A few hours later, we were back home. We’d got the Echocardiogram and EKG machines, and Jude had also got a bunch of medical supplies and medications from the ER. He said he wanted to be prepared for anything that could happen during the winter. I told him that he could have the guest house for storage, or to do whatever he wanted with it. It was there from the days when hired hands lived on the farm, and had originally been a bunkhouse, but some time before Ben and I bought the property, it had been renovated into a guest house. There were 3 bedrooms, a small kitchen and full bathroom. We had put solar panels on the roof and behind it, and it had a small oil furnace, which we could supplement with electric heaters, if needed. Guests had found that it always had adequate power. Jude thought he might like to set it up as a mini medical clinic/hospital, if he could get an exam table and a couple hospital beds for it. He said it might be handy if other survivors found us and needed medical attention. “That is, if we decide to stay here after the winter.”
I found the bread maker I wanted - one with all the bells and whistles. I also picked up some books as I’d left most of the ones I’d previously obtained at the fire hall. Jude picked up some books, too, and we both got personal care items.
The last thing we had done was go to the feed store and get feed for the livestock. There was minimal rodent damage. I noticed a couple feral cats that ran when they saw us. This was good, we could get feed from here for a while. I made a mental note to get some cat food to put down. Just enough to keep them around but not enough to sate their appetites so that they would hunt for part of their diet. I wanted to go farther away to get enough feed to get us through the winter. I had no idea what I was going to do for chicken feed when the day came that I couldn’t find any more. The cattle didn’t absolutely have to have grain, though they *should* have it, especially in winter months. I knew how to cut and bale hay, so that wouldn’t be a problem next summer, I just had to scrounge enough leftovers from last winter on neighbouring farms for Mama and Baby to have for the coming winter. They would be okay with being on pasture during the day for a few more weeks.
Jude wouldn’t let me help unload. He had loaded the medical equipment by himself and he insisted on unloading it. “You go inside and sit down and rest, Julia. I know you stayed on your crutches the whole time we were out, but you still need to put that foot up and your cardiomyopathy requires you to rest. I will unload everything.”
He took the equipment into the rec room and set it up beside the sofa. When he was finished and had it all ready, he brought me an examination gown and asked me to go to the bathroom and put it on with the opening in front and then to come into the rec room.
He had me lay down on the sofa. He had put a sheet over the cushions and a pillow on one end. I layed down and he put a sheet over my bottom half. “I’ll do the EKG first. Can you please untie your gown?” I did and he attached the pads to my skin. “I’m sorry, I have to have the gown open”, he apologized. “I’ll be completely professional.”
“It’s okay, Jude. When you have a heart condition, you get used to having to bare your chest to doctors and technicians.”
He ran the EKG, then took the leads and pads off.
“What does it say?” I asked.
“We’ll talk about it after the echo. I’m just going to switch machines here and then get started with it.” A minute later, he squirted gel on my chest and under my left breast. He began moving the transducer over me, pressing down on it and taking pictures of the screen. I tried to read his face, but couldn’t - it was expressionless.
After what seemed an eternity, he used a towel to gently wipe the gel off my body. “Go get dressed, Julia. I’ll tidy up here, then we’ll talk over a coffee. Don’t worry, I do not have any dire news for you.”
I got dressed and put a pot of coffee on. Jude and I sat down with a cup a few minutes later.
“You are a bit of an enigma, Julia”, he said to me.
“How so, Jude?”
“You appear to have both high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy. Very few people have both. That’s not to say you can’t be one of those ‘very few people’.”
“I’ve never had high blood pressure.”
“It seems you have it now. It’s come down a bit, but it’s still higher than it should be.”
“Could that be stress of coping in a post apocalypse world?”
He hesitated. “I can’t say it isn’t but it’s not likely. You’re home now, in familiar surroundings and with adequate food and shelter.”
“Is it possible I don’t have cardiomyopathy?”
“Based on the results of the tests your cardiologist did a year ago, I’d say no. Anything is possible, though. The problem is that I’m limited in what tests I can do on you now. The ones I did today are fine. There is a slight thickening of the heart wall, I measured it at 13.7mm, up from 13.5 but that could just be variances in the cardiogram machines or operator ineptness. I didn’t do this all the time in the old world, I usually referred my patients to a lab for the test. As you may have been told, people with this condition have a thickness of at least 13mm, so you are just above that. Which means a very mild case at this time. Still, I don‘t like the arrhythmia. What I would like to do, with your permission, is put you on a Holter monitor for 24 hours, if I can find one that works. I’m going to keep an eye on your blood pressure and if it doesn’t come down within a couple weeks, put you on medication for that. Okay?”
“Okay. I’m sorry to be such a pain, Jude.”
“You are not a pain. Not at all. This is my specialty, I’m happy to take care of you.”
“If you are sure….”
“I am sure. Let’s plan another trip in a day or two to get the Holter and anything else we may want or need. I’m inclined to get some more medical equipment and medications. I’d like to be as prepared as I can be for whatever may go wrong.”
“Are you expecting something to go wrong?”
“No, just being prepared. I don’t want to get stuck here in the winter with no way to get out to find what I need if you get sick.”
“What if it’s you that gets sick?”
“Then you will have to play nurse, with me directing you. The good thing is that most communicable illnesses such as colds, the flu etc shouldn’t be around. Those viruses don’t live off the human host for very long, so they *should* have died off.”
“Oh, good. I hate colds.”
“I think pretty much everyone does, Julia. I’m going to clean up a bit, then read for a while before supper.”
“I think I’ll go lay down, I’m really tired.”
A couple hours later, he was knocking on my bedroom door - well, the bedroom I was sleeping in. He opened it and poked his head in. “Are you decent, Julia?”
“I have my nightshirt on. Come on in.” He came in and sat on the bed. “It’s almost supper time. I thought you should maybe get up so that you’ll sleep tonight.”
“Thanks, Jude. I appreciate that.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Yes. Just feeling a bit sorry for myself. I need to break out of this funk.”
“It can be hard adjusting to having a chronic health condition when you aren’t used to it. Especially when you’ve been healthy all your life. Need a hug?” He reached out his arms and I sat up and let him hug me.
Over supper, we talked about whether to go scavenging the next day or the day after. “Jude, I have an idea”, I said. “The hospital here is good, but it’s not a big one. Toronto is only about three hours away. Why don’t we go there? There are some very large hospitals there we can raid. Probably medical supply companies, too. We can take the old truck we drove here in, that way if we have to leave it behind, it’s no biggie - the truck Ben and I drove is much newer, so we‘ll leave it here. We’ll find a U-Haul and either hook up a trailer to the truck, or take one of their big cube vans or a truck, with that we could bring back a lot more. Maybe plan on finding a place to stay overnight, that way we don‘t have to rush.”
“That’s a good idea, Julia. But what about the animals?”
“The chickens will be fine for two days. I’ll fill an extra feeder with water in case the automatic waterer fails. They’ll have plenty of feed. The cow and calf can stay in pasture for one night, and of course, the dogs will come with us.”
“Sounds like you have it all planned out.” He looked excited at the prospect of checking out the big hospitals.
We left by mid morning the next day. Jude made me promise that if I got tired on our excursion, I would find a place to lay down and have a nap. Sherlock and Molly were excited to be on the road again. They seemed to enjoy travelling.
The first thing we did when we hit the big city was find the nearest U-Haul place. We selected the largest truck they had. I told Jude that if we didn’t fill it, we could stop on our way home and put our goods into something smaller if we wanted. I’d rather do that than take something too small and have to come back for a bigger vehicle in the middle of scavenging. As I’d done when I was with Luke, I siphoned gas from a few vehicles into the cans we’d brought.
Next, I insisted on stopping at a service station and found a crowbar. “What’s that for?” Jude asked.
Then we went to the closest big hospital. We had stopped at a fire hall and raided the trucks for powerful flashlights, as we’d forgotten the ones we had. We found a map of the hospital in the lobby. It was in one of those glass encased displays, so I took a picture with my phone, which I’d charged in case I needed the camera. Of course, Jude wanted to head right for the cardiology department. Problem was, there were no working elevators without electricity, so we had to climb the stairs. Fortunately, it was on the 2nd floor. I stayed in the stairwell with the dogs, we didn’t want them running all over the floor in the dark, and Jude looked around. He came back wheeling a piece of machinery. “This is a very elite cardiac monitor. I didn’t see anything like it in your local hospital. If I can get it downstairs safely, I’m coming back for another one as a back up.”
“Let me help you.”
“No! You stay off that foot. You’ve been doing great, but you need to keep it up.”
He did manage to get the machine down the stairs. I was impressed with his strength. I got the impression he hadn’t done a lot of physical work requiring brute strength, but he really pulled through. As he said he’d do, he went back for another one and also brought a defibrillator. “I really hope you don’t have to use that on me”, I told him.
“Me, too, Julia. But it’s best to be prepared. And this looks newer than the other ones I saw.” He got a few other things he wanted, then we took everything to the main entrance. I felt that better than trying to find the stairwell exit from the outside in an unfamiliar place. We got everything loaded, then Jude wanted to go to the hospital pharmacy. We’d brought some boxes with us from the U-Haul place and some packing tape. I handed some to Jude and took some myself, along with the crowbar. Jude looked at me warily but didn’t say anything. We headed for the stairs to the basement and found the pharmacy. He tried the door. It was locked. “Darn. I’d thought that the security system would not work with no power.”
“You can’t use the keypad to get in, but it’s still locked. Here, let me…Give me some light, please” He stood aside and shone his flashlight on the door. I was in in a couple minutes, thanks to the crowbar.
“So, that’s why you brought that!”
“Yes, I knew we’d need it to get in here.” We went in and I told Jude to look around while I assembled some of the boxes. I put my flashlight on the ground and sat down and got to work. For this part of our scavenging hunt, we’d left the dogs in the truck.
I assembled a few boxes and Jude came back to the front pushing a cart. “I’ll pack this stuff, then go back for more. This cart might mean we won’t have to make multiple trips to the stairs.”
“Just dump it and I’ll pack the stuff, Jude. That will save time.” Holy crap, I thought, he sure got a lot of medications, including IV bags. I hope he’s not expecting that I will get sick.
He made a couple more trips around the pharmacy with the cart. Fortunately, I’d brought plenty of boxes. We did need to make a couple trips to the stairs. Jude carried the boxes up to the ground floor. He wouldn’t let me help. I’d had to stand on my broken foot to pry open the pharmacy door and help take the cardiac equipment to the main door, but he didn’t want me doing more than I had to.
“Jude, it will help a lot if we can get the cart up to the ground floor. Please let me help with that. We should take it with us, it could come in very handy.”
“You’re right about that, Julia. Ok, on one condition… well two. After we get this stuff loaded on the truck, we look for a suitable place and stop for the night. The second condition is you let me look at your foot to make sure the bone is still in place. Deal?”
“Deal.” It was after 5pm, so I was ready to stop for the night. We found a house to stay in. There was no power or running water, but we’d brought the Coleman stove, some jugs of water and a cooler with food. We’d made some macaroni salad and brought hamburgers to fry. Before we had supper, Jude checked my foot out and said it was fine.
I had brought my guitar and after we ate and started a fire in the fireplace, I played for a while, then we turned in for the night. It was a one storey house so we slept in two of the bedrooms, after changing the sheets for clean ones we found in the linen closet. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The next morning I had to force myself to get up, but I wanted to get going early so we could be finished and home by supper time. We packed up and drove back to the hospital, where we checked out the ER. Jude got some equipment there and some IV stands, both manual and automatic, as well as more medications and IV bags. He also got some full oxygen tanks. Finally, he wanted to go to the surgical area, where he scooped up some instruments. “I know we can get these back home, but we can’t order more, so it’s always good to have more than you need. And it doesn’t appear that there are other survivors around that might need them. Of course, I’m not going to take all of them.”
I was really glad to be done in the hospital. Being a hospital, there were lots of bodies there, and they creeped me out. There was also the smell of putrefaction. I swore I was going to burn our clothes once we got home and the dogs were going to get a bath. Then I’d spend a half hour in the shower, scrubbing myself raw.
“Anywhere else you want to go?” I asked him when we’d loaded everything.
“Yes, a home health care place. I’d like to get an oxygen concentrator. That way, if we run out of oxygen in tanks, we have that. Hopefully, we won’t need it, but I don’t want to take any chances.”
We consulted the phone book and map we’d picked up when we first arrived in the city and found the nearest place. It wasn’t too far away. I had to drive as Jude had never driven a truck that big.
He got what he wanted and by the time it was loaded, the truck was full. I still wanted to get some feed. “Jude, we’ll have to leave the same way we came in and go to the U-Haul place to pick up our truck. I want to find feed for the livestock and there’s no more room in this truck.”
“How are we going to get it home?”
“I’ll drive the U-Haul, you can drive the pickup.”
“Are you sure you’re okay to drive home? You aren’t too tired?”
“I’m fine, but let’s get going.”
We got our truck and I siphoned some more gas for the trip home. I won’t tell you how I learned to siphon, but I’m glad I did. The big problem was that most gas tanks were locked in this day and age, but with a flat head screwdriver and a pair of locking pliers, you can break the lock.
Next, we found a feed store just outside the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and headed for it. We were in luck and were able to find feed that had not been soiled by rodents. The mega huge pile of loose grain that was waiting to be bagged up was probably the reason. Why chew into a bag if you don’t have to? I loaded up as many of the bags as I could get in the truck, leaving a bit of room. I wanted to head to the warehouse I saw beside the feed place.
More luck. It was mostly filled with canned goods, but there were a few bins of potatoes, squash and pumpkins. The squash and pumpkins were rotten, but potatoes keep a lot better. We loaded up a couple bushels and put them on the truck. We didn’t take any canned goods as there was no room. Besides, we still had lots at the grocery stores back home. I did circle where we were on the map and took pictures from the road, so that we could find it again if we wanted to.
Finally, we were on our way back home. I led the way with Sherlock riding shotgun. Jude followed with Molly sitting beside him. She was becoming very attached to him and I was pretty sure he was becoming attached to her.
Since I didn’t have Jude to chat with, I put a Johnny Cash CD in the player and cranked it. Sherlock seemed to like the music. “You have good taste, Sherlock”, I said as we listened to Folsom Prison Blues. I sang along with it and the canine wasn’t put off by my singing. Even better.
About halfway home, I heard two honks of Jude’s horn. That was the signal we’d arranged to say “pull over”. I pulled onto the shoulder and got out.
“I need a potty break”, he said as he walked toward me.
“I should take one, too. I bet the dogs would like one as well.”
“You go first, Julia. I’ll go after you.” I got a couple tissues from my purse and went around to the other side of the vehicles, pulled my pants down and squatted. When I was finished, Jude took his turn. I went to the U-Haul and got in on the driver’s side, giving him privacy. I reached over to the glove box and got a bottle of hand sanitizer out of it. After rubbing some into my hands, I waited for him. When he came back around to the road, I handed him the bottle and he did the same.
“How are you feeling, Julia?” he asked with concern in his face.
“I’m fine, Jude. Really, I am.”
He reached over and took my wrist in his hand and felt for my pulse. When he found it, he looked at his watch. “Your heart rate is good. 68. Will you let me take your blood pressure?”
“Sure.” I was tempted to make a crack about that being one number away from 69, but didn’t know how he’d take it.
He looked behind the seat in the U-Haul and fished out his medical bag, which he’d brought with us. He got his cuff and stethoscope out and wrapped the former around my upper arm after he pushed the sleeve of my sweater up. He put the diaphragm of his stethoscope on my arm just below the elbow and inflated the cuff then slowly deflated it. The dogs watched him intently. They were fascinated whenever he did anything medical to me. I’m sure they were thinking “Geez, whenever we go to the doctor, he either gives us a needle or shoves a thermometer up our butt. She‘s getting off easy.”
“It’s 140/85, which is pretty good, considering it’s been higher and I had worried that the trip would put it up.”
“See? I’m fine.”
“If you feel you are getting into any distress, give the signal and pull over.”
“I will, Doctor Jude.” He put his equipment away before pulling the seatbelt out and leaning over to buckle me in. I always wear a seatbelt anyway.
“I know I’m “momming” you a bit, Julia. But I like you and care about you, so I want you to be safe and well.”
“You are sweet, Jude.” He put his hand on my shoulder for a couple seconds, then closed the door.
A little over a couple hours later, we were home. It had taken us longer to get home than it took to get to Toronto due to our heavy loads. The old pickup couldn’t go too fast with all the grain that was in the bed. I hadn’t wanted to take time to look for a newer one, I just wanted to get home.
We parked by the barns and Jude said “We’re not unloading tonight, we can do that tomorrow.”
“Ok, but I need to put the pickup in the barn then, so that wild animals don’t get into the grain.” I drove into the aisle of the horse barn and parked. I got out and put a tarp over the back and secured it as best as I could, hoping that would keep rodents out. Finally, I placed some snap traps all around the truck. Little bastards weren’t getting my animals’ food without risking their necks.
Jude and I went in the house and bathed the dogs. I took Sherlock to the bathroom on the second floor and he bathed Molly in the one downstairs after I explained to him how to do it. I usually only bathe a dog twice a year - spring and fall - unless it gets into something. Too many baths can dry their skin out. I had bathed them at the fire station a week or two ago, but they needed it again. They smelled like I imagined zombies would smell.
After I bathed Sherlock, I got into the shower for a good scrub. I cleaned up the bathroom, then put clean clothes on and went back downstairs. Jude had showered and was getting supper ready. I went over to him and sniffed.
“What’s that all about?” he asked.
“Making sure you don’t smell like you belong on The Walking Dead. You didn’t take very long to shower!” I replied with a wink. He laughed.
Over supper, we discussed our excursion. Jude was happy with what we’d managed to get for medical supplies. “Of course, I would have taken more if I could have, but we can always go back another time. I’d like to get that guest house converted into an infirmary. Only for others, if you or I get sick, we can stay in the main house. But I can do examinations and basic testing in there. Which reminds me, I should get a microscope, autoclave, blood analyzer and maybe some other lab equipment. Some of it is heavy, so it’s a good thing we brought that cart back.”
“You know how to do that?”
“Yes, I worked in a lab before going to medical school, then part time during. I’ve kept up with most of the changes over the years.”
“Is there anything you can’t do, Jude?”
“Siphon gas.” We both laughed.
“Depending on how heavy those pieces of equipment are, it might be an idea to take a furniture dolly instead of the cart. It would hold a lot more weight.”
“I’ll defer to the expert on that.” I smiled. “If you will defer to me and let me take your blood pressure and put the Holter monitor on after supper. The dishes can wait until tomorrow.”
“Of course, Jude.” After a moment, I said “I’d like to go back to the Toronto area soon and get more of that feed and some canned food and bottled drinks from the warehouse. Maybe make a trip just for those things, then we can get a lot more into the U-Haul truck. I don’t think U-Haul will be looking for it to be returned any time soon.”
“When would you like to go?”
“I’d say tomorrow, but I need to find a secure place to store the grain where rodents can’t get at it. I’m thinking of clearing out the tack room and putting it in there. I’ve never seen evidence of them getting into that room, though there’s no food to entice them either. I’ll check the walls and seal up any holes I find. The little buggers can get through very small spaces. Ideally, I‘d like some cats to come around and make the barn their home.”
“Julia, I’d like you to take it easy for a bit. Please consider waiting at least a week before going back.”
“It’s the last week of September, Jude. We need to get ready for winter.”
“I know, but a week won’t hurt. Please?”
I saw the concern in his eyes and caved in. “Okay, Jude.”
“I’ll help you with moving things out of the tack room and putting the grain in there, after at least a day’s break. I need to rest, too. I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Would it be rude to ask your age, Jude?”
“Not at all, Julia. I know your age - 38 - from reading your medical chart. And that reminds me that I would like to get your chart from your GP, if you let me. Just to familiarize myself with your medical history besides the cardiac. Oh, and I’m 51.”
“You are not old, Jude. And you sure don’t look your age, I had you pegged as about mid to late 40’s.” Actually, I’d estimated him to be late 40’s to early 50’s, but I figured a little white lie wouldn’t hurt. Kinda like when a woman asks her man if her outfit makes her look fat.
“That’s very kind of you, Julia. I know my grey hair makes me look older than I am, though. I would like to ask if you’d colour it for me, if you know how to do that.”
“I’d be happy to, Jude and yes, I know how. Next time we go to town, we can pick some up. Though I must tell you, that it has an expiry date, so you shouldn’t use it much longer than that.”
Jude sighed. “I know, I’ve been dreading that. I’m not ready to be grey yet. I know that sounds vain, and I’m not, except for my hair.”
“I never thought you were vain, Jude. What is your natural colour?”
“Dark brown, almost black. I dye it blonde because the grey doesn’t show as much when it grows out - or when I don’t do a good job of colouring, like since the apocalypse. I used to get it done at a salon.”
“It’s hard to do it yourself, especially at the back. I‘ll bet you look just fine with grey hair, though.” He blushed.
“It’s cool tonight, I’ll start a fire in the living room.”
“Yes, it’s been cooler than I’m used to this September. Probably because there are no factories running, cars on the roads etc. Industrialization really affected the temperature. How are you coping with it? I know you aren‘t used to it.”
“I’m doing fine. I’ve found lots of cold weather clothes and fireplaces help a lot.” He smiled.
He couldn’t get the Holter monitor to work, so we’d have to wait for another time. He said he’d get a couple the next time we went to Toronto.
The next day, Jude said he'd had a very good sleep and felt well rested, so he took everything out of the tack room and put it in a couple of the stalls, instead of waiting another day. We both looked for any holes that mice or rats could get in and didn’t find any. To be sure, I set the snap traps around the walls and had Jude put the grain bags in the centre of the room. If there was nothing trapped and no droppings around in a few days, I’d feel certain that they couldn’t get in. They were around, as there were a few mice caught in the traps I’d put around the truck that first night. I considered putting out some cat food to entice any that might be in the neighbourhood to come and stay.
After that was all done, he started unloading the medical stuff. For the time being, he put it in the kitchen and living room of the guest house. He had decided to make one bedroom an exam room, another a hospital room for patients who had to stay and the third one the room where he’d run blood tests. He would also store some of the equipment and medications there. I told him he could store the rest in the house and one of the big sheds that was used for farm equipment. It had some empty space in it.
He mentioned to me that he would like to get a room divider and cut the waiting room in at least half so that he could use the other half for equipment storage but not medication. “I’ll get a lock for the door on that room so it doesn’t get stolen, especially narcotics.”
After a few days of laying around doing nothing, I was getting restless. My foot was not nearly as sore as it had been. I told Jude that I wanted to go apple picking. “Not yet”, was his response.
“How about driving around looking for fall veggies that may have grown?”
“You can do that, if you bring me with you. But if we find any, I‘m picking it. Once again, I don‘t mean to be a prick, but it‘s imperative you stay off that foot as much as possible. I‘m amazed that you haven‘t re-broken it with all the times you‘ve walked on it. At the same time, perhaps we could go to the city and look for a room divider and a couple other things I wanted to get, including hair colour.”
“Yes and I need to get some more mouse traps for the barns. I’d like to put some in the other barns, too, since there are no cats hanging around right now. How about tomorrow?”
“It’s a date, Julia. Provided you feel up to it.”