Tuesday, February 24, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 8

Mary was awakened by two young African-American nurses.
“Good morning, Mrs. Cusak. My name is Shawanda and this is my twin sister Shawnda. Don’t try to tell us apart. You won’t be able to do so unless you see our name tags. We are here to give you your bath.”
The twin sisters went to work with remarkable efficiency. They bathed every part of Mary and changed her gown in an amazing short period of time and without causing her very much pain. She felt so good and refreshed after the bath.
“Thank you so much.”
After that she was served breakfast. The nurse cranked up the head of the bed so that she was sitting up to eat. She really didn’t crank it. The bed has an electric motor. Mary still didn’t have much of an appetite. She drank the juice and picked at the grits. There was a can of Ensure and she drank all of it.
When the nurse came to pick up her tray, she said,
“Try to eat some food. The medicines need something to work with. I’m glad you drank the Ensure. It has a lot of nourishment in it.”
After that Wanda and Shawnda came in. Wanda lowered the head of my bed.
“I’m going to let Shawnda unwrap your dressing. After I look at it, she will wash it and apply the new dressing. I have been a nurse for twenty-four years and she has only been a nurse for three years. I’ll be the first to say that she is better with dressings that I have ever been or ever will be.”
Shawnda smiled and quickly unwrapped the dressing. She did it so smoothly that Mary didn’t feel a thing. Wanda came over and looked at the stump and leaned over to smell it. Afterward Shawnda washed it and patted it dry. That did hurt somewhat. Then she applied the new dressing. When she was finished, she and Wanda rolled Mary onto her left side. They did not work together as well as Wanda and Ilene. Mary asked them to hand her the Kindle before they left the room. Shawnda also moved the TV remote/call button to the left side of the bed.
Lying on her left side Mary worked on a jigsaw puzzle program. She was able to complete two jigsaw puzzles of old masterpiece paintings before it was time to roll her onto her right side. This time Shawanda and Shawnda were working together. They worked very well together and spared Mary as much pain as possible.
The pain of lying on the stump made it impossible to concentrate on a puzzle or reading a book on the Kindle. Fortunately, she was distracted by a visitor. It was a Red Cross volunteer. They had wrapped her in a paper gown and she was wearing a paper cap and a mask over her nose and mouth.
“Mrs. Cusak, I am Mrs. Boudreaux from the Louisiana Red Cross. I want to take down your personal information so that when your loved ones are looking for you, they will know where to find you. Your name is Mary Cusak?”
“What is your husband’s name?”
“Karl Ruderich Cusak”
“Do you have children?”
“Just one, a daughter, Dana Delania Cusak.”
“Before the earthquake you lived where?”
“Victoria, Arkansas. My father lived several miles down the road in Whistleville.”
“What is his name?”
“Henry Wallace Fairfield.”
“Mrs. Cusak, the Red Cross will record this information. If someone is looking for you, they would be directed to the Red Cross. For right now, they would have to know that you are in Monroe, Louisiana. That would be unlikely. After things settle down, I’m sure someone will know how to merge the records of the various locations, create a huge database so that someone looking for you would just have to give your name.”
“Thank you.”
“You are a lovely woman. I hope you find all of your family and that they all are well.”
When she left, Shawanda came with Mary’s lunch.
“Whew, lady, I don’t know how you can eat lunch lying on your side. I think that I am going to do some cheating, if you promise not to tell on me.”
She smoothly rolled Mary onto her back and raised the head of the bed. She rolled the bedside table into place and set the tray of food on it. Mary used the trapeze hand to pull herself into a more comfortable position. Lunch was some kind of fish croquet, carrots and peas, soup, crackers, jello, Ensure, and iced tea.
Mary wondered why Shawanda left her lying on her back when she finished lunch. She didn’t have to wonder long. Shawanda returned and removed the dressing on her stump. Doctor Kubicki came and looked at her stump intently. He pressed his fingers and thumb at various places on her leg. Then he stood up and smiled,
“I am very pleased. If the healing continues to progress this well, tomorrow we will begin with the elastic bandages.
“What I am concerned about the most is your kidneys’ functioning. You were unattended for a long period of time after that crush injury occurred. Theoretically you could be close to death, but you are not. Maybe the pile of debris on your legs acted like a tourniquet of sorts. I don’t know. I do know that enough of that toxin made its way through your body that it has affected your kidneys. We are giving you daily dialysis treatments to flush the toxin out of your body. We are hoping that the kidneys will repair themselves and begin functioning again.                                                                                          
“If you believe in prayer, this is a good time to start. I’ve seen the Lord do things that I can’t do and never heard about in medical school.”
“Doctor, my mamaw lived in a log cabin on the frontier in Arkansas. They didn’t have doctors. They treated themselves with remedies they learned from Indians, other settlers, or what they learned by experiment. She always told me that the best thing for kidney complaints was cranberry juice.”
“There is a lot we could learn from folk medicine. I’ll do everything that I know how to do. We’ll take your mamaw’s advice, and don’t forget to ask the Lord for His help.
“Nurse, get this patient some cranberry juice now and see that she gets it at every meal and whenever else she asks for it.”
“Yes, Doctor Kubicki.”
After he had gone Shawanda said,
“That was a first. He usually gets mad if a patient tells him something they think ought to be done.”
With that she began applying a new dressing. Before she was done, the big dialysis machine was being pushed toward her bed. It was good timing because she had to be on her back for the dialysis treatment.
“Can I leave the head of the bed elevated?”
She pretended that she was in a lawn chair back in Victoria. She took the Kindle from the bedside and continued reading the book she had been reading in a lawn chair on the grass in front of their home in Victoria. Reading made the time go by more quickly than it would have otherwise. The nurse was finished and was rolling up the hoses and wires.
“How am I doing?”
The nurse shrugged her shoulders and said,
“You’ll have to ask the doctor.”
When she left, Shawanda reappeared with Shawnda in tow. They had come to turn her onto her stomach. Before they began, they lowered the head of the bed. Shawanda said,
“You should have had your pain shot a half hour before being turned onto your stomach. I couldn’t give it to you during dialysis, As soon as we are finished turning you, I’ll go for the pain shot.
The turning was unusually painful. Soon after the pain shot, the pain went away like a wave rolling back into the sea. Mary soon dropped off to sleep. The next thing she was aware of was the nurse twins returning to her bed to turn her onto her right side.
When they were finished, Wanda appeared. She said,
“There is a Baptist minister who wants to know if he can visit with you. If you say No, I can send him packing.”
“Let him come in, but tell him that I am tired.”
A few minutes later, an elderly man dressed in a paper gown and face mask and carrying a small Bible came into her roomette.
“Mrs. Cusak, my name is Reverend Rowell. Thank you for allowing me to visit with you. I am Baptist and your card says that you are Baptist so we have that in common. I understand that you are tired, so I will just read a Scripture passage and then have prayer with you. What things could I pray for you?”
Mary’s chin trembled and her eyes filled with tears.
“I want to know if my husband and my daughter and my father are all right. I want my kidneys to start functioning again. I want to thank God for sparing my life.”
By the time she had finished, her chest was heaving with distress. The minister read Psalm 23 to her, prayed for her concerns, and finished with the Lord’s Prayer. His voice was smooth and almost melodic. By the time he was finished, Mary was calm and at peace.
“Please come to see me again.”
“I will, child.”                                                                                                          After two hours on her stomach they came back and turned her onto her back so that she would be in that position for supper. When supper came there was a can of cranberry juice. She said to herself,
Mamaw, I am depending on this to get me better. Don’t let me down.”
So far she hadn’t turned on the television set. That evening she turned it on for the rest of the time that she was on her back. When they turned her onto her left side, she turned the television off.
When the shifts changed, she was happy to see that Merrybelle was on duty again. Somehow Merrybelle seemed like a mother to her. She couldn’t explain it, even to herself, but this amputation, at least for the time being, almost reduced her to the status of a child. She felt secure with Merrybelle taking care of her. She slept that night almost the whole night. When Merrybelle went off duty, she again thanked her profusely.
After the morning routine of bathing, changing her gown and her dressing and turning her, Shawnda brought her breakfast. She had hardly started when Shawanda ran in very excited,
“Mrs. Cusak, Mrs. Cusak! We saw your daughter on television. Dana Cusak. On the news they had this news item about the earthquake in Arkansas. They showed scenes of damage in different towns. Then at the tag end of the piece the announcer said that in Osceola they brought a number of survivors to the airport. They were mostly women and children. They were supposed to be flown to some city with shelters for the earthquake survivors on Tuesday. But Tuesday it was raining so hard that the planes couldn’t fly. All these children were in this hangar. They were scared and crying. A girl named Dana Cusak and her friend Rosalita got all the children together and started leading them in playing games, singing songs, telling them stories. The mothers were really grateful.
“It was on Headline News. They usually repeat the same stories every hour all morning. An hour from now, we’ll make sure your television is on so you can see it for yourself.”
Mary didn’t know what to say. Her eyes filled with tears. Dana was alive and all right. Rosalita, a Mexican girl was the same age as Dana and they had been best friends since the Cusaks moved to Victoria,
The next hour Mary watched the television transfixed. She saw Dana leading the children in games and singing. She looked happy and well. Words cannot describe the emotions she felt. She thanked the Lord over and over for this unexpected blessing.
Someone in the hospital administration heard about it and called a local television station. Even though it had not been on their station they promised to record the program on a DVD for Mrs. Cusak. They aired their own story of a patient in St. Francis Medical Center who didn’t know if any of the rest of her family survived the earthquake. She saw her daughter on national news leading children in play time in a hangar while they were waiting to be evacuated.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 7

Early Monday morning the “State Policeman” ordered one of the men in the office building to take the truck and pick up the old man and his granddaughter from a house behind the cotton gin in Whistleville.
“But the road to Whistleville has a deep chasm across it.”
“It must have been repaired. Do as I said.”

        The man drove off toward Whistleville certain that he wouldn’t be able to get through. He kept looking and looking for the chasm but never did find it.

        Back in Victoria no one ever saw the “State Policeman” again.

        When the truck came to the cotton gin, my Grandad and I were waiting out by the road. My grandfather was seated in a wooden chair. I was holding the teddy bear and my Granny’s Bible.

        “You will have to come around and help my Grandad up into the truck. He has had a heart attack.”

        Grudgingly the man helped the old man up into the truck. I hopped up into the truck bed with my two treasures in my arms.

         Back in Victoria the truck pulled up in front of the building with office workers. Mrs. Cartright came out to help my Grandad. Inside the building there was a couch in the former reception area. She led him to the couch and helped him to lie down there. She went for a paper cup and poured water from a bottle into the cup. Holding his head up, she helped him drink.

         Seeing that my Grandad was comfortable, I went outside to look around. Across the street I saw a familiar figure. Running over I cried,

         “Rosalita! Rosalita! I am so glad that you are all right. You are my very best friend in all the world.”

         “Dana. I’m glad to see you. I saw that your trailer was turned over and I was afraid that you were dead. I went to the trailer several times and called your name and banged on the side. There was no answer and I was sure you were dead.

          “Right now I am very busy. There are six children. I am supposed to watch them while the mothers clean the building, wash clothes, and cook food.”

          “I can help you. Let’s bring them outside to play.”

          “That's a good idea. They won’t be in the mothers’ way or making noise.”

          A few minutes later the we had the children outside playing “Ring Around The Rosie” and “Hide and Seek” and “Guess What Is In My Hand”. Some of the children knew English and some did not, but they all were having a good time. When they were tired, we sat them down under a tree and had storytime. I would tell a couple sentences of a story in English, then Rosalita would tell the same couple of sentences in Spanish. After that we took turns teaching the children a simple song in each language. The children were having such a good time that they forgot about the horrible experiences of the last two days.

         Before we knew it, it was lunch time and the mothers were calling the children to come inside for lunch and nap time. I said goodbye to Rosalita and went back across the street to check on my grandfather. He was weak and could barely talk, but he was happy to see me.

         Not long afterward there was a loud knocking on the door. It was a man and he was out of breath.

         “Is Mrs. Cartright here?”

         Mrs. Cartright came down the stairs.

         “Could I help you?”

         “Yes, I am a pilot. Your father has sent the company plane to bring you and the children to Little Rock to stay in your parents’ home. I had to walk from the plane, but I see there is a truck outside. Get your children and let’s go.”

         “There is an old man here who desperately needs to see a doctor. We will take him with us.”

         “Your father didn’t say anything about an old man.”

         “Yes, but I did! I’ll get the children.”
          I went over to Grandad.

          “Grandad, Mrs. Cartright’s father sent an airplane to fly her to Little Rock. She is going to take you along so that you can see a doctor. I can’t go because there isn’t room in the plane and once I got to Little Rock I wouldn’t have any place to stay. I’ll be praying for you and whenever I find Mom and Dad, we will go to Little Rock and find you.”

         I kissed him and choked back my tears.

         Somehow the pilot, Mrs. Cartright, Grandad, and the two children sat in the cab of the truck. One of the men from the building rode in the back of the truck so he could drive it back.

          The pilot taxied the plane to the very end of the runway so that he would have enough room to take off with an unexpected extra passenger.

          Later that day a National Guard helicopter landed. Altogether there were fifteen women and children. That was the capacity of the aircraft. The four male office workers were left behind to be picked up the next day.

         The man who had gone to Whistleville decided to see if that road would take him back to civilization. He and another man took off in the truck. Less than halfway there they encountered a chasm as wide as the length of the truck and so deep they couldn’t see the bottom. They turned around and went back to Victoria, MREs, slit trenches, and sleeping on the floor.  

         The National Guard helicopter took us to Osceola. We were met at the airport by a woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Brinkley, a nurse. She was in charge of processing people into the survivors’ collection center.

         “My name is Mrs. Brinkley. I am a nurse. The first thing I will do is to take your name and the address where you were living before the quake and I will give you a quick examination to see if you have any injuries. We will give you clean clothes, you will throw your soiled clothes into a basket, then you will take a shower outside. After you have showered and dressed, come into the hangar and we will assign a cot to you. Tomorrow you will be flown to an earthquake victims’ shelter where you will be given temporary quarters. They will tell you what transition benefits are available to you.”

         I spoke up. “Mrs. Brinkley, nearly all these people are Spanish speakers. My friend Rosalita can speak both English and Spanish. If you will repeat that sentence by sentence, she can interpret for you.”

         She thanked me, called for Rosalita, and went through the speech again sentence by sentence.

         The two women who were office workers in Victoria distanced  themselves from the Mexicans. They made sure to be first in line so they could be the first to take showers. They were reluctant to throw away their own clothes, but were given no choice. They turned up their noses at the clothing they were given. In the hangar there were already some cots that were occupied. They chose cots which would separate them from the Mexicans when they were assigned cots.

          Rosalita and I were given cots side by side and that made us happy. When the children came in, they were all whimpering or crying. The mothers were patting them but that didn’t seem to help. They had allowed me to keep Teddy bear when I threw my clothes in the basket. I started passing it from child to child. Then softly I started singing one of the songs from this morning, one that had motions. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” I held my finger up like a candle.

         The children snuffled back their tears, held up little fingers and joined me in singing. Mrs. Brinkley observed all this. She pulled out a large cardboard box and opened it. She pulled out a bunch of teddy bears and walked back to the cots and handed then out to the Mexican children and to some other children who were there.

         “The State Police have these teddy bears in their cars to give to children involved in accidents or other traumas. They left a couple boxes with me for the children who are brought here. Now each of you will have a teddy bear to hug these next scary nights of strange beds and new places.”

         I prayed to God to bless the people who had donated these teddy bears to the State Police to be used in this manner.
The next day it was pouring down rain. All the flights were cancelled. The hangar was large so Rosalita and I took the children to a big open space and we repeated the play and school time of yesterday. We made up games they could play in a confined space that still would give them a chance to burn up energy. The other children there joined us.

         When we had story time I would tell one or two sentences and then Rosalita would tell the sentences in Spanish. I used my hands to speak with motions. Sometimes I would have them all repeat an English word and Rosalita would sometimes have them repeat a Spanish word. After the story, we had exercise time. Then Rosalita and I would sing a song together and lead the children in a skipping, hopping, hand clapping parade.

         While we were doing all this, a television news cameraman and reporter were filming the play time. When lunch time came the children all ran to their mothers. The mothers took them to wash their hands and faces. In the lunch line the reporter approached Rosalita and me.

         “Where are you from?”


         “Both of you?”

         “You were friends in Victoria and at school?”


         “Where are your parents?”

         “Rosalita’s mother is here. We don’t know about her father.”

         Rosalita spoke, “We think he was killed in the explosion and fire caused by the earthquake.”

         “I’m sorry. What about your parents, Dana?”
        “My father, Karl Cusak had gone to Blytheville for parts. My mother Mary Cusak had gone to Luxora to the beauty salon. After the earthquake, I went to my Grandad in Whistleville. He had a couple heart attacks and Mrs. Cartright took him to Little Rock in the plane her father sent for her and her children.”

         After lunch the children all laid down for a nap. So did I. Before I knew it, it was supper time. The food was always the MREs. There was a large pot of coffee for the adults. If the planes had come, there would have been several cartons of milk, but today there were only bottles of water for the children.

         At bed time I spotted my teddy bear on my pillow. I knew what he would say before he said it, so I knelt down by my cot and began to say my prayers. One by one the children and then their mothers followed suit.

         Mrs. Brinkley saw it and crossed herself. “Now I have seen it all.”

         When I crawled back into my cot and hugged my teddy bear, I asked him,

         “The teddy bears that Mrs. Brinkley gave to all the children – are they angels too?”

         “They can be if that is what God needs them to be.”


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 6

Early Monday morning several charter passenger aircraft were loaded with all the people in the shelter except for the group from Baker’s. A National Guard unit landed in several transport planes. They unloaded military versions of ambulances and also some Humvees. Several State policemen were flown in on a helicopter.
Karl said to the other men,
“Fellows, we are about to witness a Chinese fire drill! Mr. Henry has been in charge so far. He is the head of the Mississippi County Office of Emergency Management. Here comes the National Guard called to active duty by the Governor. Here also comes the State Police. Now these guys have had seminars with drills and mock disasters about how to play nice with one another. These next couple days we aren’t going to know who is in charge and each of them is going to be sure that they know who is in charge.”
Jack Raymond went to Mr. Henry.
“Mr. Henry, we are ready to go out. Where is the rescue team?”
“I don’t know. Let me go see what I can find out.”
When he came back he said,
“Evidently they were evacuated with the rest of the people in the shelter. The National Guard has rescue teams that are going to accompany you.”
In a few minutes four soldiers in two Humvees came toward us. I pulled out a map of the city. A sergeant approached me.
“Show me what you need for me to do.”
“Here on the map marked in red crayon are the streets that we have opened and the rescue teams have searched. I suggest that we start here and clear this street. There are some office buildings along the way, some houses, some stores, and at the end there is a factory. As we open the street, you and your men look into each house and building for anyone who is still alive. You will need shovels and picks. Our men have shovels and picks, but they go ahead of the heavy equipment to make sure that we don’t move debris or a vehicle where there is a person trapped in it.”
Jack Raymond’s group of men moved their equipment and trucks to Jefferson Street with the two Humvees following us. They began the slow process of opening the street. On this street there were more vehicles that had just been abandoned in the middle of the street. Most of them were empty. Some of them contained dead bodies. They found one in which there were a woman and two children still alive. They had been going home from the grocery store. There were milk, crackers, juice, and cookies that they ate. Debris had trapped them inside the car.
“There are three survivors in this car.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Call the dispatcher and tell him to send an ambulance”
He ambled over to the Humvee and fiddled around with the radio.
“The radio won’t work.”
“Then get behind the wheel and drive back to headquarters and tell them verbally to send an ambulance.”
“You can’t give orders to me. You’re a civilian.”
Karl called for Jack to come over.
“Jack, take my truck and drive back to the command center. Tell them we found three survivors and need an ambulance. Tell them that the sergeant’s radio doesn’t work so we have no means of communication and that the sergeant refused to drive back and tell them that we need an ambulance. Do you see what I meant about a Chinese fire drill?”
Jack ran back to Karl’s truck. When he came back he had a walkie talkie from Mr. Henry. It was another fifteen or twenty minutes before the ambulance showed up. Karl approached the first person who got out of the ambulance, an attractive Latina with lieutenant’s bars on her fatigues.
“Lieutenant, our instructions, up to now, have been to call for an ambulance whenever we find survivors. There is a woman and her two children trapped in that car. We can free them, but we needed medical personnel to examine them and take them to the shelter or to the airport for evacuation.”
“Thank you. You did exactly right.”
“Then would you please communicate this to that sergeant and his men. They came out to do search and rescue without shovels and with a broken radio. When I told him to drive back to the center and tell them to send an ambulance, he wouldn’t do it.”
“I’ll see to it that his commander gives all the men a refresher on disaster work.”
After they freed the woman and her children and they had been taken to the ambulance, Karl motioned to Shorty, who was operating the front-end loader, to push the car out of the way. He rolled the car over until it was on what had been the sidewalk. They shoved and rolled a half dozen other cars and pickup trucks out of the way. Then they came to a tall pile of rubble from a fallen building. They worked nearly an hour getting it hauled off, and shoved off the street onto the grass on the opposite side of the street. There were only buildings and houses on one side of the street at that point. During this time Karl looked to see what the soldiers were doing. They didn’t seem to be doing much searching and they hadn’t rescued so much as a dog! He was getting angry. They were all sweating and the soldiers were taking a smoke break.
When the huge pile of rubble was moved and the street opened, they came to a grocery store. There didn’t seem to be much damage to the store except the front plate glass window was lying in jagged pieces on the sidewalk. Just inside, Jack and Karl saw a man, probably in his fifties, maybe the grocer, holding his chest.
“Mister, are you hurt?”
“I think that I had a heart attack yesterday and I think that I am having another one now.”
Karl said, “I have some aspirins in my truck. We'll call for an ambulance on the walkie talkie. 
"Tell them it is an emergency. I’ll give him the aspirins and some water.”
Karl got angry all over again. “If those National Guardsmen had continued their search on foot instead of watching us clear away the mound of rubble, they would have found this man over an hour ago and he would already be receiving medical care.”  
When the ambulance arrived, they let the medical team take over. He was sure to tell the nurse that he had given the man two aspirins. They continued clearing the street and in another hour they reached the factory. There was a crowd of men outside the factory entrance. The factory building appeared to be undamaged. There must have been four dozen men at least. None of them appeared to have any injuries.
Jack Raymond got on the walkie talkie and reported that there were about fifty men at the factory at the end of Jefferson Street. He reported that none of them appeared to have any injuries.
Karl asked one of the men,
“Why did you all stay here. Why didn’t you go out into the town and see if you could help in the rescue efforts?”
“We figured that was someone else’s job. You can really get hurt if you don’t know what you are doing.”
Just then several men came running into the factory parking lot from the direction of town. One of them gave a thumbs up sign and yelled, “Wait until you see what we found!” When they saw our vehicles, they hushed. Karl could see several jeweled necklaces in one of the men’s hands. That was the reason they had hung around the factory. Some of them were going out on looting expeditions.
Karl climbed up in the cab of the dozer and pointed it in the direction of the center. When he got back he was going to look for one of the State Police.
He also reported what he saw to Mr. Henry.
“Karl, it is sad to say, but one of the constants in every disaster is that gangs arise to take advantage of the breakdown in law enforcement. There are probably dozens of thugs going through the town pillaging jewelry stores, liquor stores, and pharmacies. What will they do with it?”
On Tuesday morning Mr. Henry told them that this would be the last day for search and rescue. Without another word, Karl walked over to one of the National Guard officers.
“Sir, could I have a word with you?”
“I have been working here since shortly after the quake. The first three days there were firemen and EMTs doing the search and rescue work. They worked alongside of us and we found people in the ruined houses and buildings. Yesterday, we found four survivors. Our job is supposed to be clearing the streets so ambulances and search and rescue vehicles can get through. The National Guardsmen who were supposed to be working where we cleared a way, were not doing anything. They didn’t even take picks and shovels with them even though I told them they would need them. They had no motivation to find anyone who might still be alive.
“Today is the last day for search and rescue. Would you please find some Guardsmen with motivation to accompany us today?”
“What is your name?”
“Karl Cusak.”
“I am Major Fromme. Mr. Cusak, I understand what you are saying. I thank you for the sacrifice and dedication of your work these last four days. I will personally see to it that the best men we have accompany you today.”
Jack Raymond and his crew started down the last main street that was still impassable. It was undoubtedly the hardest one they had tackled but by then they had four days experience behind them.
Major Fromme was as good as his word. The men he sent worked hard and took no breaks. Their hard work produced results. They found a house with four children ages eight through thirteen. The thirteen year old was a girl who was their babysitter. Friday had been the first day of school vacation and the first day of her summer job as babysitter. The house had collapsed to one side. What remained tilted crazily to the ruined side. They were in the kitchen. The floor sloped about 30 degrees. Somehow, she had kept them alive. When the four soldiers lifted the children out of the ruined house and carried them to the street, they all broke down in tears. Their hard work had meaning.
After the children were picked up by the ambulance, they continued their search with renewed zeal. Six blocks further on, they came to an old couple. Their house was not badly damaged. They were waiting by the doorway. The old man was in a wheelchair. The woman said,
“We’ve been waiting every day for someone to help us. Men have run by our house every day, but none of them stopped to help us.”
The Guardsmen called for the ambulance again. Before the day was over they had found and rescued two other people in two other houses. Both of them had major injuries. The soldiers took serious chances in rescuing them from shattered houses.
At the end of the day Mr. Henry called Jack Raymond’s crew together.
“As you know, this was the last day for search and rescue. Tomorrow I am sending all of you to Little Rock on the plane. Karl, I bummed a tool box off the National Guard so that you can take your tools with you. If any of the rest of you have tools, you can take them with you. You will go to a shelter. I guess there will be someone there to help you find a job. I know they will give you money cards to buy some clothes and toiletries. I won’t try to guess. You’ll find out more when you get there. Be sure to keep the Red Cross informed about your whereabouts. That is your only way of eventually finding your families.”
He gave us all a big hug and a handshake.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 5

Mary woke up on Monday morning feeling pain in her right leg even though she knew that some of the leg was gone. The pain in her mind was just as bad as the physical pain. Overhead was a trapeze hand bar probably so she could pull herself up. She felt groggy – pain medicine no doubt. The end of the bed was cranked up and her stump was on display. She clenched her eyes closed and tried to cry, but she was too weak. She felt nauseous. What would she do if she had to vomit? There was an IV line going into her arm. There was a catheter line going down toward the floor.
A nurse approached her bed. She was slightly tall and had broad shoulders. She was middle-aged, neat in appearance, but rough around the edges. As Mary got to know her, she understood that she was someone who had taken some hard punches from life.
“Mrs. Cusak, my name is Wanda Sylvester. You may call me Wanda. Is it all right if I call you Mary?”
Mary nodded her head.
“I’ll be your nurse for the next twelve hours and probably a lot more twelve hours in the weeks ahead. I’m going to give it to you straight, because that is the way I would want it. If you work with us and do what we tell you to do, your stump should be healed in two weeks. Right now it will be draining blood. We will be checking on it pretty often as long as it’s draining. We’ll have to change the dressing three or four times a day.
“Your injury was a crush fracture. That kind of fracture sends toxins into your blood stream that could cause kidney failure. That is why they applied a tourniquet when you were rescued. They will be giving you dialysis treatment every day until your blood tests show there is no more toxin present in your blood stream.
“When the bleeding of your stump subsides, we will begin wrapping the stump with elastic bandage. That is for the purpose of shaping the stump so that you can be fitted with an artificial leg – a prosthetic leg.
“You will be receiving antibiotics until there is no infection in your stump. Here is the worst part. We have to turn you every two hours. You will lie on your back two hours, lie on the left side - the good leg - two hours, lie on the stump side two hours, and lie on your stomach two hours. You will find out that turning onto your stomach and lying that way two hours is painful. For that reason we will time your pain medicine to be a half hour before you have to lie on your stomach. Be sure that the nurse or aide who helps you turn onto your stomach places a pillow under your stomach and that the toes of your left leg are down over the edge of the mattress.”
“That is all I have. Do you have any questions?”
“Before you came in, I was feeling nauseous. What do I do if I have to throw up?”
“I’ll put this spitting dish in your hand. That way it will be handy. On this television remote hanging on the side of your bed there is a button to call the nurse. It is red and it says “Call.” It is also a speaker and a microphone. When you press it, a nurse will answer and ask you what you need. You just tell them what you need.”
When Wanda left, a young, bouncy, and cheerful blonde came in wearing scrubs that were decorated with the cartoon characters Wiley Coyote, Yosemite Sam, Roadrunner, and the Tasmanian Devil.
“Hi, Mrs. Cusak, my name is Ilene. I brought you some breakfast. The coffee is decaf. The toast is dark and it isn’t buttered. That’s supposed to settle your stomach. There is orange juice that has been watered down to pamper your stomach. There is also a dish of tapioca. These are foods that we have found that people who have just had surgery can usually tolerate.”
Mary nibbled at the toast and found that it did help calm her stomach. The same was true for the tapioca and the weakened orange juice.
Two hours later, Wanda and Ilene returned. Wanda looked intently at the stump dressing and even smelled it. Mary almost laughed.
“Hey, I’ll do that twice an hour if it will make you smile. You know, for the first time I saw what a beautiful woman you are.”
Then the two nurses proceeded to turn Mary onto the side of her good leg, her left side. Wanda kept demanding that Mary grab the overhead trapeze handle and help with the turning. She did so reluctantly. All the time they were turning her, she was in pain. Ilene was helping with the turning when she could. She also had to keep the IV line and the catheter line from being tangled.
Mary lay on her side and began to feel really blue. She was in a hospital hundreds of miles from her home, or what had been her home. It might be destroyed now. She didn’t know if Karl was injured or dead or even where he is. She didn’t know how her daughter Dana was or where she might be. What about her father? Here she was lying in a hospital bed in the land of strangers. It is bad enough to lose a leg and maybe lose her home, but what if she had lost her family?
Mary was in the intensive care unit because she needed frequent attention by the nurses and also because they wanted to isolate her to minimize the chance of an infection. She was in a room by herself. There was nothing to see. She could watch television. There was no one to talk to, no one to watch.
Mary turned on the television. It came on to a news channel. The announcer showed some film footage of Blytheville, Arkansas. The reporter said that it looked like scenes from a war. She wondered how anyone could live through such a devastating earthquake.
Mary dozed until the next time for turning. About the time that they had her lying on her right side where the stump was located, an aide came in the roomette with her lunch. There were baked fish, peas, carrots, a bread roll, ice tea and jello on the tray. Mary picked at the food. She had no appetite.
As soon as the lunch tray was gone, Wanda came in to change her dressing. It was very painful even to touch that leg. Wanda had to wash it before she applied a new dressing. All the time she was working, she was scolding Mary for not eating her lunch.
After lunch another nurse came in with the equipment for dialysis. As if she didn’t have enough pain and discomfort, here came some more. The dialysis nurse was putting away her equipment when Wanda came in with Dr. Kubicki. Wanda removed the dressing from the stump and the surgeon examined it closely.
“We will be watching your stump closely for the next couple weeks. We want to see it healing. There is bleeding now and drainage. That is normal, but we want to see the bleeding gradually subside and then stop in the next several days. There may be some swelling the first couple days. The drainage is normal, but we don’t want to see infection setting up. That is why the nurse will wash it thoroughly each time the dressing is changed. If infection does set up or if the bleeding doesn’t subside, we will have to operate again, maybe even amputate more of the leg. I don’t want that and neither do you. So cooperate with the nurses, do what that tell you. The stump is looking good so far.”
With that he walked away. Wanda washed the stump and applied a new dressing.
“In two days, after we are sure the swelling is gone, we will wrap the dressing and on up to your knee with elastic bandage. That will cause your stump to heal into a sloping cone shape that will fit into a leg prosthesis.”
When she was finished, she gave Mary a pain shot. She knew that meant that in a half hour or less Wanda and Ilene would be coming to turn her onto her stomach. She had been warned that both the turning and the lying on her stomach would be painful.
The turning was excruciating and lying on her stomach was painful on her stump. Maybe it was the pain medicine, but Mary fell asleep and slept soundly until they returned to turn her onto her back.
After they had turned Mary onto her back, Wanda said,
“I’m going to crank up the head of the bed so that you can sit up for a while. One very important thing to remember is this: If you start sliding down and want to pull yourself back up, USE THE TRAPEZE HANDLE! Do not try to push yourself up with your one good foot. You will injure yourself if you do. Try to sit up as long as you can. It will encourage you to cough, which will clear the anathesia out of your lungs.”
Mary enjoyed sitting up. She experimented with pulling herself up using the trapeze handle.
When they brought her supper, she felt more like eating while she could be sitting up and had the food on a sort of table surface. The supper was good for hospital food. Of course the last time that she was in a hospital was twelve years ago when Dana was born.    
After her supper was cleared away, a nurse brought her a Kindle.
“Mrs. Cusak, while you are in ICU we can’t allow books, magazines, newspapers, and other such items. We have these Kindles preloaded with books, magazines, games, and music. They are a special model that we can disinfect after each patient uses it. Do you know how to use a Kindle?”
“Thank you. Yes, we have one at home.”
“Good. This is yours to use during your stay at St. Francis Medical Center.”
“Thank you.”
Mary found a book loaded onto the Kindle that she had started to read at home. Soon she was lost in reading the book and didn’t realize that two hours had passed until Wanda and Ilene appeared at her bedside.
“Well, you sat up the entire two hours. I see they brought you a Kindle to use. Good. I am going to roll this bedside table away and lower the head of the bed so that we can turn you onto your left side. We will be going off work after we turn you. I’ll see you again tomorrow morning. Ilene won’t be back until Thursday morning. By the way, if you lose track of the days, it always shows up on your Kindle. We used to put calendars in each patient’s room. Now they are unnecessary.”
Wanda and Ilene turned Mary onto her left side. When they left, she returned to reading.
In about a half hour a jolly, rotund African-American nurse came into the room.
“Mrs. Cusak, my name is Merrybelle Houston. My mother said that she named me Merrybelle to remind me to always be happy. It worked. I am going to remove your dressing and take a picture of your stump. Then I will wash it and put on a fresh dressing. I know it will hurt, but I’ll be as gentle as I can, Honey.”
Merrybelle was as good as her word. Mary marveled at how gentle and efficient she was. When it was times for turning, Merrybelle didn’t bring a nurse to help her. She turned Mary like she was moving a baby in its crib. Once or twice Mary only half woke and went right back to sleep.
When Merrybelle came in to tell Mary that she was going off shift, Mary said,
“Thank you so much. God sent you, I know, and I pray that He will bless you!”