We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Friday, May 8. 2009
Another reminiscence from our shrink friend Nathan about his days in the Indian Health Service -
A limp and a death among the Lakota Sioux marked my first day at Eagle Butte, devoid of eagles and buttes. Two days’ drive from Chicago, I am greeted from afar by John Running Horse, he dipping and rising like a Venetian gondolier, waving aloft what from afar seemed to be the plaster sculpture of a leg. Up close, it is.
Before I could stop completely, John Running Horse lay one hand on the open window of my red Fiat 128, bowed in head and cast, asked, “You the new doc?” I was. “Put this thing on again”; hands me the cast, then points to his gondoliering leg. I park and head in.
The Indian Health Service had told me that there were two docs; arrive Sunday.
But, by Sunday, Dr. K. had been flown out with her atrial flutter to be cardioverted eighty miles up the road to Mobridge; Dr. L. was riding shotgun with a mother in active labor also to Mobridge. No docs in Eagle Butte.
I wrapped a new cast on John Running Horse’s right leg and asked as I did so -- dipping plaster rolls in warm water, smoothing them first around, then smoothing downward along the fracture to make it seamless -- how his old cast got cut off. Itched, he said; cut it off himself, as he unsheathe his James Black/Musso pattern S-guard bowie knife. White plaster still dusted its curved Stainless steel back tip and brass quillion; hadn’t even wiped it clean.
I told John Running Horse that his skin would itch again after a few days; dried skin flakes. I found a metal coat hanger, bent it straight and showed him how he could insert it within the cast to scratch itches. He found this marvelous; made a special leather sheath for it to hang from his belt. Later, he returned; brought a water color gift; painted himself on his horse; he wearing Sioux gear. In his right hand, born aloft like some victorious banner is not a leg cast, but his Winchester Model 1894 lever-repeating rifle -- the gun that won the West, the weapon of choice for the Rifleman of TV.
The painting was static quality: horse, rider were stiff, quite upright. Signed below in flowing script is John Running Horse. Painted like by some talented twelve-year old. Still have it.
Today, replastered, equipt with a cane, John gondoliered away, dipping and rising into the horizon.
Mrs. Alpern, the head nurse, a full-blooded Sioux, asks me to round with her before settling into the apartment across the parking lot. With call every three to four nights, trips would be short. Mrs. Alpern is of solid build; broad of beam, legs akimber, she sweeps ahead, clearing the corridor like some Arctic ice-breaker, leaving a wide wake behind. The swish of her white, opaque Supp-hose as she walked lent to the sense of being wave-washed asea. Months later, Mrs. Alpern had warmed to me – the Sioux, finding the Christian missionary doctors overbearing, welcomed a Jew; I passed out birth control pills and no religion. Those months later, before I am to leave, she confides that we might be distantly related: her husband’s name she suspects came from a dry goods itinerant salesman, a Halpern, some generations back; left behind both “wet” and dry goods; perhaps she was part-Jewish by marriage; perhaps if not related, we were at least of common spirit.
The Bad Warriors’ skin was impetigo-stamped; their hide looked angry and they, both corralled in the same crib, acted angry. Scowls greeted all; food, spoons, toys, pillows, anything loose became missiles. Debby, who had wifed me through a year of internship, was put on twin-feeding duty; she got aproned and gloved before battle. I turned to the baby.
There were two pilots in Eagle Butte: Tim, a white rancher who crop-dusted; and Mr. R., the grey-skinned undertaker. Tonight, Tim would fly us out in his four-seater V-tail Beech Bonanza, what was later monikered -- shortly before production was discontinued in 1982 - the "fork-tailed doctor killer." The back two seats are removed for the baby’s incubator crib, oxygen, resuscitation equipment and myself. The baby’s crib is strapped-in tightly, like cargo. Tim asks me to take a front seat for take-off; weather’s brewing, could be bumpy.
I refuse, crouch and huddle myself over the crib. Soon, I learn bumpy: my head dribbles off the ceiling throughout the flight; a helmet would have served well. The ambu-bag and cardioverter I use thrice in the hour flight. The baby dies on landing. I hand over the Xrays and labs to the doc who greeted us in Fargo; we duly review them on the tarmac, Xrays against the sun. Tim and I head back, emptied. The storms had brewed; retribution for life lost.
By the time we approach Pierre, rain, hail and wind shears were bad enough we were told to land, not try for Eagle Butte. Winds were blowing ninety degrees to the single runway. I am now belted-in, annointed co-pilot. Tim tries to demonstrate an acrobatic landing: we fly into the wind, perpendicular to the runway. “Watch.” I must admire his maneuver as he harnesses the head-wind to shift ninety-degrees for the landing. My nodding face is tucked into a vomit bag.
On ground, sheets of horizontal rain hustle us into the waiting ambulance to take us eighty miles to Eagle Butte. Debby, I learn, had been joined by Sister Margaruite, the Roman Catholic nun and nurse. Sister had followed the weather reports. Rosary in hand, she adhered to Debby, praying for my safe return; not sounding reassuring. I, too preoccupied with a dying baby, with weather’s bluster had been oblivious to danger. Even until today, a bit oblivious.
Then, we felt timeless; we thought we would be forever.
He looks septic and dehydrated: tented skin, labored breath, eyes shut. Neither docs nor nurses could get an IV inserted. I shave the scalp, prep. Mrs. Alpern finds a #25 Butterfly needle (smallest made) and I slid this into a vein. The delicate skin reveals veins like earthworms beneath a membrane of detritused leaves. I anchor the lifeline firmly, using the coilings and tapings that I had learned at the University. Antibiotics for both gram negative and positives and some fluids appeared to brighten the baby within a few hours.
Enough time to move suitcases into the cinder-blocked Bureau of Indian Affairs apartment building across the way, have dinner at the only restaurant in Eagle Butte, return for evening rounds. This baby would not make it here. I ask Mrs. Alpern about the nearest Infant Intensive Care Unit; Fargo, some hundreds of miles away. No problem, she assures; we would be flown out.
But today, rapid-fire rounds. After a year of pediatrics, I would work as a general practitioner here; everyone on-call did snake bites, deliveries, cut men out from overturned tractors, sewed-up knife wounds. Yet, this Sunday, the most acute cases were the Bad Warrior twins and the newborn lying alone, almost agonal in a crib.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
These MUST be assembled into a book!
I lived a few years in the Dakotas. South Dakota really worms its way into your system.
The late singer, Rich Mullins, was totally focused on the Lakota Sioux.
Thank you for a beautifully written and soul-wrenching piece. It made me remember the stories of my great grandfather who was a physician for the Cherokee in Oklahoma, where he met and married my Cherokee great grandmother. Their history has been blown and scoured away by tornadoes over the years, including their grave markers. To have such experiences, and to not write them down for the future, is a great loss, yet unmeasured by time.
One problem is this quote "...Winchester Model 1894 lever-repeating rifle -- the gun that won the West, the weapon of choice for the Rifleman of TV."
The Rifleman uses a Winchester Model 92. A modern replicate of the 92 is sold by Rossi Arms of Brazil under the name of Puma.