Wednesday, September 7, 2005

For One Life 17/38

M. Blais and J.D.

Chapter 17

William closed the mess door behind them, a set look to his face as they started out.
"How long did you study for?" he asked, his question casual but belying the worry in his dark eyes.

Luka took a glance around them..then adjusted the fit of the crutches under his arms before following. "I was in my third year..."  He lifted his eyes from the ground and glanced over to the man as he answered.

"That's very good," William said, offhandedly.  He kept his pace adjusted to Luka's, but seemed almost restless.  "That's more than many of our volunteers here."

He dropped his eyes again..swallowing the reply that almost forced itself out.

"Luka?"  He glanced sideways.  "Did you want to say something?"

"No.."  His reply came quietly.

"Well, let's hope it's nothing serious in here, yes?" he said with a smile, as they neared the mess tent.

Hunching his shoulders slightly against the chill Luka found himself simply nodding, the nervousness of what might be coming already sinking in.

There was the sound of many voices, shouted orders and arguments not yet completely resolved, as they got close to the mess tent.  A few doctors and volunteers were coming and going from the entrance.  As the neared the door Luka moved to the side. One of the doctors spotted William, and slowed.  "Dr. Northstar," he called, "coming to give us a hand in there?"

William nodded.  "If I knew what was going on, yes."

"Basically, a brawl," the younger man said, scratching at his forehead a moment.  "I can't tell you how it started...just cooped up people, I guess.  Throwing of blame about.  It's more an issue of reinjury this time, as opposed to anything fresh."

As he waited, Luka shifted his weight, taking most of it on his good leg to give his arms a rest. Why had he allowed the doctor to persuade him to come?  His eyes flicked between the refugees that lingered outside, their faces reflecting as much as any words might before returning to the two physicians.

William glanced back to Luka.  "See, nothing too serious.  Good time to dive in."

The younger doctor saluted William half-jokingly, and trotted off to tend his own patients.

"Maybe you don't need me then..."  He offered half hopefully even as he saw still more refugees in need of care.

William shook his head, heading towards the entrance.  "There's never too many helping hands, Luka.  Come on."

He hesitated a moment..a fleeting thought of just walking away entering his mind and then disappearing before he could act on it..before, with a sigh, he followed.

Inside the mess tent, it was chaos, although dying down. Tables were overturned along with chairs, and food was discarded.  Several people were being tended to by gaggles of doctors, most with little more than bruises and cuts.

He stopped just inside the entrance..his eyes taking in the scene as he once again fought the urge to flee.

The noise was composed of moans from the injured and the shouts of medical personnel to their aides, for bandages, blood, and the like.  Several volunteers had started picking up the chairs and tables, righting everything, and all uninjured people were being rounded up, and escorted out the door even as some continued to protest.

He couldn't help tensing as one of the military worked his way to the door, the memory of the earlier interrogation still too fresh in his thoughts.

William gestured him forward, stopping to borrow two sets of latex gloves from one of the equipped aides, and held out a pair to Luka.  "Looks like cleanup work...which is good work," he said, mildly.  His eyes scanned the room a moment.

Drawing a centering breath Luka started forward, then paused, shifting his weight to free a hand before taking the gloves.

William snapped on his own gloves, his eyes still taking in the scene, then he tensed.

He pulled the gloves on before looking back to William, only then catching the change in the man and he immediately followed his line of sight to see what had caused it.

Without a word, William started across the room, and the point of his interest became clear.  Claire was sitting on the ground, being helped into the sitting position by another volunteer.  The bruise on her forehead had been reinjured, and was bleeding profusely now.

As William started over he followed..still not sure what he was going to do. His pace was a bit slower then the older man's as he maneuvered the crutches around chairs, abandoned dishes, and cups.

She swiped at it ineffectually with her sleeve.  As they neared her, she looked up, and oddly, her expression seemed more chagrined than pleased.   "Poppa," she said with a sigh, and her eyes flicked to Luka, coming up behind him.  "Figures they would call you here."

As she spoke he stopped...shifting his eyes away as if to give her a moment of privacy even among the crowd. He let his gaze move over those around them...accessing the extent of injuries without even thinking about it.

William knelt, his fingers probing the cut with a professional air.  "Now, you're going to need stitches, Claire."  His voice was somewhat relieved, and Luka would realize he had envisioned something much worse happening.  "You do have a real penchant for trouble, you know."

He returned his attention to William a moment as he spoke...leaning on the crutches as he waited.

Her voice and eyes were suddenly angry.  "I know no such thing."  She pushed his hand away.  "They certainly didn't need to make you come here just for me."  She started to scramble to her feet, still irritated, but when she put her weight on her legs, she yelped, falling back again.

He had let his attention wander again, the sound of one of the unfinished arguments drawing him to it, but at Claire's cry of pain he returned it to them.

William kept a steadying hand on her left arm as she sat back down, hard.  "Leg?" he inquired.

Claire shook her head, although her eyes were still closed tightly.  "Ankle," she said through gritted teeth.

Luka remained standing behind them...forcing his attention to remain on the two instead of those around them.

William shifted his fingers to the ankle, pulling her shoe and sock off and setting them aside.  Manipulating the bones, which made her whole body tense, he said, "It's broken, Claire.  See?  Right there."

Claire nodded.  "I'll take your word for it," she managed, dryly, though her jaw was set against the pain.

With the announcement Luka glanced around, seeing who was available to help her father get her to the clinic.

William left the ankle alone, then glanced around the room, at the other injuries awaiting.  "I've got a few bleeders, Claire.  I'll be right back.  Luka, take my pen light...I'll borrow another."  He took the small light from his pocket and handed it over.

"What for?" Even as he asked though he moved closer to comply.

"Head injuries.  To assess properly for concussion, best way is to check the pupils."
William pressed the pen light into his hand.  "Can you do stitches?  I can get you a chair, send them to you."

He started to protest...then glanced around only to offer a resigned sigh before nodding.

"Good.  Claire?"  He half turned to his daughter.

She waved him off.  "I'm fine.  Go to it."

William righted a chair by Luka so he could sit, and then set one opposite him, for patients.

Moving over to the chair he eased himself down to it...then offered the crutches to Claire. "You want these?"

She looked up at his, brushing matted hair from her face.  "In a few...I think I'm going to stay here a few minutes."  She drew her leg in a little more, trying to find a somewhat painless spot for her ankle.

He registered the blood as she moved her hair. "Do you have a headache..or blurring?"

William brought over a suture kit, with a small packet of individually sealed needles, so he could get started.  "Sending the first your way in a minute, Luka."

She flicked her eyes to her father a moment as he came and went, then registered Luka's question.  "Hmm?"

He shifted his glance to William as he appeared. "Ok.."  Then returned his attention to Claire.  "Is your vision blurry..or funny to you?

She looked around experimentally.  "I don't think eye hurts, but I think I just got something in it."

"Can you move a little closer so I can look?"  He shifted his leg, mindful of the splint before turning more to her.

Painfully, she scooted forward but stayed on the ground, at least closer to his chair.

Leaning down he flicked the light on...studying each eye in turn. 

She winced at the light, her pupils reacting accordingly, although her left eye seemed sluggish, and was redder than the other.

As he switched it off he lay it on the table then carefully felt along her scalp and around the wound with his fingers.

She tensed up, expecting pain, but she didn't protest it.

"You want to call your Father or should I?"

"For what?"

I can't be sure without an x-Ray..but I'm thinking you have a concussion."

Claire frowned, putting her own fingers up to press at the wound.  "The x-ray machine isn't working, I don't think."

"Don't play with it.."

She gave him a mock glare, but put her fingers down as instructed.

"You could use a couple stitches..."

She sighed.  "Probably....hurts like hell."

"It can wait for your Father to do it..."  He reached across the table to pick up some gauze and handed it to her. "Hold this on it for a few minutes.  You need to stay awake though so if you feel sleepy you need to say something."

Claire took the gauze, gently pressing it to her head, and simply nodded, silently.

A tall man, with the look of another refugee, came over to the free chair.  "Dr. Lu-ka..?" he said, unsure.  His lower lip was split, badly.

As he heard his name Luka turned...<Croatian>"Have a seat..."

The man nodded, with a little relief, and sank into the chair, his large frame almost too big for it. 

Without thinking he mentally shifted to the mode of one who had dealt with far too many injuries...and as he first assessed then dealt with the injuries he offered equal parts information and reassurance in Croatian.

The man relaxed under the care, absorbing the conversation like a sponge, or like one who hadn't been able to talk to a countryman very much before now.

<Croatian>"You should go to the clinic in a week to have the stitches taken out."  He cut the thread as he finished.

Another was already waiting behind the chair, a shorter man, who seemed to have a rather long gash along his forearm.  The taller of the two rose from the seat, thanking Luka and assuring him he'd return to the clinic.


The shorter one, much more silent and reserved, took the vacated seat, and regarded Luka somewhat suspiciously.

He moved the used materials away as he readied for the next...when the man sat he offered a slight nod before explaining in Croatian what he intended to do.

The man's suspicion lessened somewhat upon hearing the Croatian, but he still said nothing as he held out his arm.  Once or twice, he looked at Claire where she remained on the ground.

As he threaded a new needle he glanced to Claire..and when he spoke his words remained in Croatian without thought. "How are you doing? are you doing..any worse?" He shifted to English when she didn't immediately respond.

She was watching him work, her arms crossed over her upraised knee, and she hadn't seemed to hear the first question.  When he repeated it, she looked up at his eyes, her own slightly dull but still alert.  "The same.  You are very good at that, you know."

He half snorted..brushing the compliment off before returning his attention to the man, once more slipping into his native language as he explained what he was going to do.

The man had frowned at the use of English, and seemed distrustful of Claire being there, but he continued to hold his arm out.

He lowered his voice slightly so his words were for the man alone as he caught his look at Claire<Croatian>"She's very bossy're lucky."

The man quickly shot his gaze to Luka again, as if he were trying to gauge the tone of the words.  After a moment, he managed a half-smile, and nodded, very small.

Snipping the thread he covered the stitches and taped it. "All finished..go to the clinic in a week to have them taken out."

Very low, he said, in Croatian, "Don't like Americans.  All Americans there."  He regarded his stitches curiously.

"Dr Forquet is French." He kept his words in Croatian as well.

The man made a dismissive gesture with his other hand, as if it were all the same to him.

He eyed the man a moment as if mentally making a decision before he spoke again.  "Find me then."

The man looked up at him, tilting his head a little as he regarded Luka skeptically.  "You'll take them out?"

He simply nodded.

The man looked pleased.  "She's not going to be there?"  He didn't even look at Claire, knowing Luka would guess who he meant.

"I can't promise that.."

The man snorted, irritated, looking back down at his stitches.

He drew a breath again. "Her Father is treating me....she might be there." He motioned to his splinted leg.

The man ran his fingers near the closed wound, with only a cursory glance at the leg.  "I know she's one of them, the volunteers.  She tried to stop the fight.  Don't want her treating me."  His words were mild, with no anger to them.

"She's not a doctor..."

The man shrugged.  "Half of them aren't.  Don't stop 'em."

"Find me...I'll do it."

The man looked back up, his eyes cool.  "All right.  A week?"

He nodded...

The shorter man rose from the seat, dropping his arm to his side, with a nod of farewell, and walked away.

He tended the several more waiting in much the same manner...explaining and reassuring as needed..his voice patient and his actions practiced.

Most looked shocked, some still angry, speaking out about the brawl that had started, seemingly, from the frustration at being cooped up.

As he motioned the last off he moved the soiled materials aside and looked back to Claire.  "Any change?"  Realizing he had spoke in Croatian he slid back into English.."Sorry."

She was holding the gauze in her hand, not on the wound, seemingly having forgotten about the bleeding on her head.  She had been watching him work, and looked a little fatigued now, as well as the black eye from before worsening a little.

He glanced around the tent for William, as he looked back to her he frowned slightly. "That was for your head."

William and one other doctor were working on what looked like a minor stab wound, as others brought by a stretcher for the man.

She looked up, blankly.  "What was?"  Her eyes went to the gauze, and she looked sheepish.  "Oh.  Right."  Obediently, she pressed it back to her head.

"Looks like he is almost done."

She nodded.  "My arm got tired," she said, by way of explanation.

He pulled the gloves off and piled them on the other garbage before rolling his shoulders slightly.

She smiled.  "Dr. Luka."

"Was going to be..."  He offered the words quietly before massaging his thigh a bit.

"Looks like you are," she offered.  She set her arm down again, giving up on the gauze.

He shifted his eyes to her,  "Not without finishing and there's no way I can do that now."

She blinked, rubbing at her eye absently.  "I'm sure there is a way you can."

The room was being set to rights by other volunteers, almost clear now of the injured parties.

"I can't afford to go to school..not and try and pay for a place to's just another thing that died with my family."  His voice grew quiet as he spoke.

She watched him, quietly, then said, "Are there any long bandages in there, by the way?  I need to set my ankle."

"Let your Father do it...he should be here in a few minutes.."  He glanced over to where William was.

"I can do it," she insisted.

"Just wait for him."

She set the gauze aside, displeased.  "Why?"

He looked at her then reached for the crutches to pull himself upright. As he stood he gave into a short coughing burst from the exertion before speaking. "I'll go get him."

"Luka," she protested, "I really can do it....if you would just hand me the things I need..."

He moved over to William...explaining what he thought was up without glancing back to her.

William left the side of the stretcher, with a few parting instructions to the other doctor as they left, and pulled off his gloves with a snap, listening to Luka. He moved over to where Claire was sitting, her shoulders slumped, and he knelt.  "Claire, look up at me, okay?"

As he finished he rubbed his eye, the fatigue at the walk and then the work catching up with him.  When William moved to Claire he followed.

She lifted her eyes up, and William took his own light, shining it in and out of her right eye, his other hand under her chin to hold it steady.

He stayed back slightly though he watched his actions..taking mental notes at his technique.

He slid his hand up to feel the bone around the wound, his expression serious, even as Claire sighed with relief that the light was gone.

"What did you do?  Feels like a straight laceration," he said, holding up his finger in front of her face.  "Follow my finger, please."

He shifted the crutches under his armpits..easing all the weight off his injured leg with the action.

Her eyes tracked it back and forth, a little slowly.  "I got knocked over, and the table hit me in the head."

He nodded, then asked, "How did Luka do?"  His tone was amused.

Claire smiled, weakly.  "Good."

William glanced back at the man a moment, then back to Claire. "I knew he would.  Now, unfortunately for you, it seems as if you managed to get hit in the same spot two days in a row.  I think you've damaged your oculomotor nerve, though not too badly.  The one by your right eye."

As they talked Luka let his head drop slightly...not really listening, his own weariness catching up with him.

Claire nodded, wearily.  "I need to set my ankle," she said.

He coughed again as he stood there...then lifted his eyes to Claire and William.

"I can do it," William said, preferring not to argue with her.  He reached around the chair to draw out the long bandages, and looked up at Luka.  "How are you holding up?"

"Take care of her..." He brushed the concern off though his voice showed the wear of the added talking in it's tone.

William straightened out her leg and started to wrap the ankle tightly, and Claire didn't have the energy to protest, even in pain.  "This shouldn't take long...then I think you both need to get back to the tent, and rest."

He nodded, even as he continued to watch, for once he might even agree with the man.

To be continued...

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