I woke up the next morning feeling well rested for the first time in a long time. I guess feeling comfortable and secure helped me sleep better. The dogs were not on my bed, I assumed Luke had let them out. After going to the bathroom and getting dressed, I made my way out to the kitchen with the help of the crutches he had brought back the day before. He was sitting at the table drinking coffee and reading a magazine that he had picked up in WalMart. The dogs were eating their breakfast.
I sat down at the table. “Good morning. Coffee?” he asked.
He poured a cup and set it in front of me. “How did you sleep?”
“Very well. The best sleep I’ve had in quite a while.”
“Excellent. I still want to get another cardiac reading. If it’s good, you can take the patches off.”
“What if it’s not good?”
“Then I want to keep an eye on it.”
“Not to be confrontational, but what can you do in this new world if it’s not good and continues to be that way?”
“That’s a fair question, Juliana. All I can do is increase your medication or change it to a stronger one. In the old world, when it got bad enough, you’d be put on the transplant list. Obviously, we can’t do that now. But you are nowhere near that point anyway. How long ago were you diagnosed?”
“Just last year.”
“You have a mild case of cardiomyopathy. If you take care of yourself, it could be many years before it becomes end stage and you need a transplant. Who knows? Maybe by then we will have found other trained people, including at least one doctor who knows how to do it.”
“There would also have to be someone who matches my blood and tissue type and who dies at the same time as I need the transplant.”
“True. All I’m saying is you never know what the future holds.”
“If it’s meant to be, it will happen. In the meantime, I plan to live as though I will be around for decades to come.”
“That is an excellent attitude, Juliana. Where are your medications?”
“In my purse in the bedroom.”
“Have you taken them yet today?”
“No, I forgot.”
“Do you normally forget them?”
“That’s not good. I don’t want to be overbearing, you are a grown woman, but you need to take them all the time.”
“I know. My mind is on so much these days, and I can’t put them out where I will see them because of the dogs. I wouldn’t want them to get into them.”
“Tell you what. If it’s okay with you, I will put them in a cupboard and I will remember to give them to you on schedule. I’m very good with that. Is that okay?”
“Sure, that’s fine with me. I’m not used to having to take medication, I’ve been so healthy most of my life. Except for things like colds. So, if I get cranky at times, please forgive me.”
“I can deal with cranky. I saw in your chart you are 38 years old. Is that correct?”
“You’re still a spring chicken. Of course, I have to say that, I turned 40 this year!” We both laughed. “How is your foot?”
“I’ll get the pain pills. You are going to be in considerable pain for at least a few days.”
“I’ve been kicked, bit and stepped on by very large animals. I can handle pain.”
“Ouch. Are they aggressive?”
“No, not normally. Usually, it’s because they are startled or think you are going to hurt them. Dairy cows are pretty docile. Beef cattle are another story, as they are not handled a lot. But you do get the occasional dairy cow with an attitude.”
“What do you do with them - send them to slaughter?”
“No, we put up with it. Especially if they are good or better than good milk producers! We only did that with one in all the years we had the herd. She was something else - a good milker, but just too dangerous to have around. At the time, the neighbour’s kids were hanging around a lot and we just couldn’t risk an injury or worse.”
“Did you have children?”
“No, we tried but it didn’t happen.”
“I’m sorry. Do you know why?”
“Yes, my husband’s swimmers didn’t swim very well.”
“Didn’t try IVF?”
“No, he didn’t believe in it. He was Catholic. I was okay with that. Disappointed, but I understood. And now I’m glad that we didn’t. Mourning Ben has been hard enough, it would have killed me to have lost my children, too.”
“I can understand that.”
“I take it you didn’t have any?”
“Not that I’m aware of!” We laughed again. “I’m going to get you those pain pills. Is it okay to get your purse and bring it out here so that you can get your heart medication out?”
“Sure, I don’t mind.”
“The dogs look like they want to go out again. I just stand outside and wait for them, they don’t seem to want to wander.”
“Probably because they haven’t seen any humans for so long, they might be afraid we’ll take off on them if they aren’t watching.”
“Would you like another coffee before I go do that?”
“I’d love one, thanks.”
“Since it’s decaf, you can have as much as you want without me giving you a hassle! There are some magazines I brought back yesterday on the table if you want to look through them.”
“If you bring my green suitcase out here, I’ll give you that haircut you want.”
“You can’t. You cannot stand on that foot.”
“I can sit on a chair and you can sit in front of me on the floor.”
“Put a pillow under your foot. It should be elevated, even right now. Here, put it up on the chair beside you.”
Twenty minutes later he was sitting on the floor in front of me. We chatted as I cut his hair.
“I’d like to go to that city after I’m done cutting your hair”, I said.
“What do you want to do there?”
“There’s a few things I want to get, including a vehicle. And on the way back, I’d like to get the rest of my belongings out of my car.”
“You don’t need a vehicle right now - you can’t drive one anyway.”
“Sure I can. My pedal foot isn’t broken.”
“At any rate, you don’t need one. I have one that works perfectly fine. We’re going to be here for a few weeks at least, even if we decide we don’t want to stay long term. So there is no rush. I presume that you will want to stay with me, even after your foot heals. Maybe I‘m being too presumptuous.”
“I think we need to talk about that, Luke. Can you turn to your right, please?”
He complied and then asked “What do you mean?”
“No, you aren’t being presumptuous. But do we want to stay here long term? I’ve been thinking about that and I am not sure we should.”
“I just think that maybe we should only stay as long as we need to, then leave it so others who may need it can have food, heat and shelter.”
“Of course we will restock the food we use, Juliana.”
“The dry goods, of course. But what about the meat and other frozen goods? Also, oil for the furnace. I don’t know if that place Michelle wrote about in her note has any or how much.”
“We should check that out. I don’t know what to say about the meat, except we could try to not eat too much of it. We can’t exactly find that at the local store to restock the freezers with.”
“We could hunt.”
“Hunt? I’ve never hunted, I wouldn’t know the first thing about it.”
“I have. What do you think I‘ve been doing for meat for the last six months?”
“I guess I just thought you ate canned meat.”
“Gross! That stuff is nasty. No, I hunted.”
“No, too big for just me. Rabbits. And I fished.”
“That explains the fishing pole in your back seat. Where’s your gun?”
“In the trunk, way back behind my suitcase. I’ll get it on the way back.”
“I’d like to go to a pharmacy again, pick up some medications I didn’t get yesterday.”
“Oh? Such as….?”
“Some stronger pain medication for you. I know those pills aren’t doing a lot for your foot.”
“Yes, you will. But being in pain can affect the heart. For healthy people, that’s not a big deal, the heart can handle it.”
“I’m not unhealthy, Doc.”
“First, you may not be on your sickbed, but you have a serious heart condition, even if it is mild. The less stress, the better. Second, please do not call me ‘Doc’. I detest it.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offense.”
“I know you didn’t. It’s just one of those things that grates on me. Call me Doctor Wagner or Doctor Luke if you want, but not Doc. Or just Luke, like you’ve been doing. You aren’t officially my patient.”
“Oh good, because you want to know something? I’m not fond of doctors.”
He laughed. “Most people aren’t.”
“Well, you are cool - for a doctor.”
“After this haircut, I need to be a doctor to you, though, and look at your heart readings. With taking the dogs out and getting your suitcase for you, I forgot about it. Which I should not be doing.”
“I’m about done now, but before I put my scissors away, I need to get you to cut mine, if you will.”
Luke turned around and looked at me. “You really, really don’t want me to do that.”
“It’s not that hard. Just cut straight across. I need to get the split ends off.” My hair was the longest it had been in years - almost to my waist. I usually kept it about mid-back but since the end of the world as I knew it, it had not been cut.
“Maybe I can manage that.”
“I know you can. Surely, you can cut in a straight line.” And he did. With me giving instructions, he took a couple inches off the length. When I looked in the mirror, it looked fine. I told him he’d missed his calling.
I had him look at his in the mirror before shaking out my cape and putting it and my scissors away. “It’s perfect, Juliana. I really appreciate it, it was driving me nuts.”
Then he made me get on the heart monitor for a few minutes. “Something tells me you tried your best to avoid stuff like this in your old life”, he said to me as he watched the screen.
“You aren’t too far off”, I replied. “Though Ben usually made sure I did what I was supposed to do. He would put on a guilt trip. ‘What if you die and I’m left without you? Do you want to do that to me?’ Of course, it always worked.”
“I used to hate going to the doctor when I was a child.”
“What made you decide to become one?”
“My mother died from colon cancer when I was 13.”
“I’m sorry, Luke.”
“Thanks. I was going to become an oncologist and then go into research and find a cure. But then I did my ER rotation and I was hooked on that specialty. My dad told me that mom would not have expected me to find a cure for what took her life and that she would be very proud of me, no matter what specialty I chose.”
“I’ll bet he was right.”
“You’re a smart lady, you know that?”
“Not as smart as you. No way I could get through medical school!”
“Your readouts look good, you can take those patches off. I’ll do this maybe once a week or so, unless I have reason to think I should do it sooner than that. Let’s get ready to go to the city. I’d like to get a boot cast for you. Maybe I can find them this time.” He hadn’t been able to find them the day before. “I’ll go look on the fire truck for some good flashlights.”
On the way to the city, we passed a veterinary clinic. “Luke, on the way back, let’s check it to see if it has a portable x-ray machine.”
We had a successful foraging trip. Luke found the air cast boots and got one for me. He also got better pain medication and a few other medical supplies he wanted. I got some dry goods I needed for cooking and making bread and I even found a bread recipe book at WalMart. I also found a butter churn. Luke thought I was being ridiculous taking it, but I told him he will thank me for it if we found a cow to milk. There was butter and margarine in one of the freezers at the station, but I didn’t want to use too much of it.
On the way back, we stopped at the vet clinic. The first thing I did was check the SUVs out back of it, which obviously belonged to the veterinarian(s) that had worked there. Bingo! There was a portable x-ray but Luke’s car didn’t have room in it. We’d have to come back for it another time.
Since there was not enough room in the car for my things, Luke said he would go back for them after he got it unloaded. Except for the rifle, he said he refused to touch that.
“It’s not loaded”, I told him.
“Doesn’t matter. I’ve seen enough gunshot wounds and people dead from them that I do not want to touch one.”
“Ok, stop at the wreck site and I’ll get it. Trust me, Luke, you will appreciate it when we have fresh meat.”
“I probably will, Juliana. I do know where meat comes from and how it’s obtained, I just prefer to not think about it.”
“I grew up on a farm, so for me it’s just a part of life. I love animals and all of ours were treated very well during their life. They had a swift, hopefully painless death. But their lot in life was to be food. The ones we raised for slaughter, I mean. Horses weren’t for food. I learned very young to not get attached to the cattle, pigs or fowl. What about fishing? Have you ever done that?”
“Not in a few years. My dad and I used to fish, but he got remarried a few years ago and they moved away, so I didn’t see him as often as I wanted.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I wish I’d kept in better contact with him. If I’d only known our time was going to be so short. It’s a valuable lesson. If I get close to anyone in this new world, I’m going to always have time for them.”
“I know what you mean. I was so busy on the farm that I didn’t keep up with family or friends the way I should have.”
He turned into the fire station. “Here we are, back ‘home’. I’ll get the car unloaded. Can you let the dogs out?”
While he went to get my things, I put ingredients in the bread maker and started it. I had needed to pick up powdered milk and flour. I had not been able to find any baking ingredients at the station. I guess they only cooked basic meals there. So I got some supplies to bake with, as well as some spices.
When Luke returned, he insisted on me getting into the boot. First, he unwrapped my foot and felt around to make sure the fractured bone was still in place. Then he wrapped it again and put one of his socks over it. He said that if I didn’t have a sock on and sweated in the boot, I’d never get the smell out.
“You need to leave this on 24/7”, he instructed. “And no weight bearing on it until I say you can. Of course, take it off when you shower and put a plastic bag over your foot.”
I’ll weight bear on it when I feel like it, I thought. I was starting to have second thoughts about staying here with a doctor and wondered if I could sneak out in the night. I’d have to take his car and pack all my things in it, which would be theft. Or walk away from the station and look for one that had keys with it and gas in the tank. Doing that, I’d be giving up my guitar and the few sentimental things I’d brought from home. I didn’t care about my clothes, they could easily be replaced. Same with my fishing gear. I could sling my rifle over my back and take it with me.
But how far would I get walking on crutches? Not very, I surmised. Maybe I’d better stay and try not to be so non-compliant.
“How long do I have to stay off it?” I asked.
“Six to eight weeks.” I groaned. “I know you probably aren’t used to that, Juliana, but you need to let it heal. If it doesn’t heal properly, then you may have a limp for the rest of your life. You don’t want that.”
“You’re right, Luke, I am not used to being idle. It’s going to be a challenge.”
“Surely, you’ve had broken bones before. You said you’ve been kicked a few times.”
“Only once, when I was pulling a calf. It was a first time mom and she may have thought I was going to hurt her or her baby. The other times I was kicked, I got bruised but no broken bones.”
“So, you have experience being off your feet for a few weeks.”
He put his hand over his face. “Please tell me you did not walk on a broken leg.”
“Not until after pins were put in it.”
“What did your surgeon say about that?”
“He didn’t know.”
“You weren’t kidding when you said you aren’t always a compliant patient! You will be off your feet here even if I have to sit on you to keep you down. I have been known to do that.”
I believed him. “You don’t have to worry, it hurts too much to try to put weight on it. It’s not pinned, like my leg was.”
“Even when the pain subsides, you cannot stand on it. And don’t think of running away in the middle of the night. You won’t get far walking on crutches and I will find you and bring you back and chain you to that bed.”
This had to be coincidence. Surely, he could not read my mind. I laughed and decided to make a joke out of it. “Well, I thought about it but my car is smashed against a tree and I don’t know where you keep your keys.”
“I’m going to keep them well hidden! Now, I want to take your blood pressure and listen to your heart.”
“I haven’t done it yet today.”
“You had me on the monitor.”
“Yes, but I also need to listen. Machines aren’t always accurate and with that one having not been used for six months, I have to make sure it is giving correct readings. I wouldn’t worry if you didn’t have the cardiomyopathy and if your b/p had been normal yesterday.”
He got his stethoscope and b/p cuff and wrapped the latter around my upper arm. When he was done, he said it was 150/95. “It could be from the pain, but if it doesn’t go down over time, I may adjust your meds. Don’t worry, we’ll get it figured out.”
Next, he listened to my lungs. “I haven’t done this yet, just making sure you aren’t getting congested, which would be a sign of possible heart failure.”
“You’re scaring me, Luke.”
“Don’t be scared. I’m just being cautious. I used to get accused of being too cautious.”
“You don’t say!”
He chuckled as he lifted my top at my front and put his hand underneath to listen to my heart. At least he was being discrete about it. “You sound fine”, he declared as he removed his hand from under my blouse.
“Are you sure, Luke?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Why? What makes you think I’m not?”
“Because you keep checking me out even though you say I’m fine.”
He sat down. “Your heart is fine, your blood pressure isn’t. Though it is far from terrible. I guess I just miss being a doctor. I haven’t had anyone to give medical attention to in six months.”
In that moment, I felt very sorry for him. I totally understood as I missed being a dairy farmer immensely. I put my hand on his arm. “Luke, I understand. You can ‘doctor’ me all you want. I will not give you a hard time. At least I will try not to.” I winked at him.
“I appreciate that”, he said. "Now, to change the subject. What do you want for supper?”
“How about spaghetti with meat sauce?”
“I’m not much of a cook. I was thinking of something like Kraft Dinner - without milk.”
“I know how to cook. You probably won’t let me do it, so I can tell you how to make it.”
“Okay, I can do that. I’ll go get the meat and pasta. Anything else you need for it?”
“Pasta sauce or tomato sauce and a can of tomatoes. While you are doing that, I’ll get the bread out of the bread maker.” The beeps indicating it was done had gone off while we were talking.
With me instructing him every step of the way, Luke put together a sauce and set it to simmer. “We should have a vegetable”, I said. “How about a can of peas or something from the pantry?”
“Good idea, though I am not big on canned vegetables.”
“Let’s have frozen, then. I’m not big on canned either. And frozen is probably better for you. My diet has been horrid the past six months. Way too much meat and canned beans, pasta etc, and not much for vegetables.”
“Which is not good for your heart!”
“I know”, I said with a contrite look. “I couldn’t even raid gardens because everyone died before planting season.”
“I did, down south. It wasn’t too early for the southernmost part of the country.”
“It’s not too late for apples up here, Luke. We should look around for an orchard and pick a bushel or two. I can make apple sauce, apple butter, pies etc. and they will keep well if we put them in a cool, dark place. If we are super lucky, we might find pumpkins from seeds that were thrown out in compost heaps last fall and scattered by wildlife. Maybe even squash. Those are both fall vegetables.”
“What else can you do with pumpkins besides pies?”
“You can eat it as a vegetable. It‘s good fibre.”
“Something tells me I’ll be the one doing the footwork.”
“Unless you want me to walk.”
“No, you are not allowed to.”
“As a doctor, you should know the importance of good nutrition.”
“I do, and especially for people who have a heart condition. I’ll start scouting around in the next day or so.”
Just then, the dogs asked to go out. Sherlock went to the door when he wanted out and Molly followed him. He would stand there and whine until someone let them out. While he was doing that, I went through the things we’d brought back. I had got new collars for both of them as theirs were looking pretty ratty. I’d also picked up a couple leashes.
When they came back in, I put the collars on them. Luke had brought my toolbox when he got my belongings from my car. I’m sure there was at least one around the station, but this saved me from looking for it. I had used a pair of pliers and taken the name tag off of Molly’s and put it on her new collar. I had picked up one of those tags that have a piece of paper inside clear plastic that you could write on and had written Sherlock’s name on it, then put it on his new collar. That way, if they ever ran away and got lost and then found by someone else, the person would know their names. Hopefully, that would not happen as I was already getting attached to them and I suspected Luke was as well.
He headed for the fresh baked loaf of bread sitting on a cooling rack. “Oh no you don’t!” I said as I grabbed his arm. “Not until it cools!”
“Oh, come on, Juliana. Have you never had warm bread?”
“Fine. Try to cut it and see what happens.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will wreck the loaf. Take a knife and put some pressure on it. You’ll see.” He did and he saw. Fortunately, he stopped as soon as he saw what I meant. “Have I ruined it?” he asked, looking at the partially squashed bread.
“Maybe not. Just leave it and it might spring back. But that is why you wait for it to cool down first.”
Luke sat down. “Tell you what, Juliana. You defer to me on medical matters and I will defer to you on kitchen matters.”
“And animal matters.”
“Deal. Though I think I’m getting the bum end.” We laughed.
Later, we sat down to the first decent hot meal each of us had had in a very long six months. It was the best spaghetti dinner I’d ever had. Luke had a slice of bread with his - the loaf had, for the most part, sprung back. I told him I’d make another one tomorrow. Afterward, he cleared the table and I sat on a stool to wash dishes. He dried, then we had a cup of coffee. It was so nice to have a normal meal and good coffee!
While we were drinking our coffee, I heard what sounded like the moo of a cow in distress outside. “Did you hear that?” I asked Luke.
“You heard it, too?” I nodded. “I thought I was hearing things.” He got up from the table and looked out the window. “I can’t see anything.”
A few minutes later, we heard it again. This time, it was very loud and sounded like it was coming from just outside the station. The dogs started barking. Luke and I got up and went out to the vehicle bay, making sure that Sherlock and Molly did not get out. We went outside - me walking with my crutches - and there was a Hereford cow. She mooed again. I could tell by the sound that something was not right.
I hobbled out toward her, talking softly to her as I approached. I went around to her back end and instantly saw the problem. I could see a pair of legs just outside her vagina. She was trying to give birth. I dropped one of my crutches and reached out and put my hand on her rump to let her know I was there. I could tell the calf was a big one, probably too big to come out on it’s own. I knew what I had to do.