car when Heather and her son pulled up. “Let’s just haul the stuff in and dump it on the living room floor,” Tricia told them. “We can sort it out from there.”
The three of them made short work of the project. Lee proved to be an exceptionally good worker for a young teenager and had seemed to be a good kid the other night anyway, which just proved to Tricia that Heather was a damn good mother no matter how unexpectedly the job had been thrust upon her.
“This is quite a place,” Heather said after they wound up with the hauling. “A little on the small side, but probably all right if you’re living by yourself.”
“It seems pretty big to me,” Tricia said. “I’ve lived in some mighty small places over the years, and some of them have been real dumps. I think I’m going to like it here.”
It didn’t take long for the boxes and bags to get turned into a pile of empty boxes and bags. Heather was dismayed when she saw how little kitchen stuff there was – a couple battered pots, and an equally battered frying pan, a few dishes, a handful of silverware, and that was about it. “This is all you have?” she asked incredulously.
“It’s all I’ve ever needed,” Tricia replied, a little embarrassed. “And I haven’t needed it much. For the last few years, I’ve pretty much eaten out, usually in hospital cafeterias. I’m not much of a cook. If I do have to cook for myself, it had better involve a can opener or a microwave.”
“Tricia,” Heather shook her head. “I can see I’m going to have to do something about that.”
“Your help would be appreciated,” Tricia replied, picking up on Heather’s mothering instinct. In a funny sort of way, it felt good. “There’s obviously a lot you know that I don’t.”
In short order things were all put away. “I suppose we ought to be heading home,” Heather said. “Russ likes watching the kids, but I like to spend as much time with them as I can too, especially when they’re that age.”
“Thanks for coming over and pitching in,” Tricia told her helpers. “You too, Lee. Heather, I’ll be seeing you in a few days.”
“Be sure and call if I can do anything,” she replied. “I’ll be seeing you.”
In a few minutes her visitors were gone. Tricia looked around the room again. Home at last, she thought. It’s damn well taken long enough too.
Surprisingly, she felt a little at loose ends. There were still several hours left in the day and nothing much to do. TV was out of the question; she didn’t own one and wouldn’t care to watch it if she had one anyway. She owned, at most, half a dozen books that weren’t medical texts, but didn’t feel much like reading. For lack of anything else to do, she got out her laptop, went into the office and got it going, but still had little idea of what to do. With nothing better coming to mind, she got online and started a search for a simple diabetic diet and related information. It was a shame there were no handouts around the office that covered it, but there soon would be, like as soon as she found one she liked and ran it off the printer. She’d have to have something to give to Mr. Christensen when he came in for his next appointment in a couple days, after all, and she was sure other such things were going to be needed. Better to have them and not need them than the other way around, she thought.
The next morning, Monday, Tricia was down at the office when Betty came to open it up. Betty was friendly enough, and asked how her weekend had gone, and how she liked her new place, but really wasn’t very conversational beyond that. There wasn’t time for much more than that anyway; the first patient of the day soon showed up, and there was a steady flow of them after that, although not an overwhelming one.
It was a little strange that Dr. Luce wasn’t in that early, but he showed up not long afterwards. Once in a while Tricia had a question for him, usually something about the records where she couldn’t make out the handwriting, and to be honest he usually couldn’t either. Clearly something was going to have to be done about that, but at least Tricia had cultivated legible handwriting for herself, rather than the legendary but all too common doctor’s scrawl.
Otherwise, it was a moderately busy day; she tried to give her patients extra attention, updating histories and investigating some things she noticed over and above their complaints. She wasn’t surprised to continue to pick up things Dr. Luce had apparently overlooked, or at least hadn’t been concerned about.
The rest of the week went much like that. Mr. Christensen came in for his appointment on Wednesday, bearing a blood sugar record that showed significant improvement over the previous Friday. It was hardly under control yet and would take more work, but at least it was headed in the right direction. His urinary problems were improving and his PSA had come back clean, so that much was to the good. His vision was still blurry, which was to be expected. Tricia increased his medication and gave him a copy of the handout she’d run off Sunday evening, told him to keep on with what he was doing and to check back in another week.
Over the course of the week Dr. Luce did see a handful of patients, mostly people who had known him well and wouldn’t have it any other way. But Tricia was always there monitoring what was going on, if for no more reason than to let the patients know that things were changing.
Bonnie, the girl reporter for the Record-Herald called Monday morning wanting a brief interview, and maybe a photo. Tricia had time to give her one right after work. It was pretty casual, just talking about where she’d gone to school, her specialties, the fact she was originally from California, and things of that nature; most important was the announcement that she was going to be taking over the practice the first of the week.
The result was a nice article that came out in the paper the following Wednesday, covering the ground they’d talked about. But it included a statement from Ryan Clark that her arrival was the result of the work of the doctor recruitment program the foundations and others had cooperated on, along with a nice statement wishing Dr. York the best of luck in Spearfish Lake, and wishing Dr. Luce an enjoyable retirement. There was nothing out of line with it Tricia could see, and she hoped people would realize things were changing around the office.
There was an almost immediate response. Betty was busy Thursday and Friday getting calls for appointments to see this new Dr. York, so apparently the committee hadn’t been the only people aware of the problems. Next week, she thought, things ought to be a little bit busier.
Tricia didn’t lack for things to do in the evenings. There was a lot to be done getting things set up. She met with Dr. Metarie several times to go over various details, and twice with Laura Hutchison, who was getting the new medical billing company set up. It wouldn’t actually be operating till the first of the week; the plan was to move desks and computers into the old Spearfish Lake Appliance store over the weekend, but everything seemed to be on track.
Tricia didn’t have to depend on her own cooking that week either; she accepted several invitations to dinner from people she’d met. The one at Jennifer and Blake Walworth’s house was exceptionally memorable; it proved that Blake was a gourmet-level chef and did most of the cooking around the house. It was a really great dinner, with really good conversation. Tricia had been so involved with her medical studies that she’d paid little attention to the world of entertainment, and it was amazing how complicated and convoluted it was. She left there figuring she’d made another couple of friends.
The end of the day on Friday finally rolled around. By then, Dr. Luce had cleaned out his desk, a couple of closets, and a few other places. He’d seemed to be in a pretty good mood to Tricia; saying he’d made reservations to fly down to Florida the first of the week and get his place down there opened up. It was going to be nice to actually be able to use it, he told her.
Something unexpected happened as the last patient of the day left on Friday: Ryan Clark showed up, along with Bonnie, the reporter, who was again carrying her Nikon, and a few other people, some of whom Tricia had not yet met. Danny was there; so were Jennifer and Blake; and so was Carrie Evachevski. “Dr. Luce,” he said, “I got to thinking there ought to be something done to mark this occasion, rather than just letting you walk out the door and go away. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d bring you this plaque from the Donna Clark and Jennifer Walworth Foundations honoring you for your over fifty years of service to Spearfish Lake. You have been a huge asset to the community for many years, and it’s not going to be the same place without you.”
“I really appreciate that,” Dr. Luce said. “I’ve mostly enjoyed what I’ve done here, and it’s going to be hard to not come in on Monday. But from what I’ve seen of this young lady, I think Dr. York is going to be able to carry on very well. You people did a great job in finding her and bringing her to Spearfish Lake, and I really appreciate it.”
There were thanks and handshakes all around; after a bit, Bonnie set up a photo for a ceremonial handing over of the keys. That was really all that was needed, since Tricia knew the actual paperwork had been signed some time before.
“Good luck, Dr. York,” Dr. Luce said finally. “I meant what I said. I think you’re going to do a fine job, and I just wish we’d been able to have someone like you here five or ten years ago. But at least you’re here, and that’s what counts. I’m probably not going to be around very much, but if I am and there’s anything I can do to help you out, all you have to do is ask.” He shook his head and added, “As much as I’ve wanted to retire, I think I’m going to miss this place.”
“You’re always welcome to stop by,” she smiled. “But you’ll probably see a few changes from time to time.”
“If you don’t make some changes you’re not anywhere near as bright as I think you are,” he snorted. “I’ve known some changes needed to be made, but I guess I got into thinking it’s worked well so far and I was going to be leaving soon so it really wouldn’t matter. That probably wasn’t the wise thing to do. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, but I have no doubt that you’ll do it well. Again, good luck, Dr. York.”
He was slow to leave, and understandably so; everyone could see he was leaving a major part of his life behind. As much as this was a happy moment for Tricia, she felt a sadness that went with seeing the end of an era.
But as his tail lights turned out of the parking lot, Ryan Clark asked her, “Dr. York, do you have any plans for this weekend?”
“Nothing much,” she said, “except to get over here first thing in the morning and start giving this place a good cleaning. When people come in Monday morning, I don’t want them to think it’s the same old place.”
“Wise move,” he grinned. “Would you care for a little help?”
“If someone wants to come over and pitch in, I’m not going to complain.”
“About nine, do you think?”
“Works for me.”
Around seven-thirty on Saturday morning Tricia was having breakfast in the Spearfish Lake Café – she’d been told by several people they had the best breakfasts in town, and it wasn’t all that bad. It was certainly better than Wheaties and milk anyway. She was contemplating having a second cup of coffee just to put off the dreadful amount of work that she knew was needed at the office, when Heather came in and sat down across the table. Tricia hadn’t seen much of her all week, just a couple brief times when she’d had to stop by Dr. Metarie’s office for one thing or another. “You about ready to get started?” Heather asked.
“Cleaning the office,” Heather grinned. “You didn’t think I was going to let you do it by yourself, did you?”
“Well, I told Ryan Clark I was going to be doing it,” she replied. “I didn’t think much about it.”
“I won’t say he put it on the radio station,” she smiled. “But there were some calls made. I’m not the only help you’re going to have. If you want another cup of coffee you’d better get it to go, because I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people waiting on us.”
There weren’t people waiting when Tricia and Heather got to the office, but it wasn’t long after when the first ones appeared, with Ryan Clark among them. There were several other early arrivals, and more people kept coming. “You’ve been planning this, haven’t you?” Tricia charged.
“Believe it or not, only since you mentioned it last night,” he grinned. “Randy has said several times that when there’s an avalanche coming at you there’s not a whole hell of a lot you can do but get out of the way and let it happen. I knew this building needed some work, and since it belongs to the foundation now, we might as well get at it.”
Within an hour, Tricia knew it was good advice indeed. In fact, there was very little she could do but stand around and watch in amazement. Much of the waiting room furniture disappeared out the front door in the first few minutes, and there were several painters in working on the walls, with the old lackluster tan being replaced by a nice light blue. There were also painters working in the rooms in back, after file cabinets, furniture and equipment had been moved away from the walls.
Tricia only slowly become aware that there was hammering on the roof overhead – not a little of it, but a lot of it. Once she realized that, when she got a minute, she went outside to discover a huge crew of men, Heather’s husband among them, and vehicles with “Clark Construction” on the side were in the process of removing the old shingles and nailing down new ones. There were more painters and carpenters here and there working on the rest of the building.
Only once did Tricia have to put her foot down, when someone started carrying off an old print from the wall of Dr. Luce’s old office. It was a copy of the famous Norman Rockwell painting of a little girl holding her doll up so an old doctor could examine it with a stethoscope. “That stays,” she said firmly. “Whatever else changes, that stays. That painting always represented to me the consideration a doctor should show toward their patients.”
“All right,” whoever it was said. “But the wall still needs to be painted.”
The whole thing seemed incredible to Tricia. She’d never have believed any of it could have happened!
The most touching moment came along in the afternoon, when a tall older woman Tricia hadn’t met before came into the chaos, looking for Ryan. “OK, I got it up,” she told him. “Looks pretty good, too.”
“What?” Tricia asked.
“Come on, you want to see this,” Ryan said, leading her outside.
It turned out the sign on the front of the building had been changed. It no longer read, “Dr. Herman Luce, MD,” but “Dr. Tricia York, MD.”
“My god, I never thought about that,” Tricia said as she stood there and stared at it. After all, she’d worked toward being a physician for many years, always in pursuit of the dream no matter what she’d had to do to accomplish it. Now that sign, more than anything else, told the world she’d accomplished what she’d set out to do, in spite of everything. Seeing that sign made what she’d had to do as Peppermint Patty worth it. “I’m glad someone did.”
“We can’t do everything, Dr. York,” Ryan told her. “You’ve still got the important part. We figure it’s best if you concentrated on that, rather than worrying about non-medical details.”
The office still smelled mildly of fresh paint on Monday morning, but it looked very different – brighter, more airy, more modern. There was new furniture in the waiting room, and elsewhere around the building; no more would patients have to suffer the agonies of long worn-out and tattered furniture dating from back in the sixties or so. Even the tables in the waiting room had new magazines, fresh from the newsstand at the Spearfish Lake Super Market. It was a very, very different place, signifying the changes that had taken place. Tricia thought it seemed like a dream come true.
Not long before nine, Betty came into the building, and stopped in near shock at the sight. “Wow,” she said. “What happened?”
“A little redecorating got done over the weekend,” Tricia said modestly. “I thought it was important to make sure the patients understood that some changes have been made.”
“Probably needed to be done,” the old woman said, not with much enthusiasm. It seemed clear that she liked things the way she’d gotten used to.
“That’s not the only change,” Tricia smiled. “Betty, I’d like to introduce Heather Compton. She’s going to be our new office nurse.”
“That’ll be different,” Betty replied neutrally. “We haven’t had an office nurse around here for years, but Doctor said he thought we could manage without.”
“Not now,” Tricia said. “And I want to introduce Laura Hutchison of Spearfish Medical Support Service. She’s going to be handling insurance billing from now on. Actually, her company will be doing it.”
“You work for Dr. Metarie,” Betty charged.
“I used to,” Laura, the moderately heavy-set fortyish woman replied. “I work for the new company now.”
“We’ve got along fine for years the way we’ve done it,” Betty said, clearly very unhappy. “Doctor said there wasn’t any reason to change.”
Tricia didn’t want to get into an argument. “It may have worked for him,” she said, “but that’s not how it’s going to be done now. You know the Donna Clark Foundation actually owns the practice now, not me, and they have a contract with Laura’s people. So that’s how it’s going to get done.”
“I don’t like it one bit,” she replied. “I guess you don’t need me around here anymore.”
“We still need a medical receptionist,” Tricia told her, offering her an olive branch. “You know the patients better than anyone else but Dr. Luce.”
“No, I can see you don’t need me here anymore,” Betty grumped. “I guess I’d better be giving notice. And I’ve got quite a little vacation time coming, so I guess I’d better start taking it. I didn’t think I’d be here very long after Doctor left anyway.”
“Betty, there’s room for you here, and we need you,” Tricia offered.
“No, you don’t,” she shook her head. “I liked things the way they were, but I guess they’re not going to be that way anymore. I hope it works out for you, Doctor York.” She turned and walked out of the building.
“Well, shit,” Tricia said. “I thought that might happen but I didn’t want to be that abrupt about it. Now, we’re going to need a medical receptionist, too.”
“I think between Heather and I, we can fake it for a while,” Laura said, “although I’ve got a lot of work to do downtown.” She nodded at a huge pile of insurance paperwork she’d pulled out of the files in the last few minutes. “I can start on it here as well as I can there.”
“Maybe we don’t have to,” Heather smiled. “Laura, do you know Molly Knox?”
“Used to work over with Dr. Wallingford, the dentist?” Laura nodded. “She’d be good, but I thought she quit so she could be with her kids.”
“I ran into her over at the Super Market a couple weeks ago,” Heather said. “She’s got her youngest in first grade, and she’s looking for something to do.”
“Call her,” Tricia said flatly. “If she worked for a dentist and was any good at all she ought to work out fine here. Tell her to come dressed for work.”
“I think she’d do just fine,” Laura smiled. “That sounds like a real good idea.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Tricia could see someone driving into the parking lot. “Looks like we’ve got a patient arriving,” she said, and turned to Heather, holding her hand upright, palm out. “Heather, it looks like we’ve got work to do.”
“Darn right,” Heather grinned, giving her a high-five. “Let’s do it.”