I gasped. “Doc!” I called out to him.
Alex bent down and felt for a carotid pulse. He straightened up and shook his head. “There's no pulse.”
This couldn't be happening. I just killed my beloved husband and on our honeymoon! “Do something, Alex!”
“I'll call for an ambulance.” I knew darn well that it would take a while for EMTs to get to the cabin. If they could even get here in the snow.
I knelt down and shook Julian. No response. I'm not usually one given to hysterics, but this was an exception. “Doc, you can't die on me!” I began crying and lay my head on his chest - I had pulled him over onto his back before I shook him. Alex was looking for his phone. “Get mine, it's on the table!” I told him. “Can't you do CPR or something?”
“There's no point, Meredith. He needs medical equipment.”
I felt like my life was over. Maybe I'd even be charged with murder and end up in the same prison Jane was in. I thought of ways to do myself in - I did not want to live without Doc. Then I noticed something I hadn't heard through my panic. A heartbeat. I held my breath. Doc's heart was beating. It dawned on me that I'd been pranked - by both Doc and Alex. Those dirty so-and-sos! No way were they getting away with this.
I got up and said “There's no time for them to get here, Alex!” Looking at Doc, I wailed “I can't live without you, I don't want to live without you!” and I collapsed onto his body, pretending to be unconscious.
“All we can do is call and hope for the best, Meredith.” I didn't answer. “Meredith? Meredith? Are you okay?” He bent down and felt my carotid pulse, then pulled me off of Doc by my legs. I kept my body as limp as I could. “Julian, I think Meredith has passed out. Maybe we went too far with this.”
“Meredith!” I heard Doc say. He was now kneeling over me. “Alex, can you get my stethoscope out of my bag in our bedroom?” I heard footsteps leaving the kitchen. They were back in a moment, then I felt the diaphragm of a stethoscope on my bare skin under my shirt.
“Gotcha!” I yelled as I sat up. I swear both men jumped 10 feet in the air. I started laughing.
“Why, you....” Doc said.
“You have to admit, we had that coming, Julian.” Alex was laughing now, too.
“No, we did not. We were teaching her a lesson.” I rolled my eyes.
“Alex”, I said, glaring at him. “You are a traitor.”
“It was too good an opportunity to pass up, Meredith. How did you figure it out?”
“For one, you made no move to do CPR on Doc. But the big one was hearing his heart beating.” Alex had a “doh!” look on his face.
“We hadn't thought of that happening! Next time, we'll plan better!” He winked at me.
Later, when I was getting in the shower, Doc came into the bathroom. “You're getting a spanking for that prank, Meredith. Now is a good time, with the water running – Alex won't hear it.”
“And after that, I'll spank you for pranking me.”
“Uh ... well ... I think we're even, hon”, he stammered before kissing me and exiting the bathroom. Nice try, Doc.
It started snowing again, progressively getting heavier as the day went on. “I don't think you're going home any time soon”, I said to Alex over lunch.
“How's the food supply?” he asked.
“We have tons. The freezer is full and so is the pantry.”
“Meredith insisted”, Doc broke in. “And I have to say, she was right.”
“I'm always right, Doc.” He gave me a “Yeah, sure” look.
After lunch dishes were done, Doc went to the bathroom with a magazine – I knew that meant he'd be a while. Alex and I sat down in the living room with another cup of coffee. Scruffy was perched on the window sill, looking at God knows what, since nobody could get around. Alex and I were chatting. “I need to get out there and dig us out”, I said.
“I'll help, but let's finish our coffee first.”
Suddenly, Scruffy chattered loudly then jumped off the window sill and ran for the master bedroom. That usually meant that a stranger was approaching. Sure enough, there was a knock at the door a few seconds later. I opened it to see our closest neighbour, Cecil Montgomery, and another man standing in over a foot of snow. “Hello, Meredith – this is Jamie Ortega, he lives about a mile down the road. His wife is in labour and their truck won't start. Not that it matters, he can't get to the hospital in this snow. Do you think Julian would come and help with the delivery?”
“I'm pretty sure he will. Come on in out of the cold and I'll go get him.” I turned toward the hall off the living room.
“Do you have a couple shovels? We'll shovel you out of your lane way. I have a plow on my truck so you can follow me, I'll plow the way for you.”
“There's a shovel right here by the door and another one in the shed. Get the snow blower, too – the gas tank is full. And thank you!” I walked, almost trotted, to the bathroom. Doc, being Doc, didn't hesitate to say yes, he'd go. Alex said he would go, too, in case Doc needed help. Doc got his medical bag and what he called his “Advanced Care Kit”, which held suture material and other items – his OB kit was in the car.
I filled Scruffy's food and water stations which were a couple of dog feeders/waterers. They worked well for her as she never overate, unlike Jessie, who would eat until her stomach burst open if we fed her that much.
I put on my jacket, gloves, scarf and toque, grabbed my purse and went out to start the SUV. Doc was getting changed – he felt he wasn't dressed appropriately to be around other people. I rolled my eyes behind his back. His “house clothes” are what I'd wear to go to the city to shop. I took his bags out to the Suburban for him. Alex was helping the guys clear snow – someone had cleared it from my car. His medical bag was sitting on the roof. I tossed my keys to him from the step and he had it unlocked by the time I got to it. I got in and started the vehicle, putting the heat on high. Dang, it was cold out!
When the lane way was clear and everyone ready, Alex, Doc and I followed Cecil and Jamie down the road, Cecil plowing it for us. It was slow going, but we finally made it to Jamie’s place. I pulled in behind Cecil and Doc was off and running toward the house, his medical bags in hand. Alex followed him at a slower pace. I was going to help Cecil try to figure out what was wrong with Jamie’s truck. I got out and walked toward his Ford. “He should have bought a Chevy”, I mumbled under my breath. “Ford stands for Found on Road Dead.”
I was walking at a good clip, trying to not lag behind Cecil and suddenly, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed on my back. Fortunately, I didn’t break anything, just had the wind knocked out of me, but I figured I’d be sore later on. Maybe I’d get Doc to give me a massage before we went to bed.
Cecil and I worked on Jamie’s truck for an hour, to no avail. Cecil thought it was the alternator, which meant that it would have to be towed to a garage and fixed by a mechanic. “Probably not worth it”, I commented. “This truck looks at least twenty years old. He might as well get a new one.”
“He probably can’t afford it, Meredith”, Cecil said. “They are struggling and now they will have a new baby.”
“Maybe we can help”, I offered. “Julian and I could contribute toward a new truck.” I didn’t like broadcasting my financial status, but I knew this young family needed a vehicle. It was not a luxury.
“People out here are proud, Meredith. It’s hard for them to take charity. Leave it with me. I have an extra truck I can sell him cheap.”
“Let me know if that doesn’t work out.” We headed for the house, hoping that Doc was having better luck. Turned out he was. As soon as we stepped inside the door, we head the cries of a newborn coming from upstairs. Both of us smiled. Cecil took off his boots and headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time. I thought that it was a good thing Doc didn’t see him – he would have given the man a lecture on stair safety.
I didn’t feel comfortable walking around a stranger’s house without invitation, so I stayed by the door. “Come on up, Meredith!” Cecil called out a couple minutes later. I removed my boots and started up, considerably slower than our neighbour had been. My back was already feeling the effects of the fall on the ice.
I followed the cries to the master bedroom. Jamie was standing beside the bed, looking proud as punch. The baby was on his wife’s chest – Doc was giving them a few minutes to bond while he cleaned the new mother up a bit. Alex was picking up the mess Doc was making. “It’s a boy!” Cecil said from the other side of the bed. I could tell he was being mindful of the mother’s privacy and standing out of sight of what Doc was doing.
Jamie made the introductions. “This is my wife, Elena. Elena, this is Meredith. Julian is her husband.”
“Congratulations!” I said to the new parents. “How did it go?” I asked Julian.
“He was breech”, Doc replied. “Fortunately, he came out pretty easily. We need to get going and get them to the hospital.”
“Julian, I don’t know if we can make it that far”, I said.
“We have to, hon. Elena needs medical attention that I can’t give her here.” He stood up and came over to me. “Her placenta hasn’t come out yet. She needs oxytocin and I don’t have any. I have to get her to the hospital.”
I knew he was right. I’ve had horses with retained placenta and it can cause an infection if it doesn’t come out. “Okay, Doc. We will get her there.” I looked at Cecil. “Can you plow us to the highway? I’m sure the plows and sanders are out on the main roads.”
“Absolutely”, he answered.
We got Elena and the baby bundled up and into my Suburban, then set off down the road. It was slower going than before, due to the snow coming down heavier and visibility severely restricted. We finally made it to the highway. Cecil turned around to go back home and we waved as he went by.
My back was really starting to hurt and Doc noticed. Of course he did. “Meredith”, he said, “I’m going to call Ralph Braxton. I think he lives not far from here. I want you to go stay at his place while I drive Elena to the hospital. Alex can go with you.”
“It’s okay, Doc”, I replied. “I’m more used to driving in this weather than you are.”
“I’m not asking, Meredith.” He made a call on his phone. When Ralph answered, Doc explained the situation. He listened for a minute, then said “Sounds good. Thanks, Ralph.” He ended the call, then called Cecil. After finding out where we were, he said to me “Ralph’s turnoff is up ahead a bit. He’s going to meet us there, and you and Alex can go with him to his place. I’ll drive Elena to the hospital.”
“Maybe I should go with you, Julian”, Alex offered. “Just in case.”
“The hospital isn’t that much further, I’ll be fine, Alex. I need you to make sure Meredith takes it easy. She’s hurting from that fall on the ice.”
“I’m fine, Doc”, I said. “Alex, you go with him. He might need you to drive back. Julian’s not used to driving in these conditions. They don’t get that much snow where he’s from.”
Doc was indignant. “I’ve been in Williams Lake long enough to get used to driving in snow, Meredith.”
Alex played referee. “All right, let’s not fight in front of the patient. Julian, you should know better.
“You are right, Alex”, he replied in a chastened tone. I was feeling quite smug – for a moment.
“And Meredith – you may not be a medical professional, but you are old enough that you should know that that is something you don’t do”, Mr Self Righteous continued. Did I just make a dig at Alex? Oh well, payback for him joining Doc in pranking me when I pranked him (Julian). “Right, Meredith?”
“Yes, Sir!” I said, taking my right hand off the steering wheel to salute. He was sitting in the passenger seat; Doc was in the back with the new family. I didn’t think he’d seen it, but he had.
“Both hands on the wheel”, he commanded. “I know you are a good driver, hon, and you are used to this weather, but it’s still better to not take risks when the roads are this bad.”
“Lighten up, Doc”, I muttered under my breath as I turned onto the road where Ralph was meeting us. I saw a truck on the shoulder. That must be him. I pulled over and rolled down my window. He rolled his down and I hollered out that I’d turn around and pull up behind him.
To Doc’s consternation, I made a U turn – in my defence, there was no other traffic on the road at the time, and I was very careful. In fact, I was a lot slower than I normally am. Once I was behind Ralph, he got out of his truck and came back to my window. “Hi Meredith”, he greeted me. “I hear you three are going to be my guests.”
“You’re just taking Meredith right now”, Alex said to him. “I’m going with Julian to the hospital in case he needs me. Besides, they may be short staffed, perhaps they need an extra pair of hands.”
“I don’t think they need any help”, Ralph replied. “I just got off and they were okay when I left.”
“I’ll go anyways. You never know what could crop up between you leaving and us getting there.”
Doc had approached my door, ready to get in. I opened the door and slid out. “Ralph, can you take a look at Meredith when you get home? She slipped on some ice and landed on her back. I can see she’s in pain.”
“It’s just my arthritis, Julian”, I said. “I am fine.”
“You let Ralph be the judge of that, hon.” He bent down to give me a kiss.
I couldn’t resist, I brought my hand up in a salute and said “Yes, sir!” Alex was laughing and Ralph was looking perplexed. “I’ll explain in your warm truck”, I said to him. “Let’s go! It’s freezing out here.” I got into Ralph’s truck and he carefully made a U turn and set off for his place. On the way, I told him about being chewed out by Alex and giving him a salute which caused Doc to chastise me for taking a hand off the wheel in such dire weather conditions.
“I don’t like taking sides, Meredith”, he said when I had finished, “but Alex is right. You shouldn’t be arguing in front of a patient. You are old enough to know better. Julian definitely knows better, too.”
“You are right, Ralph”, I conceded. “But Alex didn’t have to bawl us out in front of the patient and her husband.”
“Normally, I would agree. But did you expect him to ask you to pull over in a snowstorm and get out of the vehicle so he could do it out of range of their hearing?”
“All right, point taken.”
It took us ten minutes to drive to Ralph’s home – he said it was usually five minutes from the turnoff to his place. He finally turned into his laneway and through the falling snow I could see his house – a two storey HUGE farmhouse – much bigger than mine, which I thought was big. Off in the near distance, I saw a couple barns – a big red one and a smaller one that was showing it’s age. There were some cattle hanging around the larger barn.
“It’s past their regular feeding time”, my host explained. “Ellen usually does it when I’m working since I don’t get off until 7pm. With her at Serena’s right now, I have to do it when I get home.”
We were greeted at the door by a massive dog – and I mean massive. “Don’t worry about Caesar”, my host said. “He’s harmless – a big suck. He won’t hurt you.” Caesar was sniffing all around my feet and legs. “It looks like he smells your squirrel.”
“Dogs will pick up on anything different on you”, I said as I petted the huge canine. “How much does he weigh?”
“About 235 pounds” was the answer. “Normal for a male mastiff.”
“My lab would be snack size for him!” I exclaimed as I bent down to take my boots off.
Ralph chuckled. “Caesar loves other dogs. He wouldn’t harm yours. I’ll let him out, then I will take you up to your room.” He showed me to the guest rooms after I told him I could make it up the stairs. “Meredith”, he said when I sat down on the bed in the room Doc and I would be sleeping in. “I want to take a look at you but the cattle are getting restless.” We could hear them bawling for their supper. “Can you wait until I get them fed?”
“Of course, Ralph. You don’t need to worry about me. It’s just my arthritis.”
“According to Julian, you slipped on some ice. I told him I’d check you over and I am going to keep my word. I want to make sure you haven’t done some damage. I’ll be back soon. You lie down and rest.” Great, I thought. I’ll be sleeping in a house with THREE physicians tonight. I won’t be able to get away with anything.
I went to the washroom and took care of business before lying down on the guest room bed. Sleep was futile. I gingerly tossed from side to side, wanting to get up but not wanting to wander around the house without Ralph or Ellen there. Giving up on sleep, I took my phone out of my purse and called Karen. She answered on the second ring. “Hey Chickie”, she greeted me. “What are you doing calling me on your honeymoon?”
“Boredom”, I said. “I’m confined to bed and not in the way I’d want to be.” I went on to tell her about slipping on ice and getting stranded at Ralph’s.
“You have the worst luck, Mer”, she said after I’d finished.
“Don’t I? Holy crap. But this is nothing, just a slight fall. I’m sure it’s just a pulled muscle or something minor. Or my arthritis acting up.” At least, I hoped that’s all it was.
Karen was her typical bossy self. “You let Ralph be the judge of that. And do what he says.”
“How is everything back there?” I asked, changing the subject. “How are the horses? And the dogs?”
“I know what you are doing, Mer. But everything is fine. All your critters are fine. Chey is enjoying the independence house sitting for you gives her.”
“She does a great job, Karen. I don’t know what I’d do without her – and you.”
As soon as I ended the call, my phone rang. It was Doc. There’d been a multi vehicle accident and the ER was swamped. He and Alex were staying to help out. “Stay as long as you need to”, I told him. “I am fine here.”
“Has Ralph looked at you yet, hon?” he asked.
“No, he’s out feeding his cattle. He said he will as soon as he gets back in.”
“You let him do what he needs to do, Meredith. Don’t give him attitude.”
I rolled my eyes, thankful that he couldn’t see me. “Who, me, Doc? Give someone attitude? No way, I’d never do that.”
“You know you would. And I saw that eye roll.” Damnit, how does he always know?
I heard the sound of a door downstairs. “Ralph just came in, gotta go, honey.” We said goodbye and I set my phone on the nightstand.
“How are you doing, Meredith?” Ralph said as he walked through the bedroom doorway.
“I’m okay, Ralph, but I couldn’t sleep. BTW, Julian called and said he and Alex are staying at the hospital to help out. There’s been an accident and they are swamped.”
“After I look at you, I’ll call and see if they need me to go back in. Give me a minute and I’ll wash my hands.” He was back faster than I wanted him to be and he was carrying his black bag. My pain was worse than I was letting on and I was not looking forward to a back exam, which I knew would entail having to lift my legs, walk etc. “Meredith, the first thing I am going to ask you to do is walk across the room and back.”
I sat up and swung my legs over the bed. Standing up, I walked to the far wall, pain accompanying every step. I had to admit to myself that the fall may have been worse than I’d thought. Admitting it to myself was one thing, but admitting it to someone else was another, so I tried to not show signs of pain as I walked.
Next, I was instructed to sit sideways on the bed. Ralph lifted the back of my shirt and felt along and beside my spine from top to bottom. It hurt when his hand went over my lower left area and I involuntarily yelped. “Sorry, Meredith”, he apologized, “but this helps me to know where your pain is coming from. Can you lie down with your legs out straight? This isn’t ideal – you should be on an exam table – but the bed is firm and will have to do for now.”
He took my lower right leg in his hand and gently lifted it, bent it at the knee, then lowered it back down. Next he did the same with my left leg. I tried to be stoic and not show that it hurt, but I didn’t fool him. “I need you to tell me when it hurts, otherwise I can’t figure out what is wrong, Meredith.”
“You sound like Julian.”
“Julian is right. Now I am going to move your ankles to see if their mobility is inhibited.” Fortunately, I did not feel any pain there. Ralph approached my head and took it in his hands. Raising it off the bed, he felt my scalp at the back. “Do you know if you hit your head on the ground?” he asked.
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”
“I’m checking anyway, just in case.” Finally, he took my vitals and listened to my heart and lungs. “I don’t think there is any major damage”, he said when he was finished. “It’s probably muscular and/or your arthritis being aggravated by the fall. I do think you should get an Xray and maybe an MRI when the storm is over, just to be sure.”
I groaned. “Geez, Ralph....”
“Your back is nothing to take chances with, Meredith. In the meantime, you need to be on bed rest for at least a few days.”
I groaned again.