Slim's Broken Leg, Part 1
A SAGA OF THE PLAGUE TIMES
My pal, Houston Slim, up in Turkey, Texas, told me he recently had a family of raccoons nesting in his chimney, impeding his ability to build a fire in his fireplace during the recent ice storm up there.
Apparently, it hit Turkey pretty hard. The town went dark for a spell, but that didn't bother Slim too much since he doesn't have electricity in his house and only has propane to keep warm and cook on. And the fireplace, of course, where he mostly burns mesquite. He doesn't do much at night but read and sleep and says why waste a lot of money on electricity for that when you can read by candlelight or lantern? —It didn't seem to hurt Abraham Lincoln any. (Slim hasn't had a TV in forty years—calls it a tool of Beelzebub—and does all his computer work at the public library.)
Slim says that citizens of the state of Texas, especially the poor, should not delude themselves that there will be any significant improvements to the electric power grid that failed last year, leaving thousands of people without heat in their homes and killing around two-hundred and fifty. Slim says this is what you get when you have a state disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid regulations. Or, to put it another way—Disconnected From Reality. Unfettered free market capitalism is bidness as usual in the Lone Star State, which basically means that, as usual, sympathy favors money over human concerns.
If you don't believe it, take a gander at the oodles of cash showered on the governor, the lieutenant governor, and other legislators involved in power grid legislation by the top power companies after new regulations passed with weaker provisions. According to the Texas Observer, all told, oil industry billionaires have made contributions (bribes) amounting to millions of dollars to elected officials to “keep turning a blind eye on price gouging and windfall profits,” while leaving hundreds of people to die. . .
Governor Greg Abbott: $4.6 million.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: $1.3 million.
Rep. Chris Paddie: $26,000
Sen. Charles Schwertner: $45,000
. . .and so on. . .
As he was endeavoring to coon-proof his chimney, Slim hit an icy patch on the metal roof of his old rock house, lost his footing and fell off, fracturing his shinbone. He somehow managed to drive himself forty miles north to the Moberdee County Hospital, where, owing to a flood of new Covid cases, Slim discovered they were somewhat short-handed. It's a small hospital in the little Panhandle town of Lovelorn, very old and somewhat shabby, plaster falling out of walls, broken toilets, geyser-spewing water fountains, and so on. Very much in keeping with the rest of our rapidly crumbling empire.
SLIM TELLS IT
First thing I noticed was the ten or twelve delivery vans lined up outside the hospital, all cheerfully decorated. I later learned they were mobile morgue vehicles. There being no full scale morgue trucks available in Lovelorn— nothing like the Allied Van Line-sized behemoths parked outside hospitals in practically every big city to carry off all the dead from Covid—the city council simply requisitioned a dozen or so plain white delivery vans from used car-lots in town. The floors of the vans were laid with blocks of dry ice, then covered with canvas drop-cloths. I was told, if they managed it right, they could get as many as thirty bodies loaded in the back, if they stacked them. Some optimist on the council came up with the idea to disguise the vehicles' true intent by painting colorful balloons and rainbows on the sides and cheery bright smiley-faces on the rear doors. The effect was the appearance of a fleet of party trucks bringing a celebration to the sick and dying in the hospital.
Since I couldn't walk too good, I went on and pulled my truck right up to the Emergency Room doors, thinking that would get somebody's attention. Nobody came out. I noticed an orderly standing by the door, smoking a cigarette. It's been many years since I gave up the cancer sticks, but it still amazes me how willingly hardened smokers will endure freezing temperatures to get their nicotine fix.
“Hey, buddy, need a hand, here,” I called out. Averting his eyes, the orderly ground out his cig on the wall, turned, and fled inside. A cop appeared at my window: “You can't park here, mister!”
“I need a hand, here, man. My leg is broke.”
The cop seemed hesitant. Clearly, he didn't relish going in there. Finally, he said, “All right, go on and park your truck.” I did so, then, draping my arm around the cop's neck, he walked me inside. The waiting room was packed—every seat filled with the sick, broken or wounded. The line at the admitting window was at least twenty people long, all dressed in thrift store gear, stooped and hollow-eyed. Some of them could barely stay on their feet.
A middle-aged black woman was seated unmasked behind the plexiglass screen, logging their names and information into a computer. She looked slightly burned out and fed up. A cigarette hung from her mouth, smoke tickling her bloodshot eyes.
Meanwhile, we stood there, not knowing what to do, the cop looking more and more spooked. “I gotta get back outside,” he muttered. “I'm not even s'posed to be in here.”
“Sorry to be so much trouble,” I said. I had the feeling he might drop me any second and split for the door.
Finally, a white-coated young man bounced in through the swinging doors, and thrust some masks in our hands. “Put these on!” he said.
“This kid was a throw-back to the 1950's, with jet black hair, combed in a greasy duck-tail. A wet black curl drooped in his eyes. One rubber tube of his stethoscope patched with duct-tape. The badge on his lapel read: “Lockwood, Student Intern.” The kid started to walk off.
“Hold up a second, bubba” said the cop. “Where you going? I can't stand here holdin' this guy up all night.”
The kid looked me over. “What's the matter with you?”
“Broke m' leg,” I replied.
Lockwood gave out an impatient sigh. “You had your shots?”
“You bet your ass I have, kiddo.”
“Show me your card.” I whipped out my card.
The kid sighed again. “All right. Wait here.”
He went out, leaving the cop looking p.o.'d. Returned with a folding chair. The cop lowered me to the chair, burned rubber for the door before I could thank him.
The kid took my information right there, entering it on his I-Phone. Said I'd still have to talk to the black lady in Admitting, but this would expedite the process. Two hours later, I heard my name called out. Lockwood came back and moved me to the chair in front of the window.
The black lady sat there typing, not looking at me. By now, she had a new cigarette going, which never left her lips as she talked. Her badge read, “Aletha Pomerance.”
“So. . .broke your leg, huh?” She said.
“Yup, fell off the roof.”
Her eyes darted from the screen over to me. “What was you doin' on the roof in this weather, hon?”
“Got raccoons nesting in my chimney. Trying to get 'em out so's I could build a fire.”
She frowned. “How come they didn't just tumble down in your fireplace?”
“Well, they're clever. They crammed a bunch of limbs in there for a support structure, then built their nest on top of it.”
“I've never heard of that.”
“Me, neither.” Thinking it might help things along a little, I said, “I like your name. Aletha. That's a pretty name.” She frowned, looked a little suspicious. Then, mumbled, “Thanks.” Eyes snapped back to her computer. Frowning again as she scrolled down, she muttered, “Hmm. . . Ain't no docs available right now to fix your leg. All tied up with Covid patients.”
“Sorry to hear it,” I replied.
“Unless. . .” She paused. “I think Lockwood could do it.”
“Lockwood. He's a kid, ain't he?”
“He's an intern—from the junior college over in Wichita Falls. But he's pretty smart. He set a broke finger yesterday on a twelve-year-old kid. Daddy said he caught it in a car door. Myself, I think Daddy broke it, that's what I think.”
“You think so?”
“I wouldn't be surprised. A lot of that going around lately. Anyway, the attending looked at Lockwood's splint, said it looked pretty good for never having done it before.”
“So that's all he's done?—just a finger?”
“That's it, honey.”
“Hm. Well, I don't know, Aletha. This is somewhat bigger than a finger.”
“Uh-huh. Well, the principle oughta be the same. A bone is a bone, ain’t it?” The smoke curled into her eyes again. She squinted. “Otherwise, it'll be sometime tomorrow morning 'fore somebody can get to it.”
I looked around. The idea of waiting all night surrounded by all those sick people held little appeal. Besides, I'd already lost my chair to a haggard woman in a pale blue quilted bathrobe. Asleep or passed out, she had slid so far down in the chair her butt hung over the floor and appeared to be headed for a hard landing. I turned and nodded to Aletha. When Lockwood returned, she asked him if he could set a broken leg.
Again the put-upon sigh, a toss of his raven curl. “Depends. Is it broken all the way through or just fractured?”
“How would I know?” I asked.
“You'd know,” the kid replied. “We'll X-ray it and have a look.”
“Hold on a minute,” I said. “Ms. Pomerance here says you've never dealt with a leg before. Is that true?”
“I set the leg on a cat one time,” the kid said with some pride. I work afternoons for my uncle.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a veterinarian.”
“Don't forget the finger,” Aletha reminded him.
“Oh, yeah, I did that one, too.” He paused a moment before adding, “It's the same principle.”
(Next—Slim’s Broken Leg, Part Two: Journey To Purgatorio)