Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 22


November Eighteenth
8:04 a.m.

Karen had tossed and turned most of the night. Unusual for her; not for me. We’d made it back home around eleven, Grace admitted for the time being. She hadn’t broken a hip or pelvis, but that was conditioned on the disclaimer, ‘no obvious break.’ She did however, have numerous compression fractures in her back. The orthopedic specialist said that a full recovery was unlikely, given her age.  Within the space of a few hours, she’d transitioned from an active and relatively healthy senior citizen to being in almost constant pain with the slightest movement.  Even pre-War, this would have been a difficult situation to deal with, both for her and the family.
Now, in the midst of the Second Civil War, in this place and time, the resources we once took for granted were no longer available in any fashion.  Skilled nursing for the elderly, once so common, now flat out didn’t exist.
In these days, here and now, people of Grace’s age were rare.  The lack of medicines that had extended the lives of so many were all but gone. As a result, so were those that had depended on those miracle compounds. 
None of us knew how we were going to take care of Grace, try to keep her out of pain, try to extend her life.   I wondered, as I lay there on an unheard-of, sleeping-in-on-Saturday morning, listening to my wife sleep, how Grace would handle the pain once the diazepam wore off.
I heard Kelly and Carl downstairs, making breakfast. Even though the blinds in the bedroom were drawn along with the heavy drapes, I could tell we had one of those brilliant sunny days, setting off the fresh snowfall. Once upon a time, less than a year ago, we’d have been awakened by the newspaper guy, delivering the morning yesterdays’ news at five-thirty in his beat-up Subaru, and then some poor soul having to be at work before seven.

As I lay in bed, I was thinking that I couldn’t remember the last time that a car on our street disturbed my sleep. Even the Army patrols didn’t drive down the street in early morning. Maybe once a night—the majority was on foot. In the outlying areas, or the suburbs that had been abandoned, the cavalry was back. The demand for horses and tack for Army use outstripped any reasonable expectation of delivery. One of the new Army Mounted Cav units was in training at the old Fairgrounds, under the watchful and direct training of members of the Backcountry Horsemen. To say it was odd to see a modern horse soldier, with the new Forest Green digital camo and headgear, was an understatement. Some enterprising quartermaster had also come up with a way to create modern saddlebags equipped to handle MOLLE gear attachments or in some cases, the older ALICE gear. Leather was still the preferred sleeve for the rifle, although the newest main battle rifle, the M16C, nicknamed ‘California’, was quite different than the -16’s of old. Super-light and strong alloys used in the receiver and barrel, relatively large in profile, but providing a finished product that was a full three pounds lighter than a -16A4 with a thirty round magazine.     I hadn’t seen one of the new rifles, and I’d heard they were still quite rare, still using a common M-16 round, manufactured at a new factory in Long Beach.  California must be a very different place these days, I thought.
After a shower, shave and dressed in clean work clothes, Karen and I found our way downstairs for breakfast.

“Good morning, Daddy,” Kel said as she gave me a squeeze. “Hugs for Mom,” she said to Karen as her turn came.

“What wonders have you created this fine day?” Karen asked as I looked at the fully decked out breakfast table, including one of my parents fine tablecloths and our best Sterling silver. “And look at that table!”

“Raspberry scones, Carl’s working on the hard-boiled egg, ham and cheese breakfast casserole, coffee, and….orange juice. And English muffins for Dad, because I know he likes them.”

“Where on earth did you get OJ?” I asked. We hadn’t had that in more than six months.  Oranges weren’t just a luxury, they were unobtainable.

“Uncle Ron got a case in that last shipment that came up through Boise,” Kelly said. “We were saving it for the holidays.”

“I’ll bet that was a complicated trade,” I said. “Good for him.”

“Hon, you want to check in at the hospital?” I asked Karen. She was a little choked up as she hugged both kids again.

“Can you do that?”

“I expect so, yeah,” I said. “Don’t know until I try.”

“Sure, I guess.”

“How long until breakfast?” I asked.

“Maybe fifteen,” Carl said. “The casserole’s not bubbling yet.”

“OK,” I said, “Any other news this morning?”

“Colorado—fighting’s pretty intense there. KLXY is back up, TV I mean, and they had some footage.  Sounded like they’re fighting over the Denver airport.”

“Hmmm.” I said, getting some coffee, and looking at the small TV in the kitchen, repeating the same loop of tape. It looked like mechanized units on both sides, the ‘enemy’ finally being taken out by what had to be an aerial bomb, and then ‘our’ ground troops advancing. In the distance, I could make out the distinctive shape, or more correctly, the remains of the distinctive shape of the Denver International Airport terminal. It looked a wreck. I’d been through there dozens of times.
I decided to check in with ‘the office’ for the frequency of Valley Hospital, and see how many rules I could break by using County radios for personal reasons.

“One eleven to Spokane,” I said.

“One-eleven,” a male voice replied.

“Request radio frequency for Valley Hospital, general communications,” I said, as if this were something that was done every day.

“Wait one, one eleven,” the dispatcher said, either checking to see if there was a frequency, or getting permission from someone higher up for this odd request.

“One eleven, you’ll need Med Sixty-three, which is found on page thirteen in your desk reference manual.”

“Thanks, Spokane. One eleven out.”

“One eleven,” dispatch replied.

I tuned one of the other radios to the assigned frequency, after flipping through the many pages of the Metro user manual. The manual had daily change frequencies for many of the departments, which rotated around the capability of the many Metro radios in service each day. Finally I found it, and punched it in to the digital tuner.

“Metro one eleven to Valley,” I said, trying my best to sound official, and probably not succeeding.  I repeated the call.

“Metro one eleven, go ahead,” a female voice, replied.

“Valley, I’d like to check the status of a patient. Is that possible?”

“Yes, Metro. Name please,” she said, and I replied with Grace’s full name.

“One moment, one-eleven. Are you a relative?”


“One moment while I retrieve that information.”

“Karen, c’mere for a minute. Valley will be back on in a sec,” I said. Karen had poured a cup of coffee, and was cradling it in her hands, and warming before the fire.

“You got through?”

“Yep,” I said, putting an arm around my wife, and flipping on the desk speaker for Karen to listen in.

“One eleven, patient status is unchanged, stable but serious condition. Patient is lightly sedated at this time, but is awake and having breakfast.”

“Understood, Valley. Thank you. One eleven, out.”

“You’re welcome. Valley out.”

“There you go,” I said quietly to Karen, as I smelled the shampoo in her hair. “We’ll go over after breakfast.”

“Sounds good. What’d you have on your list today?” Karen said with some relief in her voice. She’d had more than her share of stress this year, much of it because of me.

“Thought I’d get filled in on the new neighbors.”

“Well, I can do that. What else?”

“Figured we’d run our turkey down to the butcher today.”

“Did that yesterday. The butcher and his family were looking for a place.  Kevin had them on his list. They’re moving in this afternoon.”

“Okay,” I said. “That sounds good….who’re the rest?”

“Breakfast, in five,” Carl called from the kitchen.

“A pharmacist who works at Valley; two families that work on the Red Line—I mean, engineers and mechanics, they’re taking the two houses on the west block that are side by side; and a couple of contractor types working for the school district, they’re sharing a house. Your Army folks also want a house, across the street to the west of the store.”

“It’s not ready. We didn’t even do any work on that one. Too far gone.”

“They didn’t care. They’re planning on moving the guard shack from the parking lot at the store, and moving it there.”

“Fine with me.  It won’t be Army anyway. It’ll be Guard, which means local, in theory at least.”

“Breakfast is served,” Kelly said as she pulled her Mom’s chair out for her.  For the first time, I noted that Carl was wearing a white long-sleeve shirt, dark slacks, dress shoes, and a tie.   Kelly was in one of her best dresses.

“I feel underdressed,” I said.

“You are, but we’ll cut you some slack this time,” Kelly said. “Orange juice?”

“Absolutely,” Karen said, moving one of the crystal glasses closer.

“What’s with the big bag of scones on the counter?” I asked.

“Some for Gram, the rest for the hospital,” Carl said.

“Good job, both of you,” I said, with justifiable pride.

The kids made sure we were served first, and then we forced them to join us. It was a wonderful meal. Months later, I’d still remember it, going over the details in my head, when such luxury became again, unheard of.

“This is KLXY Spokane, it is now ten a.m., Pacific Standard Time, and this is the news,” the announcer stated. Karen, Alan, Mary and I were in the little Escape, on our way to the hospital for a short visit with Grace.

“U.S. Army units in Colorado yesterday made the grisly discovery of several small towns where all civilians had apparently been murdered as S.A. forces withdrew from the battle area. Spokesmen for Company A of the Fifteenth Oregon stated that the civilians appeared to have been rounded up and shot before the building they were in was burned.  Several hundred victims were found in each of three towns, which as of yet have not been identified.”

None of us commented.

“Other news from the Colorado front was the public admission that European-built heavy armor is being used by State of America mechanized units. Civilian consultants identified tanks as modified versions of German built Leopard main battle tanks, produced beginning in the late Seventies, and used by seven countries before the Third World War began. Department of Defense spokesmen believe that the tanks were purchased in northern Europe and shipped to the Eastern Seaboard during the reign of the New Republic. No comments were made regarding the possible number of tanks, or other military hardware brought into the country. D oh D and Administration spokesmen have continued to decline to comment on statements made that the S.A. has been receiving direct support from European nations. Sources within the Air Force and Navy have stated that air superiority and a total naval blockade have remained in effect since the start of the War. Air Force sources also report that U.S. aircraft have destroyed several strategic industries in the Midwest, including the former factory where Abrams tanks were built and refurbished.”

“Navy and Coast Guard units, backed by a large, but unknown number of Army units, are now in control of the Mississippi River, from the Gulf to Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi, north of the U.S. Highway 20 corridor. Running battles along this corridor over the past weeks, have now successfully isolated the S.A. forces from the Gulf of Mexico, shutting off any chance of shipment to S.A. held territory.”

“In regional news, the City of Coeur d’Alene today announced that power restoration along the Highway Ninety Five corridor will resume in the spring, with restoration of power along the west side of Lake Coeur d’Alene expected by next summer. This will complete the restoration of basic power around the lake.”

“That’d be nice to have done,” I said. “Been a long time now.”

“I’m more interested in phone service,” Karen said.

“You didn’t hear this from me, but we’ll have cellular service back up by Christmas in the metro area.”

“You keeping that a secret?” Mary asked. “That’s huge!”

“I just saw the progress report from one of our guys. Testing is going on right now on the cells within the Valley. Most needed some serious work,” I said as we pulled into the unplowed parking lot, getting a wave from one of the perimeter guards, to a closer lot, due to my ‘car badge.’ “Don’t want to get my hopes up, or anybody else’s, either. Got it?”

“How’s that going to work?” Alan asked. “Different carriers, different towers, providers, services, whatever. They’re not bringing them all back, are they?”

“Nope. One carrier. Not sure who. They were the only one left after the crash.”

“So much for competition,” Alan said as we trudged across the parking lot.

“Doesn’t really matter,” I said. “They’re pretty well regulated by the government, as in, all but owned by. They’re actually planning on creating one entity, then splitting them up within the next three years.”

“How’ll that work for phones?” Karen asked. 

“Not sure. Something about replacing the SIM cards with new ones that would let any phone be activated and put in service, once it’s registered.”

“Coming up with money for that will be interesting,” Karen said. “Phones for everyone were common. Now, even having one is a huge luxury.”

“Imagine. Calling me at work!” Alan said to Mary as he took her hand.

“Idle chit-chat,” Mary said in reply.  We passed the Guard station, with three attentive soldiers, and moved inside to the sign-in desk.

To get admittance to the hospital, we needed to sign in, check our weapons in a weapons locker, and go through screening like we used to have in airports and other ‘secure’ buildings.
The upgraded security measures were put in place after a series of robberies and attacks, most of them before the War really got going. Many were for drugs, at least at first. After that died down, supplies were being stolen at gunpoint. Much of the stolen goods were then sold on the black market.
We only had one situation recently, where someone obviously ‘new’ to the area had tried to relieve a hospital pharmacy of its’ contents. The popular tale included him serving as an organ donor. I knew for a fact that he didn’t really have any salvageable organs left after a Guardsman using a BAR clone, was done with him.

Our visit was relatively short, with the nursing staff just helping Grace finish up breakfast—saving her scone for later--and then she would be due for a sponge bath. We traded barbs, as we usually did in one form or another, although by the squeeze of her hand I knew she didn’t mean any of it, and of course neither did I.  I gave Alan and Karen a few minutes alone with her and Mary and I tracked down the on-shift doctor, through the duty nurse.  

“Excuse me, are you Mr. Drummond?” the doctor asked as Mary and I waited outside of Grace’s room.

“Yes. This is Mary Bauer,” I said in introduction. “Grace is our mother in law.”

“Rudy Cole. Nice to meet you both. Well, she had a good night. That was a bad fall she took, injury wise. I believe that Doctor Richardson gave you his prognosis?”

“He did. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for long-term care,” I asked. “She was pretty independent, despite her age.”

“How’s her home set up for accessibility?”

“Not great,” I said. “She lives with Mary and her family,” I said. “Doc, I’m wondering if there is a possibility of hiring nursing staff to help out. It’s not like we have much in the way of either nursing homes or assisted living facilities anymore.”

“No, we sure don’t. There are days when we almost have first-world medical care. Almost, that is,” he said. “Let me check with the nursing staff. I know there are at least a couple of nurses who bunk here at the hospital. There could be a possibility of a live-in nurse, part time.”

I thought about that for a second. “Doc, how many staff do you have that are, well, homeless?”

“Fifteen, easy. Why do you ask? You think you can do something about that?”

“Maybe, yeah. In my neighborhood we rehabbed a bunch of the houses that could work without natural gas or reliable electric. Heat with wood, that kinda thing.”

“Well if you could do that in this neighborhood, that’d be somethin’.  Let me check with staff. There some way I can get hold of you?”

“Sure. Here’s my business card,” I said, handing him my Metro Administrator card, which was at best, rarely used. “That ought a be good for about another week. Then I’m going to be wearing green.”

“Well, I must say I’m a little surprised,” Doctor Cole said with a little grin. “You don’t strike me as the Administrator type.”

“I am dressed in my typical farm attire, true enough. That’s probably why I’m getting drafted.”

“I’m quite glad to meet you, Mr. Drummond. I didn’t make the connection. You managed to wrangle a priority status for us back in October. I think without that status, this place would be closed.”

“You can credit Dr. Sorenson for that. She asked I just put it in motion, with…some appropriate emphasis. Sacred Heart and Kootenai, and that small hospital up in Sandpoint got their priority, too. Besides that, having been a patient at two of the three hospitals, I have a distinct self-interest.”

“Those that act, usually do.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“As well you should. I’ll let you know what I find out.”

“And we’ll see what we can do about some housing. Thanks, again,” I said as I shook hands.

“Mrs. Bauer, a pleasure, although Mr. Drummond and I monopolized the conversation.”

“Doctor, thank you for everything.”

“I just hope we can do more someday,” Doctor Cole said as he headed down the half-lit hallway with a wave.  Karen and Alan were heading to meet us.

“Everything OK?” I asked Karen.

“Ornery as ever,” she said as she gave me a hug. “We gave the bag of scones to the nurses—they said the patients would get them, not staff.”

“Ever to serve, these people,” I said quietly.

“You talking with one of the docs?” Alan asked as we headed back toward ‘reception.’

“Yeah. They’re housing-short. And I was checking on care for Mom. Maybe a live-in nurse.”

“Rick, we don’t really have room.”

“I know. What happens though if we rehab the house next to us, and set that up as Grace’s place with a live-in nurse or two? It’s a rancher, doors are wide enough for a walker or a wheel chair, and it’s already got half of the accessible stuff needed.”

Alan was thinking this over as we retrieved our sidearms, and as Karen and Mary signed us out.

“Not a bad idea,” Alan said. “That place is gonna need some work though.”

“I know. Now onto the other idea. Nursing or staff housing for the hospital. A bunch of them are bunking at the hospital. What would it take for you to get some home-improvement types together and put some houses together?” I asked as we headed back to the car.

“You know the answer to that as well as anybody. ‘Depends.’”

“I mean supplies. Can you get stuff to put a typical place back together?”

“Sure, from stripped and salvaged buildings. How much you wanna spend?”

“As little as possible as always. Horse trading is my preferred method, as poor as I am conducting those transactions.”

“You’re good enough at them, you just hate the idea of them,” Alan said, sizing me up correctly.

“Yeah, that’s true enough.”

“Let’s take a little drive through the neighborhood and see what we have to work with,” Alan said. “Besides that, there’s a little place over on Sullivan that we need to go visit.”

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