Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Marie Bell didn’t worry much about the fact that her daughter Alice didn’t come down for breakfast that morning. She was a typical kid, after all, and she liked to sleep late while on summer break. Sometimes she didn’t get up until eight or nine, so this morning was nothing new.
But by nine, Marie thought it time for her daughter to be up or she was going to be awake until all hours, probably curled up with some book. She really liked her Nancy Drew stories, and would sit and read them until very late. More than once Marie or her husband Eric had found her under the covers with a flashlight late at night, sneaking in another chapter or two.
She went up to Marie’s room, wishing that she were a little more like her brothers, who got up and got busy at normal hours. The Bell boys had lawns to mow and chores to do around the neighborhood, but Marie had stayed away from that sort of thing. She really wasn’t old enough for babysitting or things like that, but maybe in a year or two the girl would gain a little bit of responsibility, she thought as she opened the door.
Marie found Alice laying on her bed, on top of the covers with the fan blowing on her. She looked a little strange; she was half in and half out of the top of her pajamas, like she’d started to take the top off and got distracted. Alice’s fan was blowing on her, but she looked red in the face, and Marie could see her looking damp and sweaty. That’s strange, she thought. It’s not that hot in here yet.
When Marie put her hand on her daughter’s forehead, it was hot to the touch. She was running quite a fever. “Alice?” she said softly, to try and wake her daughter gently. “Alice?”
There was no response, not to a louder call for her, not even when Marie tried to shake her awake. This was strange. There was definitely something the matter with her. She tried once again to wake her up, but got no response. Getting a little more concerned, she checked; the girl was still breathing, and she could get a pulse – light and rapid. Oh, dear, she thought. What do I do now?
She really didn’t know. It was clear that Alice wasn’t going to be woken up easily, if at all. Something was definitely wrong. Getting increasingly alarmed, she decided that the best thing she could do was to go ask her neighbor, Bonnie Strickland, for advice. She went downstairs, then right outside and next door, where Bonnie was vacuuming the house. It took a moment to get her attention, but finally Marie was able explain her problem. “I better go take a look,” Bonnie said.
The two of them went back up to Alice’s room; nothing had changed, and there still wasn’t any bringing her around, even with smelling salts. “This isn’t good,” Bonnie said. “I think you’d better get her to the doctor.”
Like many families in Spearfish Lake, there was only one car in the family, and Eric had the Bell’s car at work out at the plywood plant. “Eric’s gone with the car,” Marie replied.
“Willard has ours at the bank,” Bonnie replied. “I’ll go give him a call. The bank is pretty good about letting people take off in emergencies.” She went to make the call, and was back in a couple of minutes. “He’s on his way,” she reported. “Maybe we ought to get Alice a little more dressed.”
“You’re right,” Marie agreed. Between the two of them they managed to get the top of her pajamas back on before Willard knocked at the front door. “Bonnie said that Alice had to go to the doctor’s,” he said. “Is she ready to go?”
“She’s up in her room,” Marie told him. “I think you’re going to have to carry her down. We can’t wake her up.”
Willard went right up to Alice’s room, and, without even thinking about it, picked up the limp and unconscious girl in his arms. “OK, let’s go,” he said. “Get the doors for me.”
In only a couple of minutes Willard had the girl in the front seat of his two-year old Nash. He let the seat back down a couple of notches so she could ride a little more comfortably, while Marie got in the back seat crowded next to Bonnie.
It was only about three or four minutes across town to Dr. Brege’s office. The Bells had used Dr. Halford in the past, but he was no longer available, of course. Willard parked outside and went into the office, leaving Alice and the women in the car. He was back out in a couple of minutes. “I told the receptionist the problems Alice was having, and she said we should take her right to the hospital to see Dr. Luce.”
“Dr. Luce? Who’s he?”
“He’s Dr. Halford’s replacement,” Willard said as he started the Nash and backed out of the parking space. In only a couple minutes, he was at the hospital, and went inside again. “They want us around back,” he said when he came out a minute later.
He drove the Nash around to the back of the hospital and got out, just as two women came out, pushing a gurney. He was a little surprised to see them wearing surgical masks and gowns, along with rubber gloves. Willard and the two nurses lifted the comatose girl onto the gurney, and pushed it up to the admitting room. They slid Alice onto the examining table, and one of the nurses gave her a quick examination. “We’d better get Herman,” one of them said. “It looks like we’ve got another one.”
Marie didn’t like the sound of that, not one bit. She looked at her daughter lying on the examining table, barely covered with her thin and short pajamas, and couldn’t help but worry. What was wrong with Alice?
Garth was sitting in the kitchen, wondering what he should do next. It was clear that going to work wasn’t going to be an option. The club was out, of course. He’d spent some time sitting around a campfire with the scouts on the beach, trying to buck up their spirits, and right now his own were the ones that needed propping. He’d called both the hospital and Western Union, but there was no word on the Rathburn boy.
He was still pondering his options when the phone rang. Maybe it was good news he thought as he went to answer it. But it proved to be Charles Fike, down at the hospital. “Garth,” he said without introduction. “We’ve got another one and our hands are full. Dr. Luce is at home and he doesn’t have a phone yet. Can you go pick him up?”
“Yeah, sure,” he replied, getting the address from Fike; he knew the place. He was glad for something to do, but another polio victim was not good news in any way. He got up, went out to the car, and drove over to Dr. Luce’s apartment.
It took a little pounding on the door to wake Dr. Luce up. “What is it?” the doctor asked when he saw Garth standing there.
“Herman, they want you at the hospital. There’s another case.”
“Darn it,” he sighed. “That’s all we need. I’d hoped that kid last night would be the end of it, but I guess we weren’t so lucky. At least I got a few hours sleep. Penny and I agreed around midnight last night to share out the night duty. Give me a couple minutes to run a razor over my face and get my shoes on. Stick around and drive me to the hospital, Penny has the car.”
“Sure, I can do that,” Garth said, looking around the apartment through the screen door. Boxes and bags were piled haphazardly around the place; while the doctor and his wife may have moved in, it appeared that they hadn’t found time to unpack yet.
A few minutes later they were on the way to the hospital. “Herman, have you had breakfast yet?” Garth asked.
“No, you woke me up.”
“As soon as I drop you off, I’ll slide by Woody’s Café and get you a take-out breakfast. What would you like?”
“Eggs, sausage, potatoes, toast. You probably ought to get one for Penny, too. She won’t have had any chance to eat, either. Oh, and coffee, plenty of it. Neither of us got a full night of sleep last night. Take your time, we may be busy for a while.”
Denise was waiting for Dr. Luce at the door when he walked in and helped him into a surgical gown, mask, and gloves. As he dressed, he asked, “Penny, what have we got?”
“Looks like another one,” she said, and reeled off a list of vital signs and observations. Dr. Luce was confident that his young wife knew what she was talking about, and he couldn’t dispute her diagnosis. “She’s in considerable distress but seems to be breathing normally.”
“That’s something. All right, I guess we’d better do a lumbar puncture.”
“All set up, doctor,” Denise said.
Marie, Willard, and Bonnie were standing near the door. “Doctor, is it serious?” Marie asked.
“It could be very serious,” he replied, “but let me run this test, and then we’ll know for sure.”
Once again a long and wicked-looking needle was used for the spinal tap. Marie couldn’t stand to look; she shut her eyes and clenched her fists, praying silently until she heard Bonnie whisper, “They’re done.”
When Marie opened her eyes, the doctor and one of the nurses were gone. “It should only be a couple of minutes, now,” the other nurse said.
That didn’t make Marie any less worried. The way the doctor and the nurses were acting, it looked very serious indeed. She thought her heart was going to pound through her chest before the doctor came back into the room. “Mrs.,” he glanced at the chart the nurses had made up before he got there. “Mrs. Bell, I won’t sugar-coat things. Your daughter has polio.”
“Polio! Oh, please . . . No!”
Both Bonnie and Willard held onto Marie tightly as the doctor told her several things, like he couldn’t be sure how bad Alice had it, and only time would tell. He asked her some things about where Alice had been, but she couldn’t understand why he was asking them – the shock was just too strong. She’d seen the pictures in the magazines, too, had even seen people in iron lungs in the snowy picture that passed for television in Spearfish Lake.
“Doctor,” Willard spoke up, “What can you do for Alice?”
“Try to keep her comfortable and alive,” he was told. “Whether she survives is going to depend on how strong she is and the course the disease takes. We have no control over that, I’m sorry to say. Why don’t you take Mrs. Bell outside and let her sit down for a few minutes? I need to go start making some arrangements.”
“All right,” Dr. Luce said as soon as the mother and her friends had stepped outside. “I guess that means we’ve got to make up our minds about what we do with this child, because I’m convinced now that she’s not the last one we’re going to see, and maybe not the last one today. I need to go talk to Fike. Penny, do what you can for this girl. You know what to do. Denise, you’d better give them their gamma globulin shots, and find out if there are other family members who need it.”
Still wearing the mask and surgical gown, Dr. Luce walked up the hall to Fike’s office. “We’ve got another one,” he announced.
“That girl who came in a few minutes ago?”
“Yes. We need to sit down and make some decisions. We need a meeting as soon as it can be pulled together. You, me, Penny, Dr. Brege. I think we ought to have Garth here; he seems to be able to get things done. And I think we ought to have the local chairman of the March of Dimes here.”
“That could be a bit touchy,” Fike pointed out. “The local chair is a woman by the name of Donna Clark. She’s Garth’s ex-wife, and to say the two of them don’t get along is to put it mildly.”
“They’re just going to have to act like adults,” Dr. Luce sighed. “We don’t have time for such nonsense. Charles, we’re going to be in over our heads all too soon, and our best hope for getting the Salk vaccine here in time to stem a major epidemic is to work through the local March of Dimes chapter. They’ve got angles you and I probably would have difficulty using.”
“Well, you’re probably right on that.” Both of them knew that the main leader in the fight against polio was the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and its fundraising arm, the March of Dimes, which was largely a group of local organizations that solicited small donations toward the fight against polio. They had been remarkably successful in doing it, and had made the foundation both the primary financer of research against polio, and a major player in aiding people who had the disease. “I’ll get calling.”
“Before you do, how is the search for more gamma globulin going?”
“Not well,” Fike admitted. “I don’t want to say people are hoarding it, but there’s just not much available out there. I have telegrams out asking for more, but am not getting any responses. If we do, it’s not going to be anyplace close by.”
“I seem to recall that one of the companies that make gamma globulin is in Kansas City,” Dr. Luce replied. “I’ve got a feeling we’re past the point where scrounging up ten and twenty units at a time is going to do us any good. Maybe we need to go to the source.”
“All right, I’ll find out who they are and send them a telegram, too.”
At that time Donna Clark was sitting in the kitchen of her home, only about a quarter mile up the street from Garth Matson’s. Her husband Wayne called the place “a cottage,” with no little bit of sarcasm; it was far and away the biggest home in Spearfish Lake, much overshadowing Matson’s average-sized house. Right at the moment, Donna was concerned, and perhaps a touch on the angry side.
Donna kept a close ear on the Spearfish Lake rumor mill, and she’d heard the day before that a boy had been brought into the hospital with polio – but she’d heard about it through a friend, not through the hospital. Then, this morning, she’d heard that a second child had been brought in with it. She was just getting ready to call Dr. Brege and find out what was going on when she got the call from Fike: “Mrs. Clark, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’ve had three cases of polio brought into the hospital in the last day.”
“Three? How come I hadn’t heard about it until now?”
“I can’t say, ma’am. I suspect at least part of it is that Dr. Luce hadn’t heard of you until just a couple of minutes ago.”
“Dr. Luce? I don’t know a Dr. Luce.”
“He’s brand new here,” Fike told her. “I mean, he only showed up the day before yesterday. He’s replacing Dr. Halford. It turns out both he and his wife worked in a polio ward in St. Louis, so we’re very glad to have him here. They have been very busy.”
“With three cases of polio you have every right to be,” Donna sniffed. She was usually a friendly woman, but she could be as overbearing as she thought she needed to be when it was time – especially when she had Wayne backing her up. Being the richest man in town and the biggest employer meant that he swung an awful lot of weight around Spearfish Lake. “What are we doing with these children?” she went on.
Fike told her how the first boy had been flown to Madison, while the other two children were still in the hospital here. “At this point we’re not sure what to do,” the hospital administrator went on. “We’re going to have a meeting here as soon as we can get everyone together to decide on it. Dr. Luce suggested that you ought to be present as the March of Dimes chair.”
“I’ll be right over,” she told him. “It’ll only be a few minutes.”
As soon as Donna hung up the phone she went upstairs to her bedroom, which was separate from Wayne’s. She’d been wearing a light dress suitable for working around the house, but for a meeting like that she felt like she should be more formally dressed, if for no more reason than to impress this new doctor with her importance in the community. With that decision made she didn’t waste much time, and she thought about what she would need to do, not that Fike had given her very much to go on.
The simple fact of the matter was that, where polio was concerned, the local March of Dimes chapter ought to have a say in dealing with polio victims. Donna had little medical expertise, but she’d done well in raising funds for the March of Dimes over the years and thought she ought to have some input on what happened.
As she finished changing her clothes, she realized that whatever would happen, it would help to have a little more weight behind her in enforcing her will. As soon as she got back downstairs, she called the switchboard at Clark Plywood, and asked for Wayne. In a few sentences she gave him the gist of what Fike had told her, and told her husband that he really ought to be at the meeting, too.
“But Donna,” he protested. “We’re right in the middle of a meeting.”
“Cancel it,” she said in a tone that told Wayne that he’d better listen to her. “This is important. This is polio, and there almost certainly are lives at stake.”
“All right, I should be there in a few minutes.”
Wayne Clark hung up the phone with a sigh. When Donna was in one of those moods, he’d learned long ago that it was much easier to go along with her, rather than get into a fight. Wayne was a hard man and he didn’t take much guff off of anyone, but he’d learned to put up with his wife, and sometimes the best way to do that was to go along with what she wanted.
There were times that Wayne had been ready to kick himself for ever taking up with Donna fifteen years before. It had caused an ocean of problems. It was bad enough during the war and Donna’s divorce, but when the war was over with things got worse. Not only did they have to put up with continual harassment from Garth Matson – some of which had been expensive – the affair and Garth’s friendship with Wayne’s son Brent had opened a painful wound there, as well. These days Brent would hardly speak to his father, and never on anything important. Brent had taken his friend’s side in the affair, and while Wayne understood loyalty, sometimes that hurt, too.
In a lot of ways the whole thing was a load of bull, and at times it had been painful bull. Wayne would have been more or less willing to ignore a lot of it, but he also realized that Donna had taken a lot of it very personally. He’d been left with a choice of either supporting her or not. He’d learned early on in their relationship, even before they’d gotten married, that most of the time it was easier to support Donna than to put up with what she’d say and do if he didn’t help her out.
It wasn’t that Donna had him wrapped around her little finger, because really, she didn’t. She mostly stayed out of company business, which she didn’t understand anyway. But Donna had taken a lot of the stuff in the wake of the divorce personally, and a lot of it had been his fault, so he’d figured that he needed to do what he could to make things up to her. Donna was a nice woman, and most of the time she made an ideal wife for him. She also contributed to who he wanted to be in the community, so it was worth it to help her out from time to time.
At that, Wayne was grateful that he had Donna. At least she was level-headed, which was more than could be said about that crazy nutcase Garth had married on the rebound from the divorce. That woman had caused more trouble around Spearfish Lake with her wild ideas than he would have thought possible! A nudist club, of all the crazy and stupid things! It had caused no end of trouble around town, and a lot of the trouble had landed right square on his shoulders. Even the thought of it drove Donna half out of her mind with anger, and she took a lot of her anger out on him when the subject came up.
Wayne had to concede that Helga was not a bad-looking woman, but as far as he could see it was a sure thing that she had a hole right straight through her head. The nudist club had only been the start of it, too. Sometimes – no, often – Wayne wondered how Garth managed to put up with her. He must feel like he’d jumped from the frying pan into the fire, he thought as he put on his hat and went out to his Lincoln for the short drive over to the hospital. Donna may be a pain in the neck at times, he thought, but he was sure glad he wasn’t in Garth’s shoes with that crazy wife of his.
As he turned onto Central Avenue he realized he needed to get his mind off Garth Matson and back onto business. Maybe this won’t take long, he thought. Maybe then I can get back to the office and get some work done.