Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
There wasn’t a great deal Dr. Luce and his wife could do for their patient over the next forty-five minutes, except to try to make him comfortable. The boy was obviously in a lot of pain, but they didn’t dare use morphine to relieve it since it might further degrade his already poor breathing. They could at least rig a catheter to drain his over-full bladder, which relieved a little of his discomfort, and reduced the risk of it bursting.
“The heck of it is at this stage there isn’t a great deal we can do for him, other than to make him as comfortable as possible and ride it out,” Dr. Luce said to those who were standing around watching from a little distance. “We’ve pumped up his immune system with the gamma globulin, and maybe that’ll help a little. It’s like fighting any virus in that there isn’t much we can do but hope it blows through without causing too much damage.”
It was at that moment that Charles Fike appeared at the door, wearing a surgical mask, of course, as was everyone else in the room. “Got one,” he said flatly. “University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. They have two iron lungs free.”
“Nothing closer?” Dr. Luce said.
“I’ve had four wires back saying ‘Sorry,’” Fike replied. “I think we’re lucky to get that.”
“How far is it? Three hundred miles, maybe?”
“More like two-fifty, but the roads don’t run real direct. I’m guessing five, maybe six hours to get him there.”
“Could be more,” Dr. Brege pointed out. “There’s a lot of slow road along the way.”
“I don’t want to bet that this boy can hold out six hours,” Dr. Luce said flatly. “Especially riding in an ambulance.”
“We don’t even have an ambulance, at least not a real one,” Fike replied. “The funeral homes do the ambulance work, and they aren’t really equipped for it.”
“Good grief, we have to do something,” Dr. Luce shook his head. “Even a couple of hours could help. It’s that close.”
“Hey,” Garth spoke up. “How about Phil Gravengood? If we can track him down, he could probably fly the kid down there in a couple of hours.”
“What’s this?” Dr. Luce asked.
“Phil runs a little one-horse air service out at the airport,” Garth explained. “He’s got a four-seat plane that will do one-twenty, maybe a little faster.”
“Get hold of him,” Dr. Luce replied instantly. “He may be the best hope this kid has right now.”
“I’ll try,” Fike said. “He works at the phone company, they’ll know how to track him down.”
“Four seats?” Dr. Luce mused. “We really ought to send someone with them.”
“I could go, Herman,” Penny spoke up.
“It’d about have to be you or me,” the doctor nodded. “But those other scouts could be in town by then, and I think they need to be examined as soon as possible, so maybe I’d better stay here.”
“I’d really appreciate it,” the scoutmaster spoke up. “I mean, I’m worried about Bob, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less concerned about the other kids.”
“Actually, if there’s room in the plane, you probably ought to go with them,” Dr. Luce said. “A big hospital like that is going to want someone there who’s responsible for the boy, and under the circumstances, I’d guess you’re it.”
“At least Madison isn’t too far from home,” Jim said. “It’ll probably be easier for me to contact his parents from there than it would be from here.”
“All right,” Luce said. “Assuming Fike can track down this pilot fellow, I guess that’s how we’ll do it. Penny, take what’s left of the gamma globulin with you and give the pilot a shot before you load the boy in the plane. And I think all of you ought to wear both surgical masks and gloves all the way. Let’s get this boy prepped to transport. If this pilot fellow can’t be turned up I guess someone will have to try to drive him there.”
“I could take them if it comes to that,” Garth offered. “I wouldn’t be surprised if my car rides better than a hearse, anyway.”
“That would probably be all right,” Dr. Luce said. “But we might as well use your car to get him to the airport if they fly, since it’s probably contaminated already.”
“Contaminated?” Garth said. “Yeah, I guess it could be.”
“Garth,” Dr. Brege said. “I don’t know all that much about polio, but I do know it’s wildly infectious. You have small children, don’t you?”
“Four, ages six through twelve.”
“Look, I know you like your kids, but under the circumstances you might want to plan on staying away from them for a few days. I mean, don’t get near them, and most especially don’t let them ride in your car.”
“Uh, yeah,” Garth nodded. “I, well, I guess I hadn’t grasped the reality of that. Helga and the kids are all out at the club, so I guess I could stay in town.” It was really dismaying to think about – he really enjoyed his time at the club with his family, and there was all too little time for it in the summer, but there it was. If he’d had any question about it, all he had to do was to look at the kid on the examination table. It would be the best thing he could do for his family.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Jim agreed. “Look, if I go down to Madison with Bob, could you meet up with Dale, my assistant scoutmaster, and help them out? Dale is all right but he’s green, and I’m sure he’s going to need some help with this.”
“Sure, I can do that,” Garth agreed. “You realize they’re going to have to be told the whole story, don’t you?”
“I guess,” Jim sighed. “They probably won’t take it very well, either. Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen down in Madison, but I think as soon as I get Bobby’s parents together with him I might know more.”
Garth took a business card from his pocket, then grabbed a pen and wrote his home phone number on it. “Keep in touch,” he told Blanchard. “If I’m not at my office someone there will have an idea where I am.”
Phil Gravengood was out working on a junction box when he called into the office to check the continuity of a circuit. “Phil,” Carla Holstrum, who sat at the switchboard as “Central” said, “We’ve been looking all over you. There’s an emergency at the hospital, and they want you to fly a kid down to Madison as soon as you can get to the airport.”
“I guess there’s no reason I can’t do it,” he replied. “I ought to be able to get to the airport in about ten minutes.”
“Great! I’ll call the hospital and let them know you’re on the way.”
“After you get done with that, call Rose and tell her I may be late,” he replied. “I’d better gather up my stuff and get moving.”
In a way, the call had come as a relief. It wasn’t a bad day for flying, not at all, and he’d felt a bit frustrated from having to stay on the ground. At least the company didn’t kick very bad when something like this came up. They occasionally did; he’d had to fly people off for some kind of treatment a couple of times before. In a way, he was used to it, though; back ten years before he’d flown a good number of casualties from the rudest of airstrips, sometimes nothing more than dirt roads or pastures, to field hospitals. He was sure there had been people who wouldn’t have survived the trip in an ambulance.
Fortunately he wasn’t far from the airport. He parked the phone truck by the door to the office, which was located in a corner of the hangar. He went through the office and into the hangar, unhooked the hooks holding the doors shut, and rolled them back by hand to expose his red, white, and black Stinson 108-1. It was relatively big as small airplanes went, seating four in only moderate discomfort. He went toward the back of the airplane, grabbed a handle and rolled it out onto the concrete pad in front of the hangar, then went back and closed the hangar doors.
With the plane sitting outside, he started his walk-around inspection. Everything appeared to be in good shape; although he wasn’t a mechanic he did a lot of work on the plane and everything he could to keep it in tip-top shape. A quick look showed that the tanks were full; he’d left them that way when he’d last flown it a few days before. Just off the top of his head he knew that Madison was not quite two hundred and fifty miles away, so he ought to be able to make it in two hours or a little less. Coming back on the same tank would be cutting it a little tight, so he’d have to tank up down there.
Satisfied with that, he pulled an aviation sectional and a straight edge from the pocket of the pilot side door and laid it out on the horizontal stabilizer. It was only the work of a minute to draw a direct line from Spearfish Lake to Madison; on a day like today it was all the navigational work he would need. It would have been possible to work out how to make the trip by deduced reckoning, which was figuring out a course to follow allowing for magnetic variation and deviation, along with wind drift. But on a clear day like this it was totally unnecessary for a pilot as experienced as he was.
He’d pretty well wrapped that up when he looked up and saw Garth Matson’s Buick pulling onto the concrete ramp. That was just a touch strange, but they often didn’t use a hearse to drive someone out to the airport for a run like this, so it wasn’t unknown. He folded the map and walked in the direction of the Buick as Matson got out, wearing a surgical mask. “Morning, Colonel,” he said, using the term that former members of D Battery called their former commander. “What’s the deal?”
“Stop,” Matson said, firmly, with the ring of an order in his voice. “Don’t come any closer just yet. We have a kid here with polio, bad. He needs to get to an iron lung as quickly as possible, but you need to be very careful.” He held out a small paper bag. “This is a surgical mask and gloves. Keep them on at all times. You don’t know Mrs. Luce here, but she’ll be going with you. Before we get the kid out of the car, she needs to give you a shot that will protect you from polio a little.”
“It’s not the vaccine,” Mrs. Luce added – she’d gotten out of the back seat by now, and was wearing a mask and gloves as well. “But it will raise your immunity level to give you a little protection. It’s gamma globulin, and it takes a while to take hold, but this kid can’t wait. He needs to be in an iron lung as soon as we can get him to one. He’s not breathing very well.”
“I’ll get him there as quick as I can,” Phil replied as he pulled on the gloves, then the mask as he continued to talk, and while Mrs. Luce pulled out a syringe with a hypodermic needle. “I guess that means you want me to stay down low. It’ll be rough, but the higher I get the thinner the air is.”
“Then that means we’ll have to put up with rough,” Mrs. Luce said as she jabbed the needle into his rear. “Is there going to be any problem taking a fourth person?”
“No, it’s a four-seater, so there should be plenty of room.”
“All right, the fourth person will be Jim Blanchard, the boy’s scoutmaster. They were on a canoe trip.”
“Let’s get the kid loaded, then,” Phil said. “I guess put him in back, and you can ride with him, Mrs. Luce.”
By now the boy was stiff and barely conscious, so it took all three of the adults to get him into the back seat of the plane. Mrs. Luce climbed in after him, then listened to his chest with a stethoscope. “Still breathing,” she announced, “but very weakly.”
“Then let’s get going,” Phil said. He climbed into the pilot’s seat, as Blanchard got into the right seat. As he strapped himself in, he added, “Colonel, if you can, would you call or wire down to that hospital and have an ambulance meet us at the airport, uh, probably an hour and forty-five after we take off? I’ll try to radio in, too.”
“Can do,” Matson told him. “Get going.”
“Clear the prop,” Phil said, and Matson stepped back, all the way to his car. Phil turned on the master switch and the magnetos, gave it a shot of primer, then hit the starter. The big six-cylinder 150-hp Franklin engine in the nose groaned a little; a blade went by the windshield, then another before the engine caught. Phil checked the gauges as they came alive, then started to taxi out the short distance to the runway. He stopped, turned away from the runway to check for incoming traffic – as almost always, there wasn’t any – ran up the engine, turned off one magneto and then the other to make sure both were working, then spun the plane around and slid the throttle forward.
The big Stinson roared down the runway; its tail came up, then Phil eased it into the air. At only a couple hundred feet of altitude he rolled it to the left slightly, swinging around on the course that would take him to Madison. He backed off on the throttle only slightly as he got as high as he intended to go, which was just above the minimum legal altitude. The plane was only supposed to cruise about 110 miles an hour, but by crowding the throttle Phil managed to keep it over 120. Every minute, every mile, counted.
This was far from the first casualty Phil had flown in a plane, but it was the first kid with polio, and he didn’t want the youngster to die on him. After all, Phil had two children of his own, and knew just how precious a kid could be.
Garth watched the plane roll down the runway, then climb into the air and turn toward the south. Maybe, just maybe this would work out. If Phil could get him to Madison in time, he might pull through. Realistically, they’d done all they could for the kid; it was going to be up to him, God, and the fates for what had happened now.
As soon as the plane was a couple of miles away, Garth went over to the pay phone located on the hangar wall and called the Western Union office. He was pretty sure it was almost pointless to try to get a phone call as far away as Madison, so he put together a quick message for the University of Wisconsin Hospital, passing along the message that Phil had asked him to. Hopefully it would get through.
That left him a little at loose ends. He knew he really should be going into work, but after his discussion with Dr. Brege, he had second thoughts. If he’d been contaminated, would it be fair for the customers of the bank if he went into work like normal?
No, it wasn’t. Not at all.
He’d been wishing for a little time off so he could spend some time out at the club with Helga and the kids, and now he couldn’t do that, either. Realistically, he knew he was going to have to keep a pretty low profile for the next few days, and not get into close contact with any more people than he had to. This was going to be a huge pain in the neck, but darn it, he felt like he’d done the right thing by picking that kid up and taking him to the hospital.
He stood there for a moment; the plane was out of sight, now. With a sigh, he rang Central again and asked for the bank. Bernice Combs answered it. “Hi, this is Garth,” he said. “I don’t want to go into the why right now, but I’m not going to be in today. I’ll be around if you need help with anything, and I’ll call in every now and then.”
“Mr. Matson, is something the matter?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “Bernice, you need to know, maybe a few people at the bank, but don’t let it get out if you can help it. I picked up a kid this morning who turned out to have polio, and I don’t think I ought to be around people for a while. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but maybe a few days. Like I said, I’ll keep in touch, but by phone, not in person.”
“Mr. Matson, this kid?” she said with some degree of alarm. “Is this some local kid?”
“No, it was a boy on a canoe trip, just passing through here. I just took him to the hospital, and now Phil Gravengood is flying him down to Madison to an iron lung. I don’t think we have polio here now and I don’t want to take any risk of it spreading from me if I can avoid it.”
“Polio? Mr. Matson, that’s . . . well, it’s not good.”
“No, it’s not, but like I said, it’s not really here yet. I want to keep this quiet so people don’t get alarmed. They gave me a shot at the hospital that may immunize me some, but it takes a while to take effect.”
“Well, I hope it means nothing,” she sighed. “I mean, every summer we always worry. This spring when they announced the new vaccine I thought it was the end of it, but maybe not.”
“It’ll be nice when it gets here. Until then we have to be careful. Keep calm, Bernice. I still have a few things I need to do. I’ve got to tell Helga and the kids about this, but then I’m going to open up the house in town and stay there. I probably won’t be there until this afternoon.”
“All right, Mr. Matson. I guess that’s best. Let me know if you need anything.”
Garth hung up the phone, hoping that Bernice wouldn’t spread the word too far and wide too quickly. Asking her to keep the news quiet was no guarantee that she’d do it. Spearfish Lake was a small town, after all, and news spread quickly – and bad news more quickly than good news.
This was wasting time, he thought. He’d promised Blanchard that he’d keep an eye on the kids on the canoe trip, and enough time had passed that they might be getting close to town. There was a place down near the end of Lakeshore Drive at Hannegan’s Cove where he could see a good distance up and down the lake. Maybe he could see how the trippers were coming from there.
It was hotter than somewhat in the sauna, hot enough for both Heidi and Betsy to have a good sweat, hot enough that it actually felt cool when she felt she and Betsy stepped outside. Either it would work or it wouldn’t, and Heidi didn’t think it was working.
Even though it was turning into a hot day outside, it felt positively cool to step outside the sauna. With the both of them overheated from the sauna it was hard to tell if Betsy still had a fever or not, but Heidi could see that she was still not feeling very good. She wasn’t saying much, and she was crying a lot; all Heidi could get out of her was that her head hurt.
Maybe she was too hot, Heidi thought. Normally when using the sauna, it was the custom to dash outside and chill off rapidly by jumping in the stream in back of the house. Maybe it would be a good idea to cool her off, maybe not really quickly, but she couldn’t imagine that Betsy would feel a little better to be in the cool water.
So Heidi, still nude, carried the equally naked little girl over to the stream, down onto the little sandy beach, and right into the water, holding onto her, trying to wash the sweat off of her a little. That perked Betsy up a little, there was no doubt about it, but she was still a hurting little girl.
After a while, Heidi thought that cooling Betsy off in the stream had done about all it could do for her. “Come on, Betsy,” she said, “We better go get dressed.” Heidi took her daughter’s hand to walk her up to the house.
Apparently Betsy didn’t feel like walking. She stumbled for a couple of steps, then fell over, just crying. “Come on, Betsy,” Heidi repeated. “You’re a big girl. You can walk.”
Betsy just laid there crying, wiggling around a little. For a moment Heidi thought she was throwing something of a tantrum, but then she realized the little girl was trying to get up – and couldn’t.
Maybe she was actually hurting worse than Heidi had thought – or maybe there was something else wrong, but she had no idea what it could be.
When would Hekki get home so they could take Betsy to the doctor?