Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chapter Forty

What a horrible day this has turned into. Despite all of the extra rain, most families in Tampa must still rely on water from local lakes, ponds, and canals for some of their water. Due to the heat, some people would also go down to the water to cool off. Once Sissy finds out how many people are doing this, she refuses to use water from the ponds and canals around their neighborhood, even for watering the garden. The danger of contamination is too great. Because of this Sissy rarely thinks about what else could go wrong with being around the local "wild" water sources. Sissy has enough problems of her own to solve and knows that Scott has tried to warn people in the neighborhood to be careful. At a certain point, you have to let people take responsibility for their own choices.

But people who were using those water sources should have given it more thought. Other people should have remembered that this is Florida; and that there have been sightings of dangerous wildlife in their neighborhood almost every year for as long as anyone can remember. Obviously, need warred with common sense as did the "it can’t happen to me or mine" thought process.

Earlier in the day, three brothers went down to the canal behind their house to wade in the water. Afterwards, the boys said they were down there for just a minute when the youngest was pulled down and out into the canal. The boys’ screaming immediately drew responses from every adult within earshot. What they see when they arrive is like a scene from a horror movie. The two older brothers are struggling to pull the youngest from the water. No matter how hard they struggle, they can barely keep him from going under much less get him to dry land. Attached to his leg, just below his knee, are the jaws of an alligator.

The adults all run down the embankment, men and women, and wade in to save the boys. Some grab the boy and pull and some commence to beating the gator in hopes of running him off. Mr. Jones tries to stab the animal with a sharp pitchfork but is swept off his feet by the thrashing tail. Mr. Cleary is beating the animal with a baseball bat until he too is dunked.

Tom Cox, whose great grandfather was a Seminole Indian and who has hunted gators down in the ‘Glades, is able to get a line on the alligator. He lets the animal roll until he has wrapped himself all up in the rope. This gives everyone a way to pull the animal to the bank, which will get the boys to dry land.

The animal continues to try to roll so several men pile on him and Barry strikes the back of the gator’s head several times with a sledgehammer. The animal finally releases his jaws enough so the adults can obtain the boy’s release. All of this terror and work and it was only a four foot gator. They would not have been able to subdue anything larger in time to save the kid.

What an awful sight. The boy’s leg is obviously broken and is mangled. He is in shock with a thin, reedy pulse. While some of the adults get him stabilized and wrap the leg, Tom Cox runs to get his pick up truck and Scott runs to get a can of fuel. They both meet at the canal bank and they get the boy and his parents loaded into the truck bed and head off to the fire station that is about 2.5 miles down US41.

The other two boys are left in the care of the neighborhood. They are understandably shaken and have scrapes and cuts of their own where they fought for their brother’s life. Their wounds are washed and fussed over by everyone. They are given a hot sweet drink and put in the shade and are not left alone for even a moment. They are prodded to eat and held when they cry. Even the oldest, a highschool junior who played varsity football, sheds more than a few tears, scared to death his baby brother is going to die.

At the fire station, the boy receives immediate attention. In a lucky turn of events, one of very few seen on this day, a doctor has been temporarily assigned to the station as an experiment to try and give some relief to the community clinics. As bad as the leg is, the doctor still opts to treat him in an open-air operating room rather than run the risk of cross infection at the hospital. In the boy’s weakened condition, he is a prime candidate to get influenza or some other infection like MRSA.

The doctor makes no promises, but does his best to save both the boy and his leg. After the wounds are cleaned and treated, the leg is stabilized with a splint to allow for daily cleaning and re-bandaging. The parents are given strict instructions on wound care and what to do at the first sign of infection. Unfortunately pain medication is in short supply. They give the boy what they can, but it will only last about 48 hours. Antibiotics are impossible to come by right now so it will be even more important to clean and dress the wound with the utmost care. There is still a greater than even chance the boy will lose the leg anyway, even under the best of care. They will know within the week at the latest.

Returning home, they found the gator already skinned and the meat prepared for a "Stone Soup" gathering. Several families have donated what medical supplies they can pull together for the boy’s care. Several with some wound care experience volunteer to help spell the parents so they can get some rest.

The parents of the boys thank every one for helping and then settle in for a few long days of waiting for signs of infection. Tom drives his pick up back to his house, Scott dumps a couple gallons of fuel in it and then he walks home to his own family.

"How is the boy?" Sissy asks anxiously.

"He’ll live, if they can keep any infection from getting out of control. I think the doc was calling it sepsis or something like that. He might still lose the leg. No one is sure right now. The doctor they have up at the station came close to just amputating the leg from the knee down."

"Oh my Lord. What are the chances of infection?" Sissy asks in a horrified voice.

"Pretty good unfortunately. That canal isn’t real clean and neither is a gator’s mouth. They gave the kid a shot of some kind of antibiotic but there weren’t any pills for him to send home. The boy had a tetanus shot at his last school check up so that part was OK. Even if they can deal with any infection, his bone was snapped clean in two, and they were setting it without benefit of x-rays. So while it might heal, it more than likely will need to be re-broken and set some time down the road. Worse though is the muscle and soft tissue damage. He’ll definitely need some kind of extensive work and therapy, but who knows when he’ll get it."

"Is there anything we can do?"

"Everyone in the neighborhood is pitching in. Serena and Anne have started a big tub of washing for everyone’s wet and muddy clothes. Mr. Cleary has stretched the gator hide to make something for the boys, a memento of some sort I guess. Mr. Jones has posted a warning sign and has gotten on his bike and is spreading the news about what happened. Don’t bother calling or sending a telegram … just tell Jonesie. People are volunteering to sit with the boys, help with meals, work in the family’s garden, and whatever else they feel led to do."

"Count me in. I can fix some broth and I’ll take it over."

"Uh uh. No you won’t. You can make the broth, but I’ll take it over, " Scott snaps.

"Excuse me?!" Sissy says, rather taken aback by Scott’s sudden change in tone.

Scott bends his head and rakes his hand though his hair, something he only does when he is under a lot of stress. "Look. I didn’t mean to bite your head off. Its just we’ve gotten all off track from our social distancing plan. You’ve gone to the grocery store four times now. It eats me alive each time you go. And we are exposing the kids . . . "

"I wear a mask and gloves and they don’t let anyone in who is cou . . " Sissy says, trying to allay his fears.

As Scott begins pacing he says, "I don’t care. Things have got to change. I’m not being as careful when I come home from work either. People are still getting sick. The EMTs up at the fire station were telling Tom and me some stuff. I just don’t want to take any more unnecessary changes. I know you and the kids, especially you, have gotten used to getting out more and I am sorry. I couldn’t live with myself if something happens to any of you, especially this late in the game, just because we got complacent."

After staring at Scott and realizing how serious he was, she accepts this is a non-negotiable issue for him – for now any way. Sissy capitulates with more grace than she feels like for Scott’s sake. She gives him a hug and goes inside to fix the broth. And she tries really hard to not get bent out of shape. She knows Scott is just trying to protect his family. But it isn’t easy for her to keep her mouth shut and the suddenness of Scott’s outburst leaves her feeling close to tears.

For Scott’s part, he feels like a heel. He knows Sissy has begun to look forward to getting out and away from all the work she has to do. He knows the kids enjoy the extra freedom they have had lately. But he and Tom talked on the way home. Neither man is comfortable with the stories they heard from professionals who should know. They realize that their neighborhood really does have it fairly good because they started working together and cooperating early on. What they had not realized was that the problems they have been seeing in the traditionally lower socio-economic areas of town where they work actually is mirrored in the "best" parts of town. According to the EMTs, some of the formerly "better" parts of town are actually more even more dangerous than the formerly "bad" parts of town. Life continues to dole out surprises, usually right when you think you are beginning to get things figured out.

Both Scott and Tom expect to catch a lot of flack for the new rules. Neither one knows if it will be their kids or their wives who will object the most. Hopefully they’d be around to make it up for the return to stricter rules when the pandemic is over. They just want their families to live that long.

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