The Child Eleanor – 2007
This is a story I started in 2007. It was inspired by my daughter Eleanor. Her hugs seemed to be able to make the worst mood into sunshine. The story takes place in the future after the second civil war in the United States. A western States couple has volunteered to work in a bombed out hospital in the Eastern States. After ten years in the East, a surprise walks through the doors of their hospital.
The shock of an explosion woke me from what seemed a deep sleep. That one was close. How close? My mind raced sweeping the bed side for my shoes. There was a flickering orange light coming in through one of the portholes on the wall. Oh no! I thought. Something was on fire nearby. Finding my shoes I slipped them on and ran for the door. The hospital was buzzing but still rather quiet. Ron was nowhere in sight. Where is everyone? The clock on the wall read 3:43 A.M. I looked to the exits. I saw people running around outside. No one seemed to be any of our people. One of my patients began to moan. I ran to the circulation desk and grabbed my stethoscope flinging it around my neck. Whirling back around to face the darkened room full of beds I noticed that many of the patients were sitting up looking toward the Operating Room. The lights inside were on and the curtains were drawn. I could faintly hear what sounded like screaming. It was a girl’s voice. I took a meticulous glance around the room looking for an empty bed. Left to right I inventoried every patient, every bed, every breathing soul. All were accounted for. Who was in there? My patient moaned again. I jogged over to where he lay. “Walter. What’s the matter?” I tried to keep my tone quiet, but it was difficult with the seemingly more frequent explosions outside. He didn’t respond. “Walter, are you awake?” I checked his pulse and took his temp. His vitals were fine. Lifting up one eyelid I shined my pen light into his pupil. It constricted and he squirmed. He’s still sleeping. The door to the OR swung open and a blood wrenching shriek tore its way through the room. Kathy sprinted from the door way. Noticing me she demanded I get whatever morphine we had left and take it to Ron.
Behind the circulation desk was a locked refrigerator. I worked the lock with my keys and opened the door. Pale yellowness illuminated our meager rations of medicines. I grabbed three olive and red tubes labeled Morphine Sulfate Injection 10mg. These were military issued rations used in the field for wounded soldiers. We had formed some alliances with some East States soldiers whom we had saved a few years before. Once in a while we would get a visit from a soldier with a ration box of bandages, medical instruments, aspirin, and morphine. These were field medic supplies. We never asked how they got them. We assumed they were stolen or taken off of a dead medic. We were simply grateful to have anything. President Lyles of the Eastern States refused to supply us with our medical needs. His government allowed the use of the buildings and provided the electricity and water, and gallons of alcohol for sterilization purposes, but saw that as the end of their obligation to helping a neutral party group. Government hospitals in the Eastern States were very few and were used only for soldiers and government officials and their families. We were one of dozens of makeshift hospitals throughout the Eastern States. We had heard that hospitals were closing up shop all the time due to lack of resources. We had heard that the most successful hospitals had allied themselves with military regiments or with government couriers. Through them they were able to get left over rations of supplies. Our alliance with the troops that we had made was tenuous at best, but it still produced results.
I ran through the door of the OR. The curtains billowed as I broke into the bright lights. Kathy was right behind with a large plastic basin in here hands. Ron I could see Ron’s back was to me. I could see he was wearing a blue scrub top. That meant surgery. Because complete sterilization wasn’t an option, we did the best we could with certain designated garments. On the hospital floor we wore street clothes. Our water rations allowed for one day of laundry a week. That was around five loads if we had the detergent. We normally just used the powdered soap we used for showering. Most of our daily needs like soap and food were all bartered for at the government rationing depot. Our currency was clothing, watched, shoes, and anything you might find on a person who had come to the hospital to die. Recently Ron and I had gotten into the business of making liquor from the government’s alcohol supplies. The soldiers at the depot valued this above anything because of the military prohibitive laws on the consumption of alcohol. For one pint bottle of alcohol we could eat for a week. For two, we could feed everyone in the building. So for the cost of making two bottles of consumable alcohol, we were granted two more weeks of hospital operation.
Walking around Ron I saw the patients. She was a girl, a very young girl. The OR table was reclined to a forty-five degree angle. Her face was in anguish: eyes pinched shut, teeth bared. She was growling and screaming. For one brief moment she relaxed enough to open her eyes. She couldn’t have been older than fifteen. Her feet were being held up by Kathy and Barbara, another nurse. Kathy had dropped the plastic basis to the floor beneath the girl’s feet. I walked to the girl’s side and noticed that she was pregnant. Barb was encouraging the girl in a voice not accustomed to sympathy. “C’mon, honey. You need to push.” The girl screamed. Her face was bright red. Ron’s voice broke through the screams.
“We’re at ten. I need a big push.” His voice was almost without humanity. He said the words as if reading a script. It was only then that I realized how desensitized we had become. Living in this inhuman hellhole for three years had completely washed away any trace that we were emotional beings; that we felt anything. Ron and I hadn’t been intimate in years and we hadn’t even felt the desire to make love since the first month we spent at St. Gabriel’s. Even now, delivering a baby felt more like a death sentence than a miracle. I never thought that child birth would ever be a depressing event for me. Even after that fact that it wasn’t often that we got to deliver a baby. Babies were the one thing allowed into the government hospitals without meeting government official criteria, but the baby had to be legal. Mother and father had to be present and the mother had to be 18 years old or she would be turned away. This would explain how we ended up with her.
“Ok, let’s push. Honey.” Ron told the girl.
“I can’t. It hurts” Her voice was high and very young.
“I understand, but if you want this to be over you need to push.” I dabbed the girl’s forehead with a cloth. She was feverish. Her bare arm was thin. I could see the contour of the bone and her skin was almost transparent as all of the blue veins were visible. She was obviously undernourished. How she even had a baby still living inside of her was a mystery.
The girl started babbling. Most of what she said was incomprehensible, but a few things got out in absolute clarity. “She can’t stay. She can’t stay here. Need to get her out. I need to get her out. Eleanor. Eleanor. Oh, Eleanor. I’ll get you out of here. I will.” She began to trail off into delirium.
“Ok, this kid isn’t crowning. Can we get her to push some more?”
I leaned over her and turned her face toward mine. Her eyes were wide open but I felt that she couldn’t see me at all. “Honey, I need you to push. Can you push?”
“Eleanor. Eleanor. Eleanor. Her name is Eleanor. The girl stared into space. Her eyes seemed to be focused on something behind me. Suddenly her head jerked backward and her eyes rolled up. A long groan issued from her. When she stopped she began grasping for table’s edges. Her breathing became deep and her face began to turn pale. Her heart rate monitor began flashing and beeping.
“Oh no.” Ron said as he examined the departure area. “I think…” He pressed around the bulge on the girl’s abdomen. “Dammit! This kid is breech”
“Didn’t you do that when she came in?” I demanded. Ron just glared at me. I was fully aware of his lack of sleep. Breech at this point in delivery was not a good sign for the baby or the mother. At least not in this facility.
“Just help me, will you?”
“Her BP is dropping, Doc. It’s dropping fast.” Kathy said with the slightest concern in her voice. Ron felt around inside the girl. “Gah!” Ron grunted in frustration. I looked at his concentrating face.
“Can you turn it?” I aksed
“Too late for ECV. We need to get this kid out, now.”
Kathy dropped the girl’s leg and she and I reached for the table end that hung loosely beneath the girl’s knees. Barb hopped over to the supply closet to grab some instruments.
“Ok, people, I need a number 12 scalpel and 14k sutchers, half round if we’ve got any left.”
Barb reached into the cupboard and grabbed what she found. She placed her load onto a stainless steel tray and carried them over to the tray table. Kathy and I raised a paper patrician at the girl’s chest so that she wouldn’t be able to see anything. She was looking very pale now. Perspiration was rolling down her forehead. The girl’s body went suddenly limp. She had passed out.
“She’s out, Doc.” Kathy said as Ron went to work.
“Her BP is very low. She’s not looking too good” I responded. “I don’t know about this one.” How easily I lost hope anymore.
“These poor, sick, undernourished…” Ron’s voice trailed off. “Ok, sixty seconds. This baby might never see the light of day.” His voice was flat. It was the voice of defeat. I tended to follow the same path of pessimism in this place, but for some reason I wanted this baby to survive. We had seen this before. Undernourished person comes in and dies in one of our beds because we don’t have the necessities required to nourish a person back to health. We do the best we can, but most of the time it’s not enough.
I looked at the girl. She was clammy, her breathing was getting worse. If we were to lose her, there would be no defibrillating her. She would just be gone.
“Oh crap.” Came Ron’s voice. “She’s hemorrhaging from somewhere. There’s a lot of blood in here. She’s not going to make it.” At that moment something changed. The girl’s eyes shot open. She looked at me and wrenched my hand weakly.
“Eleanor. Her name…” with a deep breath her body went completely limp. Her gaze fell completely blank, eye’s dilated and the monitor behind me screeched. With no more warning than that, she was gone. I turned off the howl of the monitor and Barb gently closed the girl’s eyes. Dropping the curtain and said in a allow, defeated tone, “she’s gone.” When I looked up I saw Ron and Kathy standing at the foot of the bed. The girl’s legs lay dead on the table. In Ron’s arms was the body of a tiny little baby, naked to the open air. We’d lost them both I thought to myself. I walked around Ron toward the sink. He just stood there holding the child. Without warning his voice came hoarsely at first but then brightly and full of energy.
“Blanket. I need a blanket. We need to cover her up.” We three nurses turned suddenly. I looked at the baby. My mind raced. What was going on? Was it possible? Had the baby actually survived? The mother was lost but the baby was still alive. I ran out to the main room and scavenged for a semi-clean blanket. There wasn’t one. I ran to my room and grabbed a towel from the pile in the bathroom. I rushed back in to see Ron holding the baby close to his chest. His arms were wrapped around it like a blanket. He seemed to be trying to cover it as much as possible; to keep it secure. His eyes were focused only on the child. I approached them and gently laid the towel on top of the baby. Ron choked a spastic gasp. Tears rolled from his eyes. “She’s a girl.” He looked up at me with a swollen expression. I can’t remember the last time I had seen Ron like this. Truly it had been years. Maybe even since our first station in the East Bank camps.
I reached out and touched his elbow. He wrapped his strong arm around me and pulled me in close to him. He buried his head at the base of my neck and began to sob. I wrapped my arm around him and felt the emotion welling up inside of me. I instinctively fought the feelings, the emotions. I wanted to cry. I don’t know why, but I wanted to cry. I flood of emotion was welling up inside of me. I wanted to hold Ron close to me. I hadn’t felt him that close in years. He held me tighter. I held him. For minutes we remained that way. It felt like hours. As he wept I looked at the miracle in his arms. Her eyes were still closed but she had a peaceful look to her. She didn’t cry. She didn’t move. She simply laied there in Ron’s arms and breathed. She breathed in life with every breath. She was so tiny, but she was so perfect. An instinct deep inside me begged my body to reach out and take the child in my arms. I reached up to stroke her cheek. Her skin was soft to the touch. Warmth radiated from her whole being. I placed my hand on the crown of her head. Warmth. It was a warmth that penetrated deeper than my skin. I could feel it seize my whole body. My breathing began to quicken as my heart raced. Light seemed to fill the room. No, not the room. Me. It filled me. I was feeling. I could feel everything. Emotion seeped into the very tissue of my body. I could feel light and joy. I could feel things that had no business in this part of the world. Suddenly there was hope. But there couldn’t be hope. Not here. Not in this place. But I could feel it all around me. The tears finally began their cascade down my cheeks; tears that had been dammed up for too long. I coughed out a sob. It was as though something was waking up inside of me. It was part of me that had been dormant for so long that it had rusted, stopped working. Now I was restarting that part of me and it almost hurt. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning as he choked out a laugh. My sobs came in sputters and then in chuckling torrents. As my breathing fell under control I realized that I couldn’t control the tears as I stared into the face of the miniscule angel before me.
Ron lifted his head, eyes swollen and red. A Cheshire cat smile opened up across his whole face as he exhaled and regained his breathing. I looked into his eyes. I could see light there that hadn’t been there since the first years of our marriage. He shook his head as he smiled that wide smile. I looked at him and felt my body begin convulsing beginning low in my diaphragm. It shook my shoulders and my breath came in quick bursts. A chuckle. No, a laugh. I was laughing. Ron was laughing. We just stared at each other and laughed. We cried and laughed. We held the baby in our arms. We were so close to her. We were so close to each other. What was happening? The world around us seemed distant and completely detached from us. This child was a miracle. We knew she was. Her mother had given everything so that she could live. Her mother.
“Oh, no.” I said as Ron and I gazed at each other.
“What’s the matter” he said wiping a tear from my cheek.
“She’s gone. The girl. She died on the table.” My heart sank a little as I released the child and turned toward the table. Barb and Kathy had already covered the girl with a sheet and had disappeared to other parts of the hospital. I had almost completely forgotten they were there with us.
I walked over to the girl’s side and placed a hand on her abdomen from where the miracle had sprouted. Sliding my hand down to her side I lifted the sheet and felt her thin, sallow fingers. I grasped at them and felt that she had already gone cold. Slowly I pulled back the sheet to see her face again. Her blonde hair lay in sweat matted locks across her forehead. I hadn’t noticed how cherubic and innocent she looked. Her cheeks were overcome with the paleness that comes with death, but she still had a soft glow about her visage. Though Barb had closed her eyes for her, the lids rested as though shrouding a deep sleep rather than death. The most pleasant part about her appearance was her mouth. It seemed slightly drawn into a content smile. She was at peace. Wherever she was, if she was at all, she was at peace.
Ron came up next to me. “She looks so peaceful. That’s not normal for this place.” His tone was soft and gentle, so filled with the soft caress of emotion.
“I wonder who she was?” curiosity and peace flowed through me.
“I need to sew her up.” Ron whispered as he handed me the baby. I felt the warmth again. The very touch of this child drew out feelings of hope and limitless possibility. The sensation was addictive. I wanted to hold her at every moment. I never wanted to let her go.
Ron recovered the mother’s face with the sheet. His every movement was so precise and gentle. Walking back around to the girl’s abdominal region he dragged the instrument cart with him and parked it right next to him. Normally he wouldn’t have bothered with closing up the wound if the person had died on the table, but he knew as well as I did, that this girl deserved more. There was something oddly special about this her, about her child. Though I couldn’t put my hand on it, something was different. I felt… changed. I could see it in Ron’s expressions and demeanor, too. Things were not as they used to be.
I bounced the baby in my arms and found myself cooing. Her eyes were still closed, but her peaceful expression was unchanged. Her little chest rose and fell with each breath seemingly in time with my bobbing.
Ron had threaded a needle and was delicately stitching up the girl’s stomach. Staying focused on his work and without turning to me he asked, “What are we going to name her?” His voice was light and singsongy.
It took me only a moment to answer. “Eleanor”.
“That’s pretty. How’d you come up with that?”
“The girl said her name was Eleanor. I don’t know if she meant this little angel, but she said ‘she’, so I say we call her Eleanor.”
“Eleanor.” Another wide grin sprouted across his face.
At that moment I looked to the door of the OR. Standing on the other side of the glass were Barb and Kathy. Their expressions were of confusion, and skepticism. I had completely forgotten they were here with us. I felt giant toothy smile cross my face as I raised my arm and waived them in. Slowly they walked into the room. I rushed to them holding the child Eleanor out for them to see. They glanced at each other with a look that seemed half worry and half sheer confusion.
“Her name is Eleanor.” I said as I got close to the two women. They just looked and stared.
“Touch her. Touch her head. She’s so warm.” I smiled as they hesitated. Barb raised a hand first and touched the top of the soft caloric head. Her whole frame seemed to shake for a second then her face lit up. She bent down to get closer to Eleanor’s face.
“Oh my. You are so beautiful, little one. Little Eleanor”. She choked up and I could see tears as she gentle stroked her calloused hand down Eleanor’s cheek.
Kathy came next. Again, a mere touch elicited such powerful emotions from this woman. Kathy was different from Ron, Barb, and me. She was a native of the Eastern States. She was born the daughter of a military officer in a government hospital in Washington D.C. She was hard to her very core. She hadn’t known joy the way we had as children. Joy to Kathy was having a night’s sleep without a raid; being able to go to school, having more than one pair of shoes. She was orphaned by her father when she was three years old. Eastern States orphans are sent to abandonment houses run by the government. They were essentially orphanages that raised children of all ages to be government indentured servants. They became government slaves. It was President Lyles’s plan to raise up his own soldiers and loyal subjects from the ashes of his own…