Patient Zero

by Andrea Doria

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction written by a non-doctor and non-lawyer even by a non-English speaker. Any glaring language, medical or judicial mistakes are mine. The story involves a physical relationship between two women. But you knew that, that's why you are here ;) Feel free to send me your thougts:

Chapter 7

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
Mo made a final examination of Fran’s head. She could feel a big bump and could tell from the slow reaction of her pupils that she was badly concussed. It hadn’t helped pulling her up behind the snowmobile, but there had been no other option.

She gave her an injection of a strong antibiotic and another injection of morphine and pulled her to the side of the coffee table, in the warm glow of the fireplace.

- Shouldn’t we try to get her on your couch? Ann asked.

Mo shook her head.

- No she would try to change position too often. Too much comfort is bad for the very sick. Right now the floor is the safest place she can be.

Mo started gathering up her instruments, and putting things away in her medical bag. She carried the instruments back into the kitchen and dumped them into the boiling water again.

- Are you hungry? I’ll make you some eggs, after I’ve showered, she said

- And I’ll get you some clothes.

- Want your bathrobe back? Ann chided her

Mo felt her face flush, at the thought of wearing the robe after Ann had. Lucky she was standing over boiling water,

- Just thought you’d be more comfortable,

- Sorry, I know and yes I’m hungry, but I could make the eggs while you shower.

Mo turned around and noticed the time on her kitchen clock it read 9.30 pm. Lauren had called her a little after 3 pm. No wonder she was exhausted.

Too exhausted to hate the two women right now. She knew she would have to check on Fran during the night, and she would have to call and arrange for a helicopter to get her off the mountain at first light.

- All right I’ll shower then. Everything’s in the fridge.

- Do you drink tea or coffee?

- It’s late for coffee, but I have a feeling I’m not going to sleep to much tonight, she pointed to an espresso maker on the stove. It looked fancy with a black knob on top.

- Wow fancy machine, maybe I’ll leave the technical stuff to you.

Mo nodded and left the room.

Ann looked around the kitchen. It was huge, and very nicely laid out with everything within easy reach. She got a glass from a ledge running the length of one wall and savored the cold, clean mountain water from the tap.

Then she went to work. She found eggs, sausage, bacon, and bell pepper in the fridge. From an open supply rack she got a can of Heinz’s baked beans. In a red bread box she found an Italian loaf and decided to do the egg bread her Dad had always made for her when she was a child.

Slices of bread, with the center cut out, gently fried in olive oil and then an egg cracked into the hole and then fried over easy. The ultimate comfort food. They needed it.

She made two slices for each of them along with plenty of sausage, bell pepper and bacon and then she heated the beans. The cooking smells made her salivate.

- Smells wonderful,

She hadn’t heard Mo come into the kitchen and almost jumped with fright.

- Didn’t hear you.

- Sorry – found some sweats for you, I’ve hung up your clothes, so they’ll be dry tomorrow.

Ann felt foolish for just leaving everything in a heap on the bathroom floor. Like a teenager throwing a tantrum. But that was the way she had felt, when she had been ordered to shower and stay away for 30 minutes.

- I’ll go and put them on then.

She fled the kitchen.

Mo went to the espresso maker and started to make a couple of café au lait’s.

It had felt strange to hang another woman’s clothes in her bathroom.

She had never had company for more than a cup of coffee in her cabin, and now panties, a bra, jeans and a t-shirt was suspended from her shower curtain pole.

She had resisted rinsing out the bra and panties.

It had been her nightly ritual in Uganda. Once a week a local woman would wash all of her clothes, but every night she rinsed out what dried quickly.

She always boiled a little water for the job. When the locals did her washing they always ironed everything, to make sure no trypanosomes from the water would give her the sleeping sickness.

If only she could convince them to take the same kind of care for themselves and their families.

That was actually one of the things that had convinced her that the Scandinavian organizations she had worked for, was the right ones to sign on with. Their attention to simple solutions.

Their doctors where health works and hygienists as much as they were doctors.

The emphasis wasn’t only on miracle operations in the jungle. The health problems were far more basic than no plastic surgery for burn victims or cleft palates.

And that’s what attracted her. She wanted to be a bush doctor, not working in the president’s hospital in Kampala, the one Idi Amin build in the 70’s and which still operated.

That and getting away from her breakup with Gwen.

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
Ann hung the bathrobe back on the back of the door, then she put on the panties and singlet Mo had given her. A bit big but not too bad. The sweat pants were too long, she rolled them to just under her knees, the same with the sweatshirt - she rolled the sleeves to her elbows.

In the mirror she saw a tired image of herself in gray over sized sweats. She looked a bit like an elf.

As she came down the stairs she heard a meow. She poked her head into the kitchen where the fabulous smell of espresso was mingling with all the other good smells

- Can I let the cats out?

- Where did you put them?

- The linen closet.

- Sure.

A blurr of white and black fur passed her when she opened the door. She bend and picked up the bowl of kibble, they hadn’t touched it.

The small white cat was in Mo’s arms and the larger black and white one was rubbing himself against Mo’s legs.

- Meet Snowball and Panda

Both of them eyed her suspiciously.

- I know – I’m the one who locked you up, but I also let you out, remember?

Ann asked Mo where they were going to eat, and started dishing the food up on the plates she found on the shelf.

- In front of the fire I think. We have better be near the patient.

- Won’t she need something…to drink…

- To dangerous right now, but she’ll wake up during the night and then I’ll give her some water.

Mo sat cross-legged on the couch looking down on Fran, who looked quite peaceful. Ann sat on the floor leaning against the reading chair.

Snowball jumped up and tried to get at Mo’s food. Panda slowly approached Ann. She reached out a hand and let him sniff before she scratched his ear. He curled up next to her, with his back against her leg.

They didn’t speak while they ate. Ann could feel some of her strength return as the good food settled in her stomach and the strong coffee settled in her nervous system.

- When are you going to get out the rulebook and browbeat me about the theft of experimental drugs? Mo suddenly asked.

Ann finished chewing and said:

- That’s her job, indicating Fran.

- So what, you are her handmaid?

- No, I’m a circuit court judge actually.

- What??

Mo jumped up, and started pacing:

- So big pharma have mobile courts roaming the countryside to meter out punishment to anybody who let patients come before profit?

- No, no, I’m here as a, I don’t know what, as a courtesy to a friend.

Mo sat down again.

- So you had nothing to do with the e-mails that woman send me, she pointed at the sleeping form.

- No, but I would like to read them in fact. I’m not quite sure, what she’s up to.

Mo had finished the food, and put the plate on the coffee table. Snowball eyed it hungrily. Ann suspected under other circumstances the small cat would be allowed to lick the plate.

Casually she placed her plate within Panda’s reach. He couldn’t resist, and when he started licking Snowball threw caution to the wind and jumped across to the coffee table.

- Well, you like cats. You can’t be too bad, I imagine.

- Oh I imagine I could be. But no, I’m not her helper or anything.

It felt a little strange talking about Fran in that way, when she was sleeping right next to them on the floor.

- Well I’ll have to call emergency services and arrange her transport for tomorrow.

Ann got up and picked up the plates, the cats had licked them clean. Both cats where now busy cleaning themselves.

- I’ll do the dishes.

After a while Mo came back out into the kitchen.

- They will be here a little after 7 am tomorrow. She’s going to Denver Memorial. I figured you’d go with her.

Ann shook her head,

- Not if I don’t absolutely have to. I don’t know her well, but what I do know is, she’d hate to wake up with me at her bedside.

Ann looked for her blue fleece jacket. It was on a stone ledge by the door they had come through carrying Fran. Her phone had a weak signal. It was 11.05 p.m that meant it was 1.05 am in Miami.

She dialed Hector’s number.

He answered on the second ring, she was sure she hadn’t woken him. Too bad.

She explained the situation, and told him that Fran’s company had better contact Denver Memorial and get the paper work rolling.

- Has she said anything?

- Have you been listening? She’s unconscious, has been since the accident.

- No, the doctor woman!

Ann hung up. What was wrong with her mentor?

How could he ask that question after all she had gone through, after all both she and Fran had gone through too?

Mo was on the couch, Snowball on her lap, a can of Diet Coke at hand, another one was waiting for her.

- That didn’t sound right.

- No, the friend I told you I was doing a favor. Well seems he’s not a friend any more.

Ann tried the chair. It was exactly as comfortable as it looked. That’s why she had chosen to sit on the floor when they ate, to not get too comfortable. Now she sank back into the soft cushions and allowed her body to finally relax. She realized her knee was throbbing.

- That knee looks painful

- Well, just a big bruise.

- I can get you a bag of frozen peas.

Before she had time to reply Mo was off into the kitchen, where Ann heard the wush of the freezer being opened.

Mo handed her the peas wrapped in a tea towel.

- Do you mind if I go turn the generator off. The noise is getting on my nerves. I have some lanterns we can light.

Ann didn’t mind and watched Mo light four big lanterns. Their light yellow and comfortable. The silence when the generator was turned off was almost deafening.

- What about the fridge and the freezer?

- Run on propane like the stove.

- Oh.

Panda had jumped up and positioned himself along side her legs.

Next thing she knew the living room was dark except for a single lantern on the stone ledge by the fireplace.

She was covered in a brightly colored Indian throw. Panda was curled on her lap.

She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, and she didn’t know why she had woken. But Mo was trying to give Fran some water, gently lifting her into a position, where it would be possible to swallow.

- Where am I? the voice was weak and cracked, but the worlds were clear.

- You are in my cabin in Tabernash, I’m Mo Bancroft, the woman you’ve been chasing.

- Oh.

- You were in a snow mobile accident, your leg is broken and you have a bad bump on your head.

Mo put her gently down and got up. Panda followed her into the kitchen and she heard kibble hitting the side of the bowl.

Ann wanted to go back to sleep, but it sounded like Mo was brewing coffee. Pretty soon the smell drew her to the kitchen.

- Coffee this early? The wall clock read 3.23 am.

- Once she’s awake I have to check her every 30 minutes and stop her from sleeping too deeply.

- We could play cards.

- You should get your rest.

- I’m sure I’ll survive without.

Mo smiled.

- I could tell you about my work in Uganda.

Ann nodded and lifted up her hands

- Only if you want to.

Mo started telling her about her first arrival in Africa. How all she had expected to find was a dirty, barren, desolate and hopeless place. But how nothing had been they way she expected.

- The road from the airport in Entebbe into the center of Kampala was lined with the most amazing shops. All of them in tiny sheds, but there were craft shops, cafés, general stores and record stores. And they were busy too. People in vintage westernized 70’s clothes and more traditional African prints were milling along talking, looking at the goods, listening to the music and eating street food. Looked like a big party.

Ann nodded and tried to imagine. But it was hard. She couldn’t just erase the pictures of Africa as a hopeless place.

- Why vintage 70’s clothes?

- Donated clothes. Not all is given as direct aid to disaster victims. A lot is sold and eventually end up in poor countries. Problem is it undermines local industry.

And then Mo went on to describe how on her first evening in Kampala she and a group of the people working at the Scandinavia organizations she had signed up with went out to dinner.

She stayed at a compound for aid and development workers for the first months getting to know the languages and working with local doctors in the slums. She had been partnered with a local doctor named Robert.

- We had sushi. It was surreal. Sitting in the middle of Africa, Uganda is land locked it has access to the Nile and Lake Victoria but no ocean, and eating fresh wonderful sushi. Most of it flown in that morning from Madagascar.

Mo shook her head.

- Later on I stopped going to fancy places like that, because my Ugandan friends couldn’t afford it. But Kampala has lots of nice cheaper places and sometimes we’d go dancing.

Ann didn’t interrupt, but she really wanted to hear what kind of work she did.

- Perhaps it sounds strange, I know, to talk about what we did with our spare time instead of what we did when we worked. I call it the M.A.S.H syndrome. Think about it. In that series we were supposed to just accept that they worked very hard, but all it ever showed for any length of time was their waiting for incoming patients and their pranks and partying. The other part is hard, too hard to explain.

But slowly she started talking about going into the slums, seeing people on the edge of life.

- Most Ugandans live far below the poverty line. In theory that’s not possible. That means there’s an underground poverty economy, a way of bartering for food, water and a place to sleep. Prostitution for women, girls and young boys. Dangerous work for men.

Mo told Ann about the horrors she had seen. About the things humans do to humans and the things that people survive and even recover from.

- Whenever I complained, back at the compound, I was told it was far worse in the north, where the rebels have been terrorizing people since 1982. It was hard to believe, but when I got a chance to go, I grabbed it.

Ann couldn’t help wonder if doing work like that didn’t in some way mean running away from something in your own life. How else could anybody stand it, but she didn’t voice her opinion, she just asked.

- What made you decide to go in the first place, to Uganda I mean?

Mo looked up sharply

– Hasn’t the woman, she made a gesture towards the living room, told you all about me?

– I’ve seen a c.v. One day you worked at Denver Memorial the next day you went to Uganda, that’s all.

Mo looked deep in thought then she got up and walked into the living room. Ann could hear her talk softly to Fran and a moment later she came back to the kitchen.

- I went because my life felt stale. I was 32 years old: I was deadly afraid I was going to spend the rest of my life doing the same thing over and over with only slight variations. Also a relationship that I thought would last forever ended badly.

Ann appreciated the candor, but knew better than to sum it up as boredom and a broken heart.

- I went into medicine because of family tradition. Both my parents are doctors as are two of my three brothers. Symptoms and disease was all anybody talked about over dinner. I did okay at med school but not spectacular. I had a hard time finding the stuff I was really good at, until the summer when I went to the Appalachians with a mobile health care project. It turned out I have great intuitive diagnostic skills. But try printing that on a business card.

- But I bet it’s a good thing to have in Uganda.

Mo smiled.

- Yes.

- So, what was the north like?

- Completely different.

Mo described how traditional Ugandan villages are laid out. How people live in traditional round, mud huts with thatched roofs and have goats and chickens running free in and out of the houses.

- But it’s a hard life. Every day women and children have to carry water from often as much as 5 miles away. The men try to raise a crop on small lots without any machinery. Uganda is an incredibly fertile country. Everywhere you look, all you see is lush greenness, but farming without machinery is difficult.

Ann remembered her Dad’s stories about the plantations around Belle Glades. They were without machinery too, but poor immigrants from Cuba and Mexico worked like slaves in the field. How that had made him want to be a lawyer, to punish men like his own father, who was an overseer for United Fruit and treated the laborers badly.

How different his life had turned out.

- Then there were the rebels - Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. He is a complete loony who added commandment after commandment to the ten Moses came down the mountain with. Some of them read: Thou shalt kidnap young girls, rape them and force them into prostitution. Thou shalt kidnap young boys force them to shoot their father and rape their sisters and mother.

Ann winced.

- I’ve never heard of them.

- I know, it’s one of those African conflicts that has gone largely unreported be the mainstream media. Where Uganda, Congo and Sudan intersect so many horrendous episodes have happened, than no one knows where to begin.

Mo explained how 2 million people had been forced out of the own homes and lived in huge camps at night and only went back to their villages during the day to tend their animals and their land.

- A few brave one’s are holding on in their villages. I stayed in a camp in Gulu when we got word Ebola had broken out in Kabede Opong. Robert – the Ugandan doctor I had been partnered with in Kampala and I volunteered to go.

- Weren’t you afraid?

- Yes and no. It is a very contagious disease, but it’s not airborne and it’s not a very strong virus. If you are healthy you stand a good chance of not becoming sick at all. Also someone has to go, we couldn’t just let these people bleed to death on their own. And it was important to contain it. If Ebola had made it to Gulu and then on to Masindi and Kampala who knows what would have happened.

Ann was mesmerized. To think someone was brave enough to volunteer go to an area with a deadly disease. To think that this woman, whom she was sharing coffee with was that brave.

This woman who had just saved Fran’s leg on her own living room floor.

To be continued in chapter 8

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