Folks traveling that same patch of interstate were stuck in hundred degree heat for 8 hours. They had to turn off the engines and just absorb the heat from hell radiating into the cars off the melting asphalt. The Red Cross sent volunteers out there on ATV's with bottles of water and sacks of apples. Families begged the volunteers to take their babies and their elderly to some air conditioning and food. Horrible.
It was bleak. The drought has burned up the cotton fields. All the fields were tragic. It is painful to see mile after mile of devastation. Very few of the farms I passed had irrigation so their crops are a sad, hard loss. More than cotton was lost. Food. Cattle. Livlihoods. Hope.
Definitely not a scenic trip, but no tractor trailers either.
Me, the Fizz and a not too terrible audio book cruising up the road was fine by me.
When I reached the intersection of 441 and 221 I gasped aloud.
There was a sign saying: McRae 52. OMG! I had not thought of my summer in McRae, Georgia in decades. There was no point in listening to the book cd after that. My head was flooded with memories.
In my fifteenth summer a long time family friend went square dancing on a Saturday night stomping her way through the raised platform and fracturing her leg. Badly. It required surgical hardware and six weeks in a wheelchair with her leg straight out in front of her. Once she was able, she telephoned my mother and asked her to send me to McRae to " be her legs" for the Summer.
Mama said ,"of course".
I begged and wailed and wrung my hands but Mama still loaded me up on a smelly Greyhound bus and shipped me to Hell. I won't say that bus ride was as horrible as Frida's but it was terrible. Extremely. I thought I would be glad to get off that bus but the reality of McRae was worse.
Some sweaty, weary, dusty old man in a rusted out pick up truck came up to me and explained he was there to take me to Mizz McRae. Our family friend had married into the McRae family which is how she came to be living there. Sadly, Mr. McRae had died shortly after their marriage . Bernadine had stayed on as the nursing supervisor of the tiny Telfair County Hospital. The only doctor on staff was another McRae and the specialists who came through when called. Bernadine was practicing medicine too. They didn't actually have "Nurse Practitioners" in those days as a title. They sure did as a reality. When doc was not there the back up physician was the vet. When he too was unavailable medical care was a toss up between Bernadine, the pharmacist and the voodoo woman in the block house.
Bernadine was the only registered nurse in the county.
I was the only slave.
My "job" was to get Bernadine to and from the hospital and, to do her rounds/duties with her while at the hospital. With that straight out leg she could not get close enough to the beds to take vital signs or change a dressing or check a pupil for reaction or help in the ER/OR. Nor could she hold a bedpan or an emesis basin or change a bed or empty collection bags or give bed baths. Before the Summer was over I was a pretty good nurse practitioner too. I had done all kind of nursing and a surgery or two when doc was away,
we couldn't contact the vet, and Bernadine couldn't reach the patient who was about to bleed to death. I delivered a baby too. The mother was 12.
Also, a very, very great distance from my usual poolside at the club summers.
Back to my arrival.
I refused to get in the truck with Weary Man. I went to a pay phone, called the hospital, talked to Bernadine before I would agree to get into a car with this suspicious stranger. Imagine my shock when upon arrival at the hospital he took his leave by taking Bernadine's car and leaving the truck. Bernadine explained she could not get in and out of her car so we would be using the truck now that I was present. I hadn't quite figured out how she could get in and out of the truck until I was instructed to back it up to the hospitals loading dock, pull out a sheet of plywood and roll her onto the truck bed. She gave me directions through the back window on how to get "home". Which was a trailer in a dry field.
Seriously, I nearly died of the shock of it all.
I am certain my manners were not up to snuff but you try making a plywood bridge from a truck bed to a metal trailer door and shove a 250 pound wheelchair bound woman through it. A woman who could not stand without crutches, or take a bath or get in a bed or use the facilities without assistance. Once we were through that door, before I moved the truck, I searched for the telephone. I'd been in McRae for about 6 hours and that was enough for me. I called home and as soon as Mama answered I said,
" Come get me. I'm not doing this!"
" You are".
" NO ma'am! I am not! Come get me now!!!!!!!!!!!!"
" Good night Fishy, give Bernadine a hug from me."
I could write a book about my summer in McRae.
It could be divided into the hospital horrors, the home horrors and the horror of the butterbeans.
The basic outline of life in McRae was this.
Get up, make breakfast, clean the kitchen, do laundry, make beds, be Bernadine's full time step and fetch. After lunch it was help Bernadine get groomed and dressed for work. Get the truck, back it up to the trailer, roll Bernadine out , climb down, get in the cab, pull up enough to clear the door, get out of the cab, lock the trailer, secure Bernadine in the truck bed, get back in the cab and drive to the hospital. Work at the hospital from 2pm until midnight, do the transport thing in reverse, get Bernadine changed and in her recliner for the night. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Some nights I would just fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. Other nights I cried giant tears of self pity until sleep finally came.
By the end of the first week I was reconciled to this awful reality. In the evenings the hospital was the town square. First people came in to visit. Others stayed in the lobby/lounge area because the hospital was just about the only air conditioned public building open at night. It is hot like you cannot believe in McRae, Georgia in the summer time. That kind of heat makes people crazed. Bernadine allowed as how it was good medicine to let the townsfolk hang out in the air conditioning. She said it made for fewer stabbings and shootings. Eventually I think I met everybody in McRae. After the first week there were not many who had not stopped by the hospital to meet " Bernadine's legs". Bernadine's legs learned she had skills but no desire to be a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a Georgian. I learned how to focus on whatever emergency presented and deal with my own responses afterward. I witnessed the spectrum of humanity.
Just steps from the trailer door was the kitchen garden. A few rows of each of the summer vegetables. I would go out most mornings after breakfast, water the garden,pick the bugs off the crops, pick what was ripe, feed the outdoor cats and at the end of the property make sure an old white horse had fresh water. Just that little bit in the hot still air was enough to make you shower wet with sweat. If the air was moving any at all you became covered in a fine coating of dust stuck to your sweat. I hated it there. Hated.
One morning, once I came in with the harvest and headed for the shower, Bernadine asked if I didn't want to go back out and pick butterbeans.
" They are not ready".
" Are you sure, you haven't picked any all week and they are my favorite".
" They aren't ready"
" Now Fishy, I know it isn't enjoyable to pick beans but you don't want to be wasteful".
"They aren't ready!!!!!!"
Bernadine studied me a minute then said, " Please will you go look again?
Eve Lynn said last night if we got 'em picked she would cook 'em for us. She makes the best butterbeans of all . Go on back out there and check that first row, those butter beans should be ready."
Reluctantly I went back out there, walked down the row a bit and then headed back to the trailer. Just as I was placing my foot on the first step I heard a click. Bernadine had used a crutch to reach across the trailer and lock the door. I was beyond fury. When I stopped screeching and door pounding Bernadine called through the door something about letting me come back inside once the butterbeans were picked. I learned a whole new level of rage that day.
But, the truth is rage takes energy and it gets expended quickly in relentless, scorching heat. It wasn't long before I had to go get the hose and cool myself down. I looked but the keys were not in the truck. I needed some shade but there was none. I could walk to the McRae family home but it was a healthy hike. The home is nice, surrounded by a pecan grove so there was shade and a pond up there. When Bernadine first married she and Mr. McRae lived in the family house but once he died the next one in the family line up moved in and they "let" Bernadine move to the trailer. It was situated far enough away on the property so it would not be seen from the main house. I was just too tired and hot to make the hike. And what would I do when I got there? Go for a swim?
What I was for damn sure not going to do was pick any butterbeans.
Eventually I got the idea to go down and see the old white horse.
I do not know what came over me but I got the notion to get on that horse.
That's not unreasonable except when there is no tack. No bridle, no saddle.
You can do without tack if you can ride and know your horse. It is crazy to place yourself on the back of a large animal without knowledge or skills. But I did. I must have been heat crazed because I coaxed that old horse over to the gate, climbed on his back, grabbed mane, opened the gate and clucked.
The horse lived in a dry dusty lot. Nothing to eat but the little bit of hay morning and evenings. He headed for the only green stuff in sight. The kitchen garden. He did not show a lick of interest in corn, tomatoes, peppers or squash. He headed straight for the butterbean rows, dropped his head and started to munch. I came off straight away. Once he dropped his head like that I slid right down his neck like a slide. Once I stopped laughing I got worried about how I was going to get the horse out of the garden and back to his pen. He wouldn't budge. I went and got the hose to squirt him out of the garden. That did not work. He loved the cool shower and even took a drink from the hose before returning to his busy consumption of the butterbean plants. Eventually I quit worrying about the butterbeans and began to wonder if they were okay for horses to eat. In desperation I unhooked the hose and tried using it as a lead rope to get the horse back to his lot. It did work. The process of having a tug o war with a resistant horse in a garden is devastating to the garden. Once the horse was secure and I returned to the garden it was ...over.
I returned to the trailer to find the door unlocked. I stomped inside, told Bernadine she was a witch and headed for the shower. She sweetly asked if I had picked the butterbeans. She wanted to get them shelled while I showered. I stuck my head around the corner and explained where the beans were. Bernadine said,
" Fishy! You've killed that sweet old horse!"
" Those butterbeans will colic that horse. We have to get the vet out here immediately !"
The vet wasn't available but he told me how to put a tube down a horse's nose to empty it's stomach. I cut up the garden hose, greased it with lard and became a vet. Once I got the stomach emptied I had to give the horse a paste of oatmeal and water and then walk him. For hours. In that dreadful, relentless heat. A horse with a stomach ache is not a willing creature. They communicate this in awful ways. Eventually someone came to take Bernadine to the hospital while I kept walking the horse. Late in the afternoon the vet came to have a look and told me to keep walking. Later, Bernadine sent some town kids from the lobby/lounge out to help with the walking.
The horse lived.
I didn't kill anyone .
I didn't pick any butterbeans.
I learned a lot about ...everything.
Bernadine got her cast off.
I went home.
|The Telfair county hospital today|