I gathered up my belongings and put them in the car. I went back in the house to make sure everything was the way I found it, then I shut the door, went down the steps and got in the car. I started it and backed out of the driveway and onto the highway. It was a cool day with drizzle coming down. I probably shouldn’t be on the road, but I wanted to get out of the house I had spent the night in. There was no fireplace, so no way to really get warmed up except pile on the blankets. And no way to make coffee without fire or electricity.
It had been six months since everything went to hell. Six months since I’d seen another living human. A deadly virus had ran through the continent, and I presumed the world. Almost 100% mortality rate. I didn’t get it, so I must be immune. How many other survivors were there? There had to be some, but I had not run across any and I’d been travelling all over Canada and the northern United States. I did not want to go to the southern States. There were deadly snakes and alligators down there. I shuddered.
It was September and I needed to think of finding a place to hold up in over the winter. A place with solar power and a wood stove and/or fireplace would be ideal. I wanted to do this soon, so I would have time to gather wood, stock up on dry and canned food from stores and any other supplies I’d need.
I was so lost in thought that I almost didn’t see the deer on the road. I noticed it at the last moment and swerved to avoid it. In doing so, I hit a slippery spot and lost control of the car. Next thing I knew, I woke up with a splitting headache. I looked around me and saw the tree in front of me and the crumpled hood of the car. The airbag had deployed and deflated. My left foot hurt like a son of a bitch. I tried to move it but couldn’t. I looked down. There was a pretty big cut on the same leg just above the knee.
I tried to open the door but it seemed to be stuck. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and lost consciousness again. I awoke some time later to someone trying to open the door. Startled, I screamed. He stopped and motioned for me to roll the window down. Miraculously, the car was still running. I pushed the button and let the window go down about 1/3 of the way.
“My name is Luke Wagner”, he said. I saw your car as I was driving by and noticed that it was running so I knew you’d crashed not long ago. I stopped to see if there was anyone alive in it.”
My head was throbbing and I rubbed my forehead with my hands, trying to make the pain go away. “Got any good painkillers on you?” I asked him.
“As a matter of fact, I do. But I need to look at you first.” I gave him a wary look. “Don’t worry, I’m a doctor.”
“That’s what they all say.”
Luke laughed. “I know that sounds like a line, but I really am.”
“What kind of doctor?” I asked.
“I’m an ER doc. Here, I’ll go get my hospital ID from my car.” He was back in a moment with an ID card which he held up to the window. “See? The picture is me, though the hair is shorter. I tried cutting it a month after this all happened and the result was not pretty.”
I could see that the picture was obviously him. He had black wavy hair, blue eyes and was clean shaven. His hair was longer than in the picture, as he’d said it was. It was now about collar length. I could tell that he was fairly tall and had an athletic build.
“I need to get out of this car.”
“Can you push it while I pull it? Maybe that will do the trick.” I leaned against the door and gave it a hard shove while he pulled on the handle. After a few seconds, it gave way and opened.
“Where are you hurt?” Luke asked me.
“Besides this splitting headache, my foot is killing me and I think I have a pretty big cut on my leg.”
“You probably have a concussion. There’s not a lot I can do for that. I’ll be back in a sec with my bag.” He got his bag and took an ophthalmoscope out. He shone it into first one eye, then the other and had me follow his finger all over the place. Then he got his blood pressure cuff out. He pushed the sleeve of my sweater up and wrapped the cuff around my arm. I’ve always hated having my b/p taken. I do not like the feeling of the cuff being inflated. “Relax”, he said.
“I just don’t like having this done.”
“It will be over in a moment.” He listened to my artery with his stethoscope as he slowly deflated the cuff. “It’s high”, he said after removing it from my arm. “180/120, though it’s not surprising.” He put two fingers on my wrist and looked at his watch. “Your heart rate is 120 beats per minute. That’s pretty fast. I’m going to keep an eye on both your b/p and pulse. Now I want to listen to your heart, if you are okay with that.” I nodded my consent. He lifted the top of my sweater and listened in a couple places, then put his hand under my top and listened under my left breast.
“Do you have any heart conditions?” he asked me.
“Yes, cardiomyopathy. I’m on medication for it, though I’m not sure what’s going to happen when the shelf life expires.”
“We’ll worry about that down the road. The expiry date on medication is just when it’s at optimal efficacy. It will still work after, though not as well so in this new world, where we don’t have the ability to make more, we will have to increase the dosage. By the way, what’s your name?”
“Juliana. Juliana Miller.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Juliana. I wish it were under different circumstances.”
“Juliana, I want to get you out of this car so I can look at your foot and leg. Do you think you can swing your legs out the door?”
I managed to get my legs out, though it was hard to move my left foot. It was wedged between a dent in the car and the floor. I finally did get it, with great effort. Luke took a pair of scissors out of his bag and cut my pants leg to get at the cut. “It’s going to need stitches”, he declared as he wrapped some gauze around my leg. “We’ll do that when we get somewhere dry.”
Next he took the shoe and sock off my swelling foot and checked it out. I gritted my teeth through the pain as he felt it and asked me to try to move it.
“I’m pretty sure a bone in your foot is broken”, he said after he was finished. “If you were in my ER, I’d x-ray it, then set it or send you to orthopedics for surgery. We don’t have that option now. I’m going to have to set it and immobilize it with a wrap as I don’t have materials to make a cast with me. This is going to hurt but it has to be done, okay?”
Boy, he wasn’t kidding. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced, and I had experienced a lot of pain. It seemed like forever, but I’m sure it was just a minute or two. He took a rolled wrap out and started to wrap it around my foot.
“I saw a fire station as I was coming through a small town just down the road”, he said as he wrapped my foot. “There are usually paramedics at them, so there should be some medical supplies. I’m pretty sure I saw solar panels on the lot beside it, though I don’t know if they are hooked up to the station or something else. If it’s the station, there should be power. At the very least, it will be dry in there. How be I get you into my car and we go there?”
“Yes, that sounds good.”
“I’ll bring my car up so you don’t have as far to walk. Fortunately, there isn‘t a ditch here.”
While he did that, I found my purse and looked around the car. I did not want to leave all the belongings I had with me behind. Most were in the trunk, so they were safe, but my guitar was in the back seat and I did not want someone to take that. While I had not seen a human being in six months, the fact that Luke was here was proof there were other survivors. How fortuitous that he showed up when I needed help and that he was a doctor!
“Juliana, I’m going to help you stand and hobble over to the door. It’s only a few steps.”
“Okay, but I need to get some things first.”
“What do you need?”
“Some clothes from the trunk and my guitar from the back seat. I don’t want to leave it in view just in case there are other survivors around and someone takes it.”
“I’ll get them after I get you in the car.” I got up with Luke’s help and hopped over to the passenger side of his car. I sat down and handed him my keys, which I’d taken from my car after turning the ignition off. I showed him which key opened the trunk and he got my suitcase and my guitar out. As he put them on the back seat of his car, I said “Oh, if you want a haircut, get the green suitcase. It has my supplies.”
“You’re a hair dresser?”
“No, but I can do a basic cut.” He looked skeptical. “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. I took a night course in basic hair cutting. Cutting hair helped put me through college.”
“Well, you can’t do any worse than I did”, he laughed as he headed back to my trunk.
We were soon on our way to the fire station Luke had seen. It was only a few miles down the road. He pulled in and we could see the big door to the vehicle bay was open. There was a space where I presumed a fire truck had been. Luke pulled into it and turned the car off. “Let me go in and look around”, he said. “I’ll come get you when I know it’s safe.”
Five minutes later, he was back. “There are no bodies inside, everyone must have been out on a call. Strange that they never came back.” He helped me into the station and I sat down on a chair in the kitchen. “Are you hungry?” he asked me.
“No, but I sure could use a cup of coffee, if there’s any here.”
“Decaf, I presume?”
“Good. I was ready to give you a lecture on drinking caffeinated with a heart condition.”
“Oh, my cardiologist did a lot of that in the early months”, I said. “It took me a while to comply with that order.”
“I hope you don’t give me a hard time.”
“Don’t worry, I only drink decaf now.”
“I wasn’t just talking about coffee.”
“Oh. Well, I’ll tell you right now I’m not always a compliant patient. I’m pretty subdued right now because I’m in so much pain.”
“I have ways of getting patients to comply, my dear. I’ve seen a lot of stubborn people in my years in the ER.”
Luke found the coffee, there was both regular and decaf. He put a pot on, then got our belongings from his car and brought them in. When the coffee was done, he sat down at the table with me.
“After my coffee, I’m going to stitch that wound up. Don’t worry, I have lidocaine with me. Then I’d really like a shower. I checked the bathroom and there’s running water. If you want one, I can put a chair in for you to sit on but I’ll have to put a bag over your foot. The crew’s sleeping quarters are on the other side of the vehicle bay, but there’s a bedroom behind the office which is next to the kitchen. I wonder if it might have been the captain’s. It looks very comfortable. You can have that, there’s an ensuite bathroom in there. I’ll move one of the crew’s beds into the office so that I will be closer to you. I am going to have to get you up every couple hours tonight to make sure you are okay. That is typical with concussion patients."
“It looks like this place might be a good place to stay for a bit, I don’t know if I can travel right now.”
“You can’t. And you need to have that foot elevated. This is a good place to stay for a few weeks. It’s dry and warm. I hope there’s a full tank of oil. The furnace obviously does not run on natural gas, if it did, it wouldn’t be working. I’m done my coffee, let me get my supplies and I’ll stitch up your leg.”
He had me lay down on a sofa in what looked to be a rec area, and he cut the leg off my pants. He put an absorbent pad under my leg and poured antiseptic over the cut. I winced. Then he put gloves on after asking me if I was allergic to latex. He prepared the needle he would use to inject the lidocaine. “Before I do this, I’ll spray the wound with a topical anesthetic. That way, the injections will be less painful.” I winced again as he put the needle in the cut and injected the local anesthetic. He did this a few times. The pain from the injecting only lasted a few seconds.
He began to stitch up the cut. “Where are you from?” I asked him, trying to take my mind off what he was doing.
“Oh, wow. You must be in shock from the low temperatures here in Montana!”
“It is definitely a shock. But I hadn’t been able to find any people in the south, so I thought I’d try the north. Where are you from?”
“Well you would be used to this cold!”
“This isn’t cold. It’s a tad chilly.” Luke laughed.
“What kind of music do you play on your guitar?”
“Mostly folk, like Peter Paul and Mary, Cat Stevens etc. Also, some country.”
“Will you play some for me?”
“Sure. I play it all the time.”
“A couple more stitches and then I’m done.” I watched him do the last ones. “Were you married?” he asked.
“Yes. I buried my husband before I started out to find other people.”
“Thank you. How about you?”
“No, but I had just started dating a lovely lady who I thought might turn out to be ‘the one’.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Luke.”
“One thing we have in common - we have both lost everyone.” He gave me a wry smile.
“That is true. We don’t have any choice but to carry on and try to make a new life for ourselves, whether we find other survivors or not.”
“You are correct, Juliana. Let me put some gauze on this and then I will see about putting a chair in the shower for you.”